In the air, the best and worst of people surface. Shoes come off and toes are splayed. 32,000 feet above sea level, people don’t believe that they are bound to the authority of any land, and it shows. Does the person in front of me and really believe I cannot see him pick his nose and wipe it on the plush of the airplane seat, I don’t know. I turn to the window, wanting to nap, but someone’s toes are propped up, wedged between the tall edge of my seat and the airplane wall. In the air, I am almost a person who can poke at these oblivious toes with a pen, nudge them hard off the seat so they go back to their rightful place on the floor and not beside my face. But I don’t. I pull a book out of my bag and read instead.
The first meal is served as we’re passing over Puerto Princesa. There is always a queue for the restroom after the meals are served. Meals on board are curious – you see people tell themselves carbs don’t count while in the air while they scarfe down mediocre pasta, you see people drink too much because it’s free. And then there’s the queue for the restroom. People standing around in close proximity pretending the other doesn’t exist, which is fine, I guess, and then I see a kid trying to pry open the door to the crew quarters. I think: people behave so badly in the air. But maybe kids dont have a sense of personal boundaries even when they’re grounded.
I end up sleeping after all. I am woken by a bumpy landing and find myself in Taipei. For a moment we are both in a new state and not, half bound still by the communal bubble of stale airplane air. The seat belt sign is still on and the plane is still moving when a man stands and starts pulling his bag out of the overhead compartment. Immediately the stewardesses erupt into a chorus of Kindly sit down sir Please sit down Kindly but they are still belted to their crew landing positions and don’t (can’t?) get up. The man, incredibly, acts like he cannot hear them. The hint of a pause doesn’t even register in his movements, he continues yanking things from above, duty free shopping bags and the like. The refrain from the stewardesses continue. He stays vertical. Kindly sit down please be seated kindly kindly kindly. We all stare. Then the plane grinds to a halt and although the seat belt signs are still lit, more people get up. Kindly sit down please please. You have to give it to the stewardesses for persevering in the face of such humiliation. They keep on going until the seat belt sign clicks off and then they have to get up and help. You really have to give it to them. For smiling and nodding at each passenger as we disembark, despite their in flight authority being completely and publically dismissed. I absentmindedly nod goodbye to the one closest to me. Thank you see you again thank you for flying with us.
Later on I see the same man who started it all stride out of immigration, brimming, and kiss his wife hello in the arrival hall. It’s the kiss of confidence and for a hot minute you can kind of see how he’d have charmed her back in the day. In that moment I feel communal in this charm. I walk past them and think to myself how an airplane is a stateless place.