The stranger on a plane. – By @elisaczerwenka

By Elisa Czerwenka


The stranger on a plane.


I’m an extrovert. I like to chat with people and get to know them. It comes intuitively to me. Today however was not one of those days. I still had a lot of work to do while also having to travel back to London. I was tired and exhausted, and all I wanted was to take a nap. So when I got on the aeroplane, I made a plan. Today would not be a day where I strike up a conversation. Today was a day where I could be antisocial. So I reached for my headphones to put on some music and muffle the background noise. But I couldn’t find them. Of course, I had forgotten them at home. Too late now, I thought and just sat in silence. I can take a nap anyways.

Next to me, a lady in her 40s sat down. She looked tired and nervous, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. The weather was beautiful, and most people seemed chill for the short flight to Gatwick. She sat down but kept standing up and walking around. Eventually, she came back and asked me. “Do you know how long the flight is?” “It is 1 hour, and 45 minutes I said,” “oh my god” she replied and laid back down in her seat almost disappearing in it. Should I ask her if she’s alright? I thought. Something wasn’t right.

My urge to sleep was big, but the urge to make sure she was alright was bigger. “Are you alright?” I said. She sighed. Turns out she was scared of flying. Not the kind of weird feeling in your tummy scared but the panic attack level anxiety. One hour and 45 minutes seemed way too long to her. She told me about her fear and how she felt like she was not in control. How she felt like she could die any second and she was desperate to not show it. I told her that it was okay.

I don’t have much experience with fear of flying, and I didn’t know what to do. But I also thought if I could take the woman’s mind off of what was happening around her, it would seem a lot less scary. So I started asking her questions. And while my tired self disappeared, my curiosity about the world came back. I discovered so much about her, learned so much about her. While she completely forgot about the plane, we got to know each other.

I found out she was from Bulgaria but had worked in over five countries. She told me that she just finished working in Austria.

I learned how closed-minded Austrians can be, confronted with foreigners.

I learned how hard it is to live in my country without speaking the language.

She told me how stupid she felt.

I learned how horrible cleaners are treated in the hotel industry.

And how no one cares how damaging the cleaning liquids can be to their health.

I learned that even in a wealthy state, people can get ripped off when they don’t know their rights.

She told me how she wished she knew that.

I found out that she is finding new work in London but needs to rely on someone else to do so.

I learned that her wage couldn’t even get her a ticket to the UK.

She told me her wishes for the future.

She said she was glad I listened.

I left the plane slightly more tired, but a lot wiser. And the conversation we had was beautiful. We parted ways but wished each other the best. Her anxiety was in check, as long as we kept talking, and I held her hand. Today I learned so much. I don’t think I would ever have met this woman if we wouldn’t have been put next to each other on a plane.

I hope that I could alter her views on my people, even just slightly.

I wanted to show her that some of us do care about others and wanted her last encounter in my country to be a nice one. I hope she felt that.

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