Conversations: A cautionary tale from 30,000 feet

A true story from my travels this week that I thought you might appreciate. And since I’ll be on yet another flight to somewhere tomorrow, when I should be writing our Friday featurette, this will have to serve as July’s “Conversations.” (For the uninitiated, these are our retellings of some good — or in today’s case, instructively bad — chats.) So I’ll see you Monday, and in the meantime, hope you enjoy it, let us know what you think, and have an excellent weekend!


There usually isn’t much talking on early-morning flights out of New York City. We unlucky passengers have all had to rise with the sun, endure the indignities of the security line, and suffer Starbucks for breakfast. And the only thing that bonds us more than these inconveniences by the time we’re all buckled and blanketed (if you can find one) is our shared desire for sweet sound-sleeping/paper-reading/meeting-planning silence.

So imagine our collective surprise on a 7 a.m. flight from New York to Virginia this week — I’ll withhold further detail for the safety of the reckless loudtalker I’m about to embarrass — when a perfectly normal-looking, well-dressed, twentysomething man of corporate mien began chatting with his coworker in a voice only an arena crowd could love.

Before you chalk it up to crankiness, let me elaborate. By “chatting,” I mean he shouted the entire two-and-a-half hour flight, and she — evidently desensitized to this racket — simply nodded and interjected a question now and then. The dozen or so people on the small plane shot him periodic glares, sighed audibly in his direction, and fussily draped all manner of paper and pashmina over their faces. But he didn’t notice, and we settled down. After all, we’ve all been the unhappy neighbors of a Chatty Cathy (or…Chad) with no inside voice. They’re almost always just nervous about flying or unfamiliar with veteran traveler etiquette. But this time, the real action was just getting started.

It wasn’t until I heard the following that I really took notice: “Their English may be f—–d, but I’ll tell you, that code is always exactly what I want. So what if their accent is crazy?” Asians and South Asians, it turned out, were a source of good work and constant comedy for our self-identified star software developer. (Who I should mention was himself brown.) I quickly scanned the nearby seats for enraged passengers, as my position directly behind the superstar put me squarely in the danger zone. Everyone just stared at him, transfixed.

Meanwhile, Captain Oblivious continued his tirade. And I learned all sorts of interesting facts, including details about ongoing high-level negotiations at his firm, the visa status of his visiting colleagues, and the salaries of just about everyone he knew. We also heard about his own efforts to secure work-abroad papers and circumnavigate pesky new regulations, as well as his fascinating views on success: I could be making $500 an hour, he yelled, but then I’d be responsible for s–t. The Chinese also took a few more hits, as did my fellow Subcontinent folk.

By the time it was over, having begun reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen at the gate just that morning, I was seriously contemplating some vigilante violence. (Could I, for instance, catapult him into thin air with a good push through the window?) To say nothing of the fact that, with my best efforts to sleep thwarted, I felt — and no doubt looked — like something out of Swamp Thing. And Mr. TMI? The lights went on, he stood up, and without a hint of sarcasm, flashed us all a lovely, innocent smile. If I ever see him again, it’s going to take all my good upbringing not to kick him in the shins.

The moral of the story: We can hear you. And some of us work for major media outlets…

Got any “good” biz travel horror stories?

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