The first time I was on a plane I was 14 years old traveling to Hawaii with my parents and my 12-year-old brother. I don’t remember much about my introduction to air travel except that my parents smoked cigarettes and drank Mai Tais while Jeremie looked excitedly out the window.
All I remember doing is praying we wouldn’t crash—or if we had to, it wouldn’t happen until our vacation was over and we were on our way back to school.
What can I say? I was a morbid teen.
Thirty-three years and numerous plane rides later, I just boarded a jetliner headed for Waikiki once again. But this flight I’m bound to remember more. Not because anything amazing or tragic happened, but because my keen sense of smell was on full alert for five and a half hours.
Since my three girlfriends and I booked our tickets separately, none of us were seated together. I didn’t care. I was so tired from barely sleeping the night before and welcomed the chance to read my new book and get some shut-eye.
At first, my plan seemed promising. As soon as I saw where I’d be sitting I was pleased. It was beside the window just as I requested and directly in front of my friend, Jen. It was also next to a nice, friendly couple.
Within less than a minute of sitting down I noticed a rancid odour. I didn’t discover it was coming directly from the mouth of the man next to me until he turned to talk. I decided right then and there that I’d be trying to fall asleep as quickly as possible.
Watching out the window as we took flight I kept my eyes in that direction until we were so high there was nothing interesting to look at anymore. Even though my head was turned away, I could still smell him and I worried how I’d ever fall asleep. I’d brought my earplugs, but nothing for my nose. If only I had Vicks VapoRub or something to dab on my nostrils.
I did have and a pack of gum and some fruit-flavoured Certs though.
Popping a piece of Trident in my mouth I offered some to the couple. To my relief, they accepted. Excellent. That smell will be gone in no time, I thought. I was wrong—the gum didn’t help at all. The candy also resulted in no improvements, and neither did any of the drinks or snacks that came his way.
“How’s it going?” Jen asked a couple hours later when I went for a bathroom break.
“The man next to me has the most horrible breath,” I complained.
“I know,” she said grimacing. “I can smell it.”
If she was getting whiffs of it from where she was sitting, I figured the poor man must have some kind of gum disease or medical condition. I felt bad for him.
With more than three hours left to go until we landed, I continued to keep my head turned away as I read my book, hoping I’d eventually nod off. I never did.
Of course, this wasn’t my first time enduring a less-than-ideal seating arrangement on public transit. Like everyone, I’ve had many.
My most unpleasant airplane experiences were the time I had a college basketball player taking up a good portion of my limited space with his long hairy limbs, and the time I was seated near twins with colic shrieking throughout a four-hour trip.
This latest uncomfortable flight was smelly all right, but it’s the price we pay for sharing a world with other human beings. At least the airlines aren’t letting passengers smoke on planes anymore. And thank goodness we can still order cocktails.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com.