As many of you know I hate to fly. I wrote a few years back about how I used to love flying, but something changed after my daughter was born. I was a nervous wreck the minute the sound of the engines changed or if I felt a slight bump in the air. Tom Bunn found my post and sent me his book which gave me some great tips to help me somewhat enjoy the flying experience again. Did you know you could look up the turbulence forecast before the flight?
Whether traveling home, traveling for vacation somewhere in Europe, or for professional development, flying is an essential part of my lifestyle. I cannot NOT fly, so I have learned to just suck it up and get on the plane.
With few exceptions, I always fly Lufthansa. For work, for travel, for going home, I rarely fly with any other airline. I pay the extra money to fly with them because I have always received excellent service from the flight crew, the long haul was usually more comfortable, and I trusted that I was safer with them, than with their competition.
But this last August I had a new experience to heighten my anxiety about flying. I had pushed the nightmare out of my mind, but the Rene Marsh’s recent story on CNN detailing the harassment of women on airline flights brought all my fear and loathing of flying back.
What resonates with me about these women’s stories is that the flight crew seemed to not have a plan. And that is exactly how I felt on my flight last August when I was harassed by the woman sitting next to me.
The flight started out pretty routine. My daughter and I found our seats. I like to sit in the row behind Economy Plus. I pay a little extra, but the leg room is amazing! I was beginning to think the seat next to us was going to be empty, but right before the doors closed a woman came to take her seat.
She seemed friendly enough. She rifled through her small suitcase to get some things for “in-flight”, placed them around her seat, and then put the case in overhead bin. She seemed uber-friendly. All seemed quite nice until we started to taxi and the captain asked the flight crew to go to their seats for take off.
She then unhooked her seat belt and went to the bathroom. It was a busy day on the Seattle runway, so this woman was able to get up and go to the bathroom and return at least three times before take off. Each time she came back to the seat sniffing and rubbing her nose. It seemed like a scene from Airplane.
As we climbed to cruising altitude she texted on her phone. It wasn’t until she finally lost signal that she put her phone away. At that point she got out her bottle of vodka.
I tried to act like I didn’t see it. I kept my eyes on the magazine. After all, what was I going to do? I’m stuck in the air with this woman for the next 9 1/2 hours, I better play nice. Yet, at the same time I was worried. If the woman was in fact doing lines in the bathroom and now consuming a 5th of Vodka, what was my ride going to be like? If I confronted her, would she become violent? If I stayed silent, would she pass out on me? Neither option seemed palatable.
When first drink service passed by she ordered a red wine and an orange juice. When the wine was gone she used her orange juice to create a nice couple of Screwdrivers.
After the flight crew moved down the aisle she got up to use the bathroom a couple of more times. At one point she had accidentally screwed the vodka bottle cap down onto her scarf she was using as a belt. So when she stood up, the bottle was dangling back and forth in front of her as she walked to the toilet.
I then got up and went to speak to the flight crew. The young stewardess was visibly upset at what I had to tell her. She then told her purser. I kept repeating that I didn’t want to cause any trouble, I just thought they should know. Rather than discussing with me his next steps, the purser rushed down the aisle and collected the almost empty bottle from her. She then looked down the aisle and saw me standing there.
I sat back down and tried to act like nothing had happened. My seat mate then proceeded to glare at me. She was pretty drunk and high at this point. When she would turn to stare at me she made huge movements as she lacked control. It was obvious she was upset with me. I made some comment about having to get some kleenex and I went to complain about her behavior.
“Um, sorry, I don’t want to be a bother but it is really difficult in my seat right now. She keeps glaring at me and looking angry.” One of the flight crew said, “Well we are about to serve dinner. Let us know if it gets any worse.”
Dinner was served. As you can imagine this was quite comical.
She frequently dropped her silverware, would glare at me, then almost tip over her tray. When drink service came by shortly into the meal, she tried to order more alcohol. When they informed her that the captain had cut her off, she again swung around to look at me.
The fear and anxiety were building within me. We were only an hour in, what were the next 8 hours going to be like? Dinner was taken away, I complained again when my seat mate was once more on the toilet. The flight attendant calmly said, “Let us know if it gets worse.”
When my seat mate returned she decided to get a little more comfortable. She grabbed my arm and tried to kiss me and then passed out on my shoulder. The woman sitting in the aisle behind me asked if I needed help. I nodded my head, as I was afraid to move or say anything. When the purser returned the woman had shifted her position so she was no longer completely on me. The purser whispered, “Let us know if it gets any worse.” I’m thinking…this is worse. How could it be worse? She just tried to kiss me and passed out on me.
In my head I played out the numerous scenarios. Push her off me and tell her to leave me alone. Confront her the next time she glares at me or tries to grope me. Or do I just sit there and do nothing? What if she gets more physical? Where would I have to go?
And what about my daughter? I must remain calm. I don’t want her to think anything weird is going on. She was sitting next to me by the window, completely oblivious to all this, completely enthralled with her movies.
I was trapped. Trapped by the responsibility of not wanting to upset the balance of a quiet plane journey. Trapped by wanting to protect my child from the chaos that might ensue. Trapped in my seat by a drunk woman who, at this point, is literally laying on top of me.
For about an hour I endured the off again on again experience of being a drunk person’s pillow.
At around 3 1/2 to 4 hours in my seat mate woke up and looked at me. She then proceeded to put her hand down her pants. I wasn’t sure if she was using me as inspiration, or if she was searching herself for another stash. I just kept my eyes on my Kindle acting like a saw nothing. She then passed out in a way that allowed me to exit my seat without being blocked in. I had had it.
I got up and walked into the area between economy and business class where the flight crew were on break. The minute I opened my mouth, I started to cry. I couldn’t stop myself. All that pent up tension and anxiety over what to do and how to handle the situation had taken its toll.
A flight attendant, who seemed to be in charge, came up to me and hugged me. She let me cry and tell her all about what had happened. She said that she had heard about the drunk woman already, but she still needed to talk to the head purser about what to do next.
When the purser came he said, “Well the captain already approved for you and your daughter to be moved to business class.” It seemed as if a decision had been made long ago, but they were just waiting for me to finally have enough. I had had enough hours ago, but for some reason my enough wasn’t enough for them?
My daughter and I settled in to our new places but it took awhile for me to calm down.
Flying business class was quite a treat, but the last hours continued to plague my thoughts. What had just happened? What could I have done differently? Was it my fault? Why did the crew leave me to suffer like that?
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, they did do something. They moved you.” Yes. They did. But why did it take 4 hours?
I have yet to have a final response from Lufthansa about my official complaint. I recently tweeted out my frustration and someone from Lufthansa responded within one minute.
Rene Marsh even asked for my contact information:
As luck would have it. They contacted me 6 days later with this:
But I didn’t receive a voicemail from anyone at Lufthansa. We had just switched telephone providers and our voicemail wasn’t hooked up yet. There would have been no way to leave a message. And my cell phone number had no calls from Lufthansa.
I tweeted again, but this time I got no reply.
I’m still waiting for someone to apologize. I’m still waiting for them to give me that escape plan for if/when this happens again in the future. I’m waiting for that promise that the next time I’m assaulted by a woman with a bottle of vodka on a plane, I won’t have to wait until it gets worse.
And if someone from Lufthansa is reading this, FB ID 31175016.