By the time UA 148 pushed back and taxied to the runway, I was dozing. I caught a glimpse of Newark getting smaller and was out again. Nothing could be more soothing than the roar of a jet engine. It vibrates me like a massage chair and then, at takeoff, compresses me gently to the seat back with a little extra G-force like I’m being swaddled.
Maybe I wasn’t swaddled enough, but that can’t be true. I was 10 months old the first time I slept on a plane. I don’t remember it really. My body might remember that sensation if there is such a thing.
Light turbulence rocked me deeper into sleep until I woke up to the chime at 10,000 feet. I woke up to a foul stench. A stench I knew escaped from someone near me. I turned on the air a little bit and fell asleep again. No one else around me must have opened the air vent.
There was another one about a half-hour later. A foul stench that smelled like rotting vegetables drenched in city rain. Cold and wet. If no one around me turned on air, then the air around the fan is being sucked into the downstream flow and blown directly at me. The stench was now dissipating from where I was sitting. I could easily be labeled as the silent but deadly perpetrator.
I turned off the vent and locked it down tight. (Righty tighty!) Brownian motion, the seemingly random movements of particles in liquid or gaseous forms, was all I was counting on. That it would waft somewhere else but here.
By the time the cabin crew started offering food, I hoped the reheated food would drown out the wet, unpalatable taste in my mouth. Shelly and I decided to get an Angus cheeseburger and an Asian Noodle Salad while we tried desperately to dismiss the stench.
We were seated port side in a three-by-three configuration. This 737-900 came with mood lighting in the ceiling, but the pretty lights did little to detox the plane. Shelly had seat A by the window and I got seat B in the middle. To my right was a middle-aged, reserved man who fidgeted to catch up on work. He claimed the armrest and didn’t give it up the whole flight. I wasn’t about to fight for it. He was finger-typing. I leaned toward Shelly, by the window, and tried to snooze again.
A little old Asian lady in seat D in the row in front of us took the last “Asian Noodle Salad.” We ended up with two Angus cheeseburgers. It doesn’t help being in the back rows even though two carts full of food divided and conquered the coach class. The flight attendant selling the food couldn’t find something.
“Do you have another setup for the burger?”
A “setup” is a plastic container that holds condiments—one lettuce leaf, a few pieces of sliced onion, and a single slice of tomato—and a separately sealed pack of utensils. The setup is stored cold while the burgers are kept warm.
A burger and a can of ginger ale later, I was ready to snooze again. The line for the two lavatories in the rear of the cabin stretched about 15 rows. The familiar lavatory odor wafted forward as passengers in line shuffled in and out of the tiny wash closet. Unlike some airlines, United gave up full cans of soda. That explains why the line to the bathroom took up most of the aisle space in the economy class.
As we descended through 10,000 feet, the finger-typist turned violently toward me with a look of horror and disbelief.
‘No! I swear it wasn’t me!’ I wanted to yell out loud. ‘It was him! The guy in Seat A in the row in front of us!’
The finger-typist’s look of horror was understandable even though I was falsely accused of unleashing noxious gases on unsuspecting passengers. I had no recourse.
What would you do?