An examination of war in domestic plane travel

Indira Ganesan, New Hampire Dawn, 2013

Indira Ganesan, New Hampire Dawn, 2013

It began on a plane, but it might have begun at the security, when I was too slow to unshed for the inspection, and a guard scolded me roundly for selfishly holding up the line.  In my defense, I was waiting for the person ahead of me to finish, but I took three baskets from a nearly empty pile, and to be truthful, one basket too many to hold my coat, my shoes, my purse, my scarf, my sweater, my book/laptop bag, and the person behind me readied their basket to begin unloading before I had begun.  One should in Newark, have everything ready to go yesterday. One should remember, even if one had been up at four am, that people didn’t sleep at all and had flights to catch earlier than mine.  I had allowed an hour, and checked my big bag earlier, and was offended.

I boarded the plane, greeted the cheerful stewards with a big smile, and looked for my seat, 4D, window.  A man held up the line while rearranging the contents of a bin to fit in his roll-on.  A good feat of engineering, but also creating no allowance for my book bag.  This was my seat companion.  I sat down, tucked both of my bags under the seat, and unbuttoned my winter coat when the arm rest separating us was forcibly slammed down, with a “Thank you,” hitting me in my thigh, trapping my coat, my seatbelt and coat, and leaving me, once again, quickly offended.  I slipped the seatbelt over my coat on armrest side, under the coat window side, and proceeded to enjoy the view outside, while claiming half of the armrest deliberately.

“Can you move your coat?” asked my neighbor when we were taking off or having just taken off.

Here was the turning pont.  I could have quietly acquiesced, and readjusted.  Instead I replied curtly, saying, “You did not give me time to adjust.”

I proceeded to raise the armrest dramatically, unbuckling my seatbelt, removing my coat, rolling it up and –damn, my scarf had been in his seat as well– and placing them both under my seat, joining my two small bags.

“Take your time,” he said, possibly horrified a brown-skinned plane passenger displayed anger of her own.

I could have backed down at this point. I could have apologized.  I could have let him have his armrest.

It was a 43 minute flight.

The dawn appeared, spectacularly.  Other window seaters began to take photographs, and I did as well, enjoying an incredible expanse of dawn sky, orange sun, and below, islands making up New Hampshire.  I pulled out my notebook to write. Later, I pulled out my work, and became absorbed.

“Could you shut the window shade?” he asked.

I turned slowly to look at him, silently, both astonished and offended.

Without waiting, he reached over and violently slammed down the window shade.  I felt a true flicker of fear in my belly as he did.

I became very still and continued with my work.  But I am a fighter.  Three times offended and really, I should have gracefully admitted defeat in this game of human vs. human and withdrawn.  But I was at a window seat with a spectacular dawn occurring, on the last legs of a twelve day mostly business trip, and I would not be silenced.

“Can I just open it a crack, without the light shining on your eyes, please?” I asked.

“If it doesn’t hit my eyes.”

“Is this okay?” I asked, opening the shade three inches.

“Amazing,” he replied with generous sarcasm.

I looked out the window at a still-beautiful view.

Finally, trip over, and I waited until he was safely off the plane before I began to gather my things.

Expecting a common look of sympathy from the stewards, I found them smiling tightly, arms crossed.

This is when I realized that what I had indulged in was shameful.  My tug of war, which had no need for me to participate, involved innocent bystanders.  I had participated in a war that was meaningless, a waste of energy.  In the taxi to work, tears sprinkled as they must.  I remembered my yoga teacher who I hardly have the right to address as such, given my lack of practice,  remarking, after watching kids shrieking and tussling at a party, “It will end in tears.”  All such skirmishes must.

I tried tell the story twice verbally, and once on paper.  This is my fourth attempt.

The ending came much later when I cleared my purse last night.  My seat number was not 4D at all, but 3D.

I had literally sat in the wrong seat.

16 thoughts on “An examination of war in domestic plane travel

  1. cynthiamorris

    I agree that you were too kind to the ‘plonker’. Love that word!

    Never apologize or stand down when holding space for beauty or a view! I also think if you’re in the window seat, you’re in charge of what happens to the shade.

    Also, always take your time – as much as you need – wherever you are. I have decided to not rush for the sake of others. If people are in a hurry I invite them to go around. But I try to methodically and carefully and gracefully move through the world without rushing.

    You are a figure of grace yourself, and I imagine you are under a lot of emotional pressure whilst on your book tour. Hang in there and never abandon your grace!

