Motormouth And A Head Cold

June 13, 2010

in Passenger Stories

It was June 2003 and I had just moved to Georgia because I had been stationed there with the Navy. I was taking a flight from Columbia, SC to Boca Raton, FL to meet my at-the-time boyfriend’s grandparents. Thankfully it was a short flight.

I had been dealing with a freaky (for me) head cold that came out of nowhere. It may have been my body rejecting the humidity and stench of the Southeast, but at any rate, I had some stuffed-up sinuses.

So, we board the plane, get all situated, and wait. Apparently a lovely southern summer thunderstorm had developed (which, in the south especially, could appear out of nowhere) within the vicinity of the airport. We were forced to wait on the plane for it to pass. I was in the aisle seat and I shared the row with an older woman of about 65 years of age who was in the window seat. We started politely chatting about our travel plans, these freak thunderstorms, etc. I had no idea what was to come.

We finally start taxiing down the runway. It was then that I discovered that this woman was evidently a very nervous flier. The thunderstorm apparently did not help the situation. So, here we are, getting reading for take-off and she starts nervously talking to me about how she “hopes the pilot knows how to fly through clouds” and her “daughter would just be crushed if this plane crashed because she just had a baby,” and other flight-appropriate topics.

As we started approaching our cruising altitude, my head cold reminded me that it was still there. The higher and higher we climbed the more excruciating the pain was. I had never flown with a head cold before so I had no idea that the change in pressure could cause such pain. So, here I am, in horrible pain. I have my fingers and hands in all sorts of contorted positions on my face trying to put pressure on it in a vain attempt to relieve the pain. I looked like I could have been playing some macabre version of peek-a-boo with a child.

As it went, however, the woman did not take the hint. I had mentioned several times that my head cold was causing me much discomfort but she never stopped talking. She nervously chatted about anything and everything. Within the same breath, she’d cover about six different topics, never letting me get in a word. At first I tried to be polite by responding with appropriately-placed “uh-huhs,” still covering my face with my contorted hands. I thought that once we leveled out the pain would subside. It never did.

After about 30 minutes of feeling like somebody was trying to slice themselves out of my head through my face, I had had enough. I interrupted her riveting “conversation” of, I don’t know, canned foods, looked at the woman and said: “ma’am, I don’t mean to be rude but I simply can’t continue to talk to you. I am in a lot of pain right now and I can’t carry on a conversation.” She gave me this look as though she had just caught me punching a baby. Thankfully for me, it worked. This woman had to figure out how to cope with her nerves, or whatever other social disorder she had, on her own.

I never did understand how she could have wanted to have a “conversation” with a person who was covering their face with their hands. Maybe she just thought I was a crazy person and wanted to keep talking to me to ensure that I was not going to create a hostage situation on the plane?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Clare June 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

The pressure you were feeling is very similar to what infants & young children experience, which is why they often cry.

If you're forced to fly in the future with a head cold, try chewing gum or yawning. That helps to equalize the pressure somewhat.

That being said, what you said to the talkative woman wasn't rude nor crazy. You were in pain & she was seemingly oblivious to your discomfort.


Christina Baita June 14, 2010 at 4:59 am


Be careful if you ever need to fly with a head cold in the future to prevent damage to your eardrums. If you need to fly anyway, try taking some Sudafed or Benadryl prior to the flight.

As far as the woman goes, I have those passengers all of the time and have to admit that I think I may have done that myself out of sheer joy to have someone to talk to. I think that even I would be smart enough to take the hint of hands over the face. Of course, I too get sinus headaches! It sounds like you asked in a very polite matter and if she was shocked, then too bad. Next time, say something sooner if you just can't or do not want to talk. 🙂 Headphones go a long way even if you are not listening to anything!

Thanks for your service and hope your flights in the future are better!


Jim June 14, 2010 at 5:27 am

You handled the situation with great aplomb, politeness, and still got your point across.

If more people handled situations like you did, our world be a little more pleasant.


D-Money June 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

My only flight from hell was while flying home with a sinus infection that moved into my ears… 5 hours of staring into an air-sickness bag which, thank God, I ended up not needing.


Shamu September 3, 2011 at 1:37 am

My mum flew with a head cold it was really awful for her.


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