The story I am about to relate took place in July 2005. My wife and I had booked a direct flight from Cleveland to Gatwick – a service that runs from April to October each year. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to make our flight. I made the mistake of asking what type of aircraft was being used for the flight. I was horrified when I heard it was a Boeing 757- a single aisle plane, three seats on each side of the aisle with only a couple of toilets and nowhere to stand if you wanted to stretch your legs. Also, I remembered from many domestic flights on a 757 that if you sat in the aisle seat you had to pull in your elbows very tightly when the food cart went past or you got badly knocked. I expressed my surprise and disappointment to the check-in clerk that they were using such a small plane for an eight hour journey. I was more or less told “take it or leave it” or change your flight, at an additional cost of course, and go through either Newark, Kennedy or Chicago.
We decided to take the 757 flight as our bags had already been checked. I stupidly asked, “Is the plane full?” The answer – “Yes, in fact, it is overbooked.” She seemed really pleased giving me this piece of news. The omens were not looking good – it meant all the seats would be crammed into a minimal amount of space and the chance of changing our seats or having a empty seat in our row was unlikely. After two hours of ground delays and long after we should have been on our way, we boarded and found our seats about halfway down the plane. I asked the flight attendant if there were any seats on the aisle close to each other, but she glared at me as though I were an idiot and I was told again that the flight was full as we had already been told in the terminal. The plane was still at the gate and she was already suffering from a bad temper.
So we decided to sit back and enjoy the flight as best we could. It took forever for everyone to take their seats; finally they were in the process of closing the door. My wife had the window seat. I had the center seat, and as the door was closing thought, “Good, no one is sitting in the aisle seat – we can stretch out.” The door was almost closed when they re-opened it for a late arriving passenger. This person – of a “Cro-Magnon” or “Neanderthal” appearance – was soaked in perspiration and was wearing a body shirt (you know, the type with an open armpit that almost comes down to the waist), a pair of what once had been white running shorts, and filthy sneakers with, of course, no socks. As it appeared the only available seat was next to me, my stomach fell. He walked up the aisle having what seemed to be difficulty in reading his seat number. He finally calculated where it was and with an almighty crash sat down next to me with such force that the entire row of seats shook. I have to tell you – I have had nightmares over the years of a person such as this sitting next to me and now the nightmare had become a reality. The entire visible part of his body – almost all of it – was covered in tattoos of snakes – something of which I am terrified – thick black hair and dirty feet – no socks as I have said. Add to that a vile overpowering smell of some cheap cologne with which he had drenched himself in order to cover the odor of stale perspiration from his unwashed body.
In my everlasting attempt to be friendly to every one I meet I said “Hello” to him – I was ignored. He was unable to sit still – either from a nervous condition or some type of drugs – and kept moving around in his seat. Not just a slight movement – no, the whole row shook as he threw himself around. My next thought was, “Oh, my Gawd, I have got to put up with this for the next eight hours?” I had my left elbow halfway on the armrest, but he kept pushing it off. In a very loud whisper to my wife, so he would hear me, I started complaining about the disgusting condition of this person next to me. My wife told me to be quiet in case he hit me; his constant glaring at me told me he had heard every word I said.
We were taxiing from the gate over some rough ground and he raised his right arm to the top of the seat in front of him to steady himself. I was hit with the unmistakable offensive smell of his truly unwashed body. Upon this onslaught to my senses I could no longer remain quiet. In a very loud voice I made the statement, “I can’t put up with this smell for very much longer without throwing up!!” Upon hearing this he jumped up, glared at me, muttered a few choice words under his breath, and pulled his bag from under the seat in front of him with such force that the entire row shook. People undid their seatbelts and stood to see what had happened. The flight attendant screamed out for them to sit down and refasten their belts. There must have been an empty seat further back in the plane, as he went and sat there, bringing his presence to other poor fellow travelers. As we landed in Gatwick he ran the entire length of the plane to be the first to disembark. If looks could kill I would have dropped dead from the hatred on his face as he ran past me. It all ended well with my wife and I having the three seats between us, and even though the plane was crowded, it turned into a fairly pleasant flight. Of course, the food was terrible, but we were on vacation – who cared? In no way did it spoil our vacation in England – nothing ever does.
Signed, Lawrence Bently