I settled into my seat on the last leg of my journey back from a summer teaching English
in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I wasn’t too tired as I’d spent a few days in Istanbul slept
for a few hours on my previous flight. I was now 2.5 hours from my soft bed in Austin. A
handsome young man sat in the seat next to me and we began swapping travel stories. The
captain warned us of possible turbulence and we were off.
As the engines roared to life at the end of the runway the woman sitting behind me began
to wail. She pleaded with her auntie, seated beside her, to make the plane stop. Her auntie
assured her that everything would be okay. We picked up speed down the runway, her howl
matching that of the engine’s. As our wheels left the earth the woman screamed, “I have to go to
the bathroom Auntie I have to go! Make them land the plane Auntie!”
With visions of urine rolling around under my seat I surreptitiously picked up my bag and
placed it in my lap. The woman’s aunt spoke soothingly, but to little effect. I felt my anxiety
rise as the young woman grabbed the back of my seat and began to shake it, yelling all the while.
I simply ignored the commotion and continued my conversation. There was little else to be
Once the plane reached cruising altitude everything settled down. The woman behind me
put her headphones in and relaxed. I enjoyed an hour and a half without interruption and
appreciated the company of my seatmate.
Finally, the captain came over the intercom to inform us of our initial decent and reminded us
that we would experience turbulence.
Just as the captain predicted, the plane began to bounce as we descended. It was certainly
not a comfortable decent, but I have also experienced much worse. As the plane began to lurch
the woman behind me resumed her screaming. She continued to claim that she
desperately needed to use the lavatory and although all had ended well the first time, I made sure
to raise my feet to the bar in front of me just in case.
The plane dropped suddenly. The drop was enough to make my stomach lurch, but not
enough to alarm a regular traveler. The woman behind me gripped the collar of my shirt and
yanked backward, pinning me to my seat.
She screamed, “Auntie, this plane is going to crash Auntie!”
Her auntie began prying her fingers from my collar and calm her down while the man
seated next to me tried to assist. I worked my fingers under the front of my collar and pulled
forward so that I could breath. I took deep breaths to and tried to remain calm until they released
me from her grip and I leaned forward to avoid second contact. Her aunt apologized profusely
and the man next to me took my hand as I regained control of my breath. We landed shortly
after, the aunt still apologizing. I told her it was no problem and felt worse for her than for
myself. I actually felt glad that it was me sitting there and not someone with less flying
experience. I knew that this experience was more difficult for the aunt than it was for me and
wished her well on the rest of their travels. At the very least I now have a great story to tell
about my worst flying experience.