January 12, 2021

Fight or Flight: Traveling Fan Problems

Last week I flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the final installment of Hanson's monthly livestream series. I had every intention of making this anecdote just an introductory paragraph, then moving onto reviewing the show. Then I started writing and found out I had a lot more to say and really didn't want half of the review to be an angry rant about someone that had absolutely nothing to do with Hanson. Consider this one a #travelingfanproblems outtake and keep an eye out for the actual review over the next few days.

I've made a lot of conscious choices throughout the course of the pandemic not to police other people's safety behaviors outside of my own and to instead try to keep myself out of situations that are beyond my control and my comfort level. Turns out I finally found my breaking point on an airplane. My initial flight out of my hometown ended up being half empty, and I had a window seat with an empty middle seat and a lady sitting at the aisle. I was a little surprised she didn't get up and move to give us both more distance when it became clear that there were empty rows around us, but figured it wasn't worth the hassle of making her get up and moving my bags so I could have my own row for such a short flight.

Right before we took off, she started eating a candy bar. I told myself it's fine, she's totally allowed to eat, and if she eats the whole time to prolong her time without a mask, I'll just get up and move after it's safe to get out of my seat once we're airborne. We taxied for a while. She put the small remainder of her candy bar in the seatback pocket (ew?) and started working a crossword puzzle with her mask under her nose and barely over her mouth. I gave her a few minutes before I said anything, because yeah, eating is allowed and her candy bar was still out. After a solid five minutes or more when she hadn't touched her food, I decided to speak up. I leaned forward and politely asked, "Could you please put your mask over your nose?"

Her reaction was to stare at me and immediately pull the mask not over her nose, but entirely under her chin. For what it's worth, I work in retail and have seen a wide range of anger, confusion, and some people who don't get out much and are just plain unaccustomed to mask etiquette. I've had several older customers who have trouble hearing pull their masks down in an attempt to hear me better as if that will somehow help (I suppose it might be a subconscious cue to get me to pull my own mask down so they can hear me better.) I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and kindly repeat my question thinking maybe she just didn't hear me and wasn't thinking when she pulled it down. So I repeated: "I'd be happy to move to a new seat once we take off, but for now I'd feel a lot better if you would put your mask over your nose."

She immediately leaned closer to me and shouted (mask still entirely under her chin leaning over the empty seat between us) "I'M EATING!!!" Then continued to rant loudly about how she has "the antibodies" and therefore can't possibly make me sick, and oh, by the way, she's going to take it off again later to take some pills so I better be prepared to deal with it, and also, as it turns out, I need to chill. 

There was a lot packed into this rant and so, so many things I wanted to argue back as there was something wrong with literally everything that came out of her mouth (and I'm not talking about the germs). In the end I knew that saying anything at all would just prolong the time I would spend with her maskless yelling and I didn't actually want to be part of one of those viral news videos, so instead I waved over the closest FA and interrupted the safety demonstration, asked her to please let me move, and got myself the heck out of that row. I felt a little crazy interrupting, but as a friend later pointed out, I interrupted a safety demonstration to actually demonstrate real safety.

Since I never got to tell her any of the things I wanted to say, I decided to write her an open letter:

To the lady in seat 13D, 

I hope you and your antibodies are doing well. A close friend of mine has contracted covid twice in the last two months, so I was unaware that you have a superior kind of defense that means neither of us can get sick in your presence. This is rather impressive and I sincerely hope you have alerted someone in the medical field to do testing on your singular immunity. 

You seemed a little confused during our brief interaction, so I thought you might be interested to know that I'm very familiar with dictionaries, basic functions of the digestive tract, and have an aptitude for following directions. I've double checked with Webster just to be sure and have confirmed my previous understanding that eating is the act of "putting food into the mouth, chewing, and swallowing it." I've done a bit of further research and can find no source that includes the act of sitting adjacent to a piece of chocolate under the term "eating." (I know some people claim they can gain 10 lbs just by looking at a cupcake, but I'm fairly certain that this is just a figure of speech and not an actual mode of digestion recognized by American Airlines.) Urban Dictionary provided some less common and more colorful definitions, but mere proximity to a food item was still not listed. I hope this helps.

Your confusion is nothing to be ashamed of. I, too, was confused by something you said. I know you tried to explain to me how you would need to remove your mask again to take your medications later in the flight, but I'm not following the process of removal for something you haven't put on in the first place. I'm a visual learner and can't quite picture this scenario based on the information provided, so I would love to hear your insight into how that works. 

I realize my last point may be a bit sensitive, but you seemed pretty comfortable getting close to me during our brief encounter, so I hope you won't find this overstepping. I've heard rumors of some women going years without taking the time to get to know their own bodies and certain parts going largely ignored due to lack of proper education. I know it must be embarrassing to ask especially at your age having gone so long without proper awareness, so I thought I might spare you the trouble by providing a brief educational video on the topic for your benefit (you may find the :12-18 second mark most useful). 

Best of luck,


P.S. I hope that your super antibodies protect against more than just Covid if you trust eating opened food out of seatback pockets. 


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