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Airplane Stories: Surprise encounters in the air

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UP IN THE AIR You just never know who you will meet or what you might learn from the person sitting next to you on an airplane. (Illustration: behance.net/runamokstudios)

My husband’s birthday gift last August happened because of a flight I took after dropping my daughter off at college. The man who sat down next to me was coming from a Gulf Coast family fishing trip and was still in party mode. When he asked the flight attendant for a mini bottle of vodka, he offered one to me. I declined, so he bought one for me and gave it to himself. It was going to be a long flight.

But a little way into the conversation he was having with himself or with me, I’m not sure which, I realized he was devoted to his grill. He started on about using a sous vide contraption to slow-cook marinated, vacuum-packed meat in a water bath before charring it on the grill. He said it was the best steak he had ever cooked. That got my attention, and 10 minutes later we had sky-texted my neighbor’s brother, they had conferred about their favorite sous vide machine and vacuum-packer, and I had ordered my husband a very well-received birthday gift. 

You just don’t know what you’ll get when you step onto an airplane. One friend remembers a family vacation when her two teenaged children and husband grumbled in the back of the plane while she was upgraded to first class. “Enjoy your warm cookie,” the daughter said with an eye roll as she left her mom in the front of the aircraft.

“Warm cookie, ha,” my friend told me as she recalled the trip. “About mid-flight, I decided to do my Bible study. I pulled out my Bible, and when the man next to me saw it, he decided I was the person he should confess his sins to. And then he started telling me all about how he wanted to kill his first wife.”

Over the course of an hour, the man told my friend how he had hopped into his car with a gun after having learned that his wife was cheating on him. “He was planning to do something really bad,” my friend said. “The story is a little fuzzy to me because I can’t totally distinguish it from that country song mama’s in the graveyard, papa’s in the pen [“Papa Loved Mama,” by Garth Brooks]. I got a true confession of a considered crime that he did not go through with, thank the Lord. Wowza.”

Perhaps it’s the flight attendants who have seen the most. Kimberly Miller, who recently signed on as a travel advisor with Fora Travel, flew for Delta after graduating college. Among all the airplane stories she could tell, the best one is the story of how she met her husband.

“I had just transferred to New York and was living with a couple of Texas friends there, also flight attendants,” she says. “I was working my very first New York-based flight, and Chris was on his way home from a friend’s wedding in the Bahamas. Back in the ’90s, they had paper tickets, and seat dupes were kind of common. Someone was sitting in his seat.”

Kimberly called the gate agent, and while they were getting the seating squared away, she visited with Chris. “We realized he had gone to SMU and I had gone to Baylor, and we had lots of mutual friends. No overlap for the two of us because he was four years older, but one of his friends was dating one of my high school friends at the time. There were all kinds of connections.”

Chris was getting ready to have a 30th birthday party with his New York roommates, and he invited Kimberly to come. “He said there would be lots of Texas people,” Kimberly remembers. “But I never ever gave out my number on the plane. So he gave me his card, and I checked up on him.” He checked out. “Mutual friends all said ‘He’s great, you should give him a call.’” So I called. But when we tried to get together, I was scheduled to work every weekend, and he was working a lot [in investment banking], so weekends were his only time off. We talked every day for a month before we went on our first date. By that time, we felt like we were friends already. 

“Our families were so excited because, of course, we were two Houston people, and they were hoping we would come back.” The Millers married, then moved to Houston in 2000, when they were expecting their first child.

“The rest is history,” Kimberly says. And it all started on an airplane.

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