    Your fan,



    1. cynthiamorris

      I’m sorry, this is what I meant to say first:

      That sucks that this happened to you. It’s not fun to be stuck next to a weenie on a plane. You are a kind and gentle person who deserves delight wherever she goes.

      May all your flights, especially the one to Colorado! be blessed with love and kindness.


  2. Yan Jing's Family

    Yes, it is interesting what we miss and pick up. Sweet, sad, and funny film that relates so well to Indira’s story. i watched it again.

    This time i noticed the woman’s lunch date early-on, in the crowds. And that he still had the price tag on his hat.

    The film was copyright 1989. I was a regular on the Trenton Line (Princeton) back then. And i wished that my train arrived at GC rather than PEnn.

    Perhaps, the filmmaker thought it important that his character lives in Princeton. But that may be my perception by the way she dressed. Perhaps, she lives in Rahway, Newark, or Trenton.

    The film brings out the sweetness of the city and the chance encounters we get in NYC.

    The faces of the homeless were very much what i remember in those days. We had a regular homeless man on our block to whom I gave money whenever i walked passed him. He was always happy. One year, he gave me a Christmas card. When he disappeared, i missed him. Then saw him again one day. He was happy to report he got a job in construction.

    GC is a beauty. The architecture is so uplifting. So civil. And, it is there for us all. It may not be the biggest, but it is a small gem like the film.

    Thanks again for sharing.


    1. Sandra

      Reading your latest response made me go back to the film. I’d seen it years ago, and actually saw it again last year, but confess I’d not watched it all the way through this time. As you point out, there’s so much to see, so much beauty, and so many ways to interpret things, all colored by our individual experiences, yours for example having been a regular on the Princeton line!

      I saw things this time around I’d missed, or forgotten. Just as I try to see films I really like two or three times to “get it all”, perhaps we never do, there’s always more. So, how to read Indira’s plane experience, or the lady’s in the film, or what everyone said at the dinner table last night is so subjective.

      So, I would call this post, less about war, more about how much better our life experiences might be if we all slowed our pace a bit and paid more attention! 🙂

      Something I’ve pledged to do myself!

      Thanks Indira for starting this lively discourse!


  3. Yan Jing's Family

    Hi again Indira….I enjoyed both links from Sandra and Navdeep Singh Dhillon. Thanks. Off topic and maybe silly….but… In the “Lunch Date”…. Why did they call out the train on the Princeton Line which is out of Penn Station not Grand Central. We know; Grand Central is more photogenic.


    1. Sandra

      Maybe because this is a very old video (black and white no less) and back then it was the Princeton Line! 🙂 Don’t know, but have to laugh at us, what we individually “notice”. You caught that, about the train lines, the lady forgot in which booth she’d left her salad!! I used to work near Grand Central, but no ideas about the trains. Only just learned, watching documentaries, that GC is no longer “the” big train station anymore, for trains that is.


  4. NavdeepSinghDhillon (@navdeep_dhillon)

    You were way too nice to this plonker. You should have started loudly singing Tamil filmy songs out of tune (the only way I sing), as he tried to sleep. Or slapped him in the forehead when he was in a deep slumber, then pretended you had no idea what just happened. Better yet, started praying. Here’s a clip from my favourite South African comedian, Riaad Moosa, on Flying While Muslim:


  5. Yan Jing's Family

    Ooooo! I think he was out-of -bounds even if you were 3D!

    I have to chuckle as it reminds me of sibling wars. Long trips with little brother in the car. Both of us curled in our space as pressure built-up between tops of heads pressed together. That line. Skirmish! We violated the backseat DMZ.

    I am sorry you cried. Now you can laugh. Next time, shields on maximum, Warrior Princess.


    1. Sandra

      I actually didn’t “reblog”, was testing that button. But have put a link to this in a post I’m working on about how we all “act up” at one time or another, and all need patience, compassion and forgiveness. Who knows what kind of bad day that person might have been having, a lost a job, a family member. And even if his tendency was always to be a jerk, “who do we think it is that needs loving”? (Paraphrase I love from Thaddeus Golas).

      Here’s a link to the video of a similar situation in Grand Central, which will also be part of my post!! (It can be viewed as racial or not, I go for not)


  6. Sandra

    Precious! Priceless! We all do it, generous of you to share. Wonderful video available, if you’re interested, of a woman in a similar situation in Grand Central Station. I’ve been doing all this in my head with people, learning how to breathe, inhale, bless. Gives me something more to blog about!

    Thanks, and bless you!! Hope you’re now laughing!



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