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Air Rage: When Fliers Fly Off the Handle

How does a mild-mannered person transform into the Incredible Hulk? Try flying on a midnight redeye with a mini-Muhammad Ali sitting behind you. While society dictates that we not act like, well, you know, there are times when no unwritten rule about screaming in Spanish at children or delivering soapbox speeches to annoying fellow passengers can be heeded. I apologize for losing my cool … but here’s what happened.

Toe to Toe with a Toddler
On a redeye from Quito to New York, an infante diabolico shared the seat behind me with his mother. We took off and the punching began. He was a prize fighter in training, standing deftly on mom’s lap, using my seat as a fast bag. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Wait for your opponent to swivel and shoot you the first of a few startled looks. Stay patient. Dance. Weave. Laugh. Taunt. Then … tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Good, the opponent is getting angry. When you see his face turn crimson and steam curl up from his ears, he’s at his most vulnerable. He’s lost control.

Tap, tap, tap … “Termina el golpeando! Termina el golpeando! Otra vez y otra vez y otra vez!” Summoning my high school Spanish, I made my counterattack.


“I’m sorry,” mumbled Mom.

No more punches.

Still, I think all ringside judges, staring wide-eyed or stifling shocked guffaws, would agree: I fought a little unfair.

Now Boarding Zone Crazy Eyes
After 48 hours exploring Chicago — Wrigley, Millennium Park, blues club, deep dish — sandwiching four hours of sleep, it was time to fly home to Boston. With the gate lice working their beady eyes, boarding began. First class. Passengers traveling with small children. Zone Two and so on. I was in Zone Two and queued up accordingly. By the time I neared the ticket agent, the floodgates had opened. All zones. To my left, a slight woman, aged 45 to 55, materialized. “I’m Zone Two, do you mind if I jump in?” she said with a warm smile.

“Actually, I do.”

I then proceeded to deliver a lunatic’s lecture about society crumbling if people didn’t follow basic rules, about arriving on time to take advantage of zone privileges and about how she was doing a disservice to everyone on the plane by even asking. “Are you the type of person who has never been told no? Your kind doesn’t deserve to find space in the overhead bin.”

Save for my parents and girlfriend, I’ve never experienced such a look of pure twitching rage. She could no longer form words. She stood, abuzz, gazing into space, as Zones Two, Three, Four and Five slid by.

I had gone too far again. A fellow passenger disagreed. “Thank you,” she said as if I had given a kidney to her brother.

I know — you hope you never have to fly with me. But how would you have handled each situation? Have you ever lost your cool at 35,000 feet?

— written by Dan Askin

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