I was thinking about work as I boarded the plane for what I assumed would be just another tedious business flight. It was going to be nice to be away from the office for a couple of days, but I knew things would be stacking up on my desk and there would be a price to pay for being gone. I guess I should have had a rosier outlook, but I’m not a big fan of flying. It was a Southwest flight, so I didn’t have an assigned seat. I sat in the first aisle seat available. I prefer the aisle. It’s closer to the bathroom and the exits, which are high priorities for me when I’m stuck on a plane.
Beside me were two brothers, ages nine and twelve. The small one, who was in the middle seat, looked like somebody had made a copy of the larger boy and set the machine on about eighty percent. They were on their way to Disney World and they were quite talkative. I spent the entire flight answering “Hey mister” questions. “Hey, mister – have you ever flown before?” “Hey, mister – what’s that do?” “Hey, mister – how fast are we going?” “Hey, mister – how high are we?”
Eventually the questions stopped for a few minutes as they quietly discussed something among themselves and I turned my attention to the crossword puzzle in the airline magazine. I was about halfway through the puzzle when I heard “Hey, Mister” again. The little guy in the middle seat wanted to know if he should pay his brother $5 to change seats so he could sit by the window. Five bucks! I was tempted to ask if their parents were bankers.
Instead I directed my comments to the 12 year old and suggested perhaps the two of them should share the window seat. After all, they were brothers. They could take turns. There would be two take-offs and two landings on the way to Florida and two on the way back and lots of flying time in between. The older brother thought it over and decided that was the fair thing to do.
I felt pretty good about myself and wondered why personnel conflicts at the office never seem to work out quite so well. But, my little effort at diplomacy turned out to be a big mistake.
The boys spent the rest of the flight changing seats every five minutes, climbing back and forth over one another. “Hey, mister” became “Sorry, mister” as elbows and knees went this way and that, occasionally bumping my magazine. Finally, we started our descent and I pointed out the seatbelt light that meant they had to stay put until we landed.
As we made our approach I began to wonder when it was that I had I moved from the window seat to the aisle? When had it become more important to have easy access to the exit than it was to watch in wonder at the world floating by five miles below? When had flying stopped being exciting and fascinating and started being tedious?
Suddenly I was grateful to the boys for helping me see through young eyes again. And, I wondered if there were other parts of my life where I’d moved from the window seat to the aisle. Of course, since I was thinking about work when I got on the plane, I asked myself how often I came to work looking at the day as one full of endless possibilities and how often I came in already stressing over deadlines, budgets and too many meetings.
I vowed then that I’d grab a window seat on the return flight, and when I got back into the office I would look at the stack of snail mail and the screen-full of e-mails through a new set of eyes.
My talkative seat-mates had made the flight go quickly, and the best “Hey, mister” came as we landed. The nine year old was looking out the window, and as the flaps opened he looked up wide eyed and said “Hey, mister. The wing broke.” — Matt