I haven't been on many flights in my life. My preferred method of travel is by boat, then by car, then by bike, then by hot air balloon, horseback, and huskie-drawn sleds (those are all pretty much on the same level)...basically, I really hate airplanes.
Airports are one of the most miserable places on Earth. No one wants to be stuck in an airport, even for the shortest amount of time. Security sucks, there are more languages being spoken than in a crowded bazaar, and no amount of chain restaurants, bars, or duty-free shops can make this place any better. Naturally, people are going to be quite pissy.
And then these pissed-off people are placed next to some pissed off strangers.
Now, there are those times when I've been stuck next to an overly affectionate couple or family members. I feel like I'm crashing a party. I know those questions asked by the protective mother are forced, and I know what that couple would be doing if I wasn't perusing Skynet right next to them. Yes, these are the moments where awkward glances and conversations can be avoided by withdrawing into one's iPod.
But being on a two-seat aisle with another stranger is a different dance.
Meeting your airplane neighbor, or "seat buddy," is like a bizzare twist on the regular dating scene at a bar. There are those awkward introductions, the small-talk of origins and destinations, and the free beer and packs of peanuts. Then, the two of you undergo hours of each other's presence and physical contact. You have no expectations before meeting this person, and you begin to adjust your social standards to accept this stranger. You don't want to avoid this person by listening to music or reading for the duration of the flight. If the other person were to do this, you'd be thinking how he's an unfriendly asshole (don't lie, you know you would be). Some small-talk must happen. We all want to be liked by others; this is a good time to demonstrate our well-adapted social skills. It would be pretty foolish to hate someone you get to share butt space with for the next eight hours, right?
I can tell you about every one of my seat buddies—from the Tennessee teenager who was leaving vacation early for his baseball season to the older South African man who was visiting his daughter in London...I just have no idea (or really care) what happens to these people afterward.
Once the plane touches down, these neighbors, with whom you have shared a meal, climbed over for bathroom breaks, and relaxed around enough to sleep next to, become the miserable "airport monkeys" in the crowd gushing from the gate. I'll never know how Ryan's season went, and I don't know what Erik did with his daughter in London.
And I don't really care.
We experience these moments in time with strangers, become friends for a few hours, and then continue with life. Our seat buddies will forever reside in this section of our lives, but they rarely reappear later on. Now, there are those fate-related romance stories of couples meeting on airplanes. That's great, and we all find one (or a few) people in our lives that tend to stick around.
The rest are just our seat buddies or our one night stands: completely forgettable.