I sat down with a travel agent recently to plan a hiking trip in Europe known as the Tour du Mont Blanc, as I enjoy long-distance running even when I am on vacation. Throughout the conversation, the agent repeatedly mentioned alternative trips ideas to more populated regions, indicating that I could meet a much greater variety of people and experiences in a bustling metropolis than in the remote hills. As much as I appreciated her suggests, I eventually had to interject with the value I placed on minimizing the number of people to interact with during this particular trip. My reasoning was that my travel experiences with other individuals are consistently insane, offering up a variety of scenarios that are neither the best case scenario nor the worst, but always the last possible thing I could predict. When the agent inquired further, I decided it was story time and shared my experience last time I travelled to Europe.
More specifically, it was on the flight back from Europe over the Atlantic, from London’s Heathrow airport to Minneapolis. The flight started off normal enough; I found my window seat easily and was thankful for a chance to be mesmerized by the endless blue waves of the Atlantic. As the plane took off, the stewardess went over the endless safety instructions, drills that I had heard ad infinitum over the many flights I had taken on the two week whirlwind tour of England and Germany that I was now returning from. Given that I was travelling alone and this was to be a long flight, I decided that an icebreaker with the passenger sitting next to me would be a better use of my time than sitting through the endless droning of the flight staff. As the stewardess brought up procedures for handling violent or armed individuals on the plane, I said to the passenger, a Caucasian man in his early thirties: “do you think that anyone will recall these procedures if someone really pulls a gun on the plane?”
At this point, I predicted one of two possible reactions. Ideally, the man would laugh in agreement and spark up a conversation…ideally about board games, writing, and beer brewing. Alternatively, he may get agitated and remind me that these safety procedures are extremely important and that I keep sarcastic comments to myself. The response that I got was a prompt sway of the head away from the stewardess and towards me, a playful grin forming on his face. “No problem man, I got you covered” he responded, lifting up his jacket to reveal a handgun stuffed down the side of his pants.
At this point, reality froze and a singular thought flooded my mind; not only was a hijacker on the plane, but fate placed him beside me! As my mind began to short-circuit, I realized that my next words may be the only thing that separates this flight from dive-bombing into a watery grave. This was not the time to say something stupid, which is typical of what comes out of me during stressful situations (and pretty much all situations in general). After several seconds of looking at his pistol, I stammered “you, you can’t shoot that in here or you’ll shatter the cabin windows and depressurize the whole plane…we’ll be killed!” Finishing the sentence, I thought to myself; well played Trevor, if he wasn’t sure of how to destroy the plane before, you have given him all the instructions he needs.
Still wearing a casual expression the gunman explained to me that that would only be the case if he had hollow points (bullets that shatter/explode on impact), but that because the gun held solid lead bullets, they would only create small holes without risk of immediately depressurizing the cabin. His explanation did not work to alleviate my fears. At this point, I decided to change the subject away from the shooting up the plane and in desperation asked him “what are you going to do?” His grin widened and my heart stopped as I waited for a response. “I am going to get married” came the eventual response. “To who?” I sputtered, hoping that he was not intending a forced matrimony as this was not my ideal vision of marriage. “To my wife back in Colorado” came the matter of fact response, allowing my heart to resume beating.
With the fear of forced matrimony taken off the table, the conversation quickly changed course for the better as we swapped stories for why we were in Europe. It turned out that the man, whom I will call John as I cannot recall his name, served as a pilot in the U.S air force. His position within the organization allowed him to carry firearms on commercial planes, as indicated by one of the most elaborate passports I have ever seen. Furthermore, John’s insights into the hazards of flying made me question all the advice I had drilled into my brain by flight attendants.
The emergency door flight attendants describe how to open will not open at any appreciable height due to air pressure. Putting your head between your legs is a quick way to break your neck during a sudden jolt that pitches you forward (for what it’s worth, John suggested keeping your head low but facing forward to spot and avoid debris). Wireless will not crash his plane, as John found out one day when he and a few other pilots tried their best to create such an incident by rubbing their cell phones and laptops into the navigational equipment of various planes. These were just a few of the helpful safety tidbits I learned, disillusioning me with safety regulations but cementing my plan that should any sort of incident occur, I was to be John’s shadow, performing anything and everything he did.
As I finished the story, the travel agent remained silent for several moments, taking in the story before bursting into a fit of laughter. “That is the best flight story I have ever heard” she exclaimed! “I understand why you don’t want to be with other people on your vacation”. Recalling how much I learned on that flight all the other notable people I met during my European flights, I now began to play Devil’s Advocate. “You know what, I would like to go to a place with lots of people…what can you tell me about the Maritimes”? The agent smiled playfully and suggested that if I wanted to be with people, why not consider East Asia? Hmm Asia…I have always wanted to go to Japan…but maybe this time by boat.