Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Inconvenient Flight and a Random Conversation At 35,000 Feet in Row 7

Yesterday I arrived in Los Angeles and after a car ride to Irvine I could not believe with just how massive the LA area is. Getting there though proved to have quite the story.

Halfway through the day I made it to the airport and while waiting at the gate I heard a most ominous thing, "Would passenger Aaron Likens please approach the podium for a message." Message? I know one thing and that is NOTHING good ever comes from hearing that sentence. "Messages" are saved for when something catastrophic happens. Panic quickly set in. I mean, did they already destroy my bag? Did someone I know die? What in the wide world of aviation was going on?

I neared the podium in a silent panic and was told, "Are you Aaron?" I nodded, "We have over-booked this flight and we can put you on a United flight" I am very partial to Delta and was flying Delta when this happened " that leaves in an hour. This will be a non-stop flight so you won't have to lay-over in Salt Lake. You'll get in three hours early, so do you want to do this?"

After a quick phone calls I said yes to this and they then proceeded to print the new boarding pass and then also printed out three, six dollar meal vouchers for my, "inconvenience".

Once on the flight I dove right into the Sherlock Holmes collection that I am reading, but I quickly noticed the two people in front of me as they started talking. The two of them had never met, but they started talking and even before we had taken off they were talking like they had known each other for decades.

By the time we hit our cruising altitude both parties of this conversation had bared their soul to the other and each of them knew the other's life story. I was able to somewhat view this conversation as they were talking across the aisle.

From being able to watch I could easily tell constant eye contact was being made and that each side was listening. Of course I did my best to not be seen looking in on this conversation, but I was in awe with what was going on. How does a conversation like this start? Random people, in my book, are not supposed to talk to each other. Why not? Because it's not! I usually can give a long, logical explanation on my questions, but with this random conversations are to be avoided at all costs just because. Well, they are difficult and the outcomes can not be predicted ahead of time. How does one know if the person they are talking to who they say they are? The bottom line is that there are so many variables that a random conversation is just too scary.

The flight continued on and so did the conversation. I felt so out of place in hearing what was going on. It is now rare that I yearn to know what life is like on the other side of the wall, but I listened intently wondering, dreaming, and in just plain awe of hearing conversation in its purest form. It sounded so natural, so pure, and so unscripted.

I'm going to guess that this event I experienced on the plane is something that happens rather frequently around me but typically, I assume, I am oblivious to it.

As we neared the LA metro area the pilot came on the com and said, "Okay folks, we should be on the ground in 20 minutes..." With that I looked outside the plane and could not believe that it was still quite deserty outside. I have never been to LA and knew nothing of the geography of SoCal, but as we landed I could not believe the diverse landscapes all around. Also, I was sure that the two talkers in front of me in Row 7 were now lifelong friends. One person may have lived in Saint Louis, and the other Tucson, but through conversation during the flight the two connected in a way that I don't understand. Again, this is something that probably happens everyday, and if you do have this ever happen to you don't take it for granted as you may have that person sitting behind you, acting as that proverbial fly on the wall, wondering what it is like to have a conversation with a complete stranger with ease.


  1. I can give you an explanation because this type of thing is a regularity for me at OT conferences.

    The first few questions can establish the foundation. For example, there was a girl I met from Illinois last year for the American Occupational Therapy Association Conference. We were Facebook friends before this, but never met (which is common for my type of professional relationships now). After the initial "hi, how are you", we then asked each other about our respective OT programs. That was a good foundation question because we then proceed onto trying to understand what the other's program is like. Also, we talked about our experiences in OT so far. Lastly, we talked about the practice areas that we liked. These three topics made a good 30 minutes of conversation! Why? The reason is that as something is said, the other would comment once the girl or I gave the cue for the other to do so. After the comment is made, the roles will reverse. This process will continue until we both feel that it is time to move on to the next topic.

    The girl and I did 30 minutes for this example because that's the time we had... as we still got to move on to what we wanted to do at the conference. Had we were in the flight with you, we would do it as long as the other desires.

    So, it can be done even for people with autism, as I have shown. However, one caution for individuals with autism to do go on and on about their topics! It is also important for them to talk about what the other person wants to talk about, too!