Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 28, 2012

From My Economy Seat

Doha, Qatar en route to Houston, Texas

I am finally en route home from Doha via Dubai aboard Emirates, my favorite airline. Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I try to write something several times a week that will either encourage you or prompt you to think a bit more deeply about a particular topic or current event. Well, this post will have a bit of a lighter tone as I reflect on the hundreds of flights I have been on over the years. As I write, I am seated in a packed economy cabin with the hoi polloi (while I have lots of frequent flyer miles I can’t upgrade on every flight). Over the years of flying I have observed lots of things from my economy seat, many of which occur with predictable regularity.

First, there is the matter of the pre-flight safety sermon. I admit that I often yawn and sometimes nap through this object-lesson-driven oratory. It’s not that I don’t respect the flight attendants but I know how to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt. And even though I know where my life jacket is stowed, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the folks who could not get their carry-on bags into overhead bins will actually be very successful in donning their life jackets as we all scream and claw our way to emergency exits in the event of an emergency landing on water. We’re all toast if that ever happens. Having said that, I have had occasion to help people who did not know how to buckle a seat belt because they had never seen or used one. I hope I never have to do the same with a life jacket or oxygen mask.

Then there is the simple matter of how to operate the bi-fold door to the lavatory. To use a Texas idiom, I have watched people stand in front of these doors “like a calf staring at a new gate.” Even though this is not rocket science, many people can’t figure it out because they have never seen a hinged bi-fold door. That’s ok. What’s not ok is what happens inside the lavatory. Oh my soul, is it really that hard to hit that wide-mouthed target called a toilet? I have walked in and immediately walked out of some lavatories just because I don’t want the next guy to think I was the one responsible for the mess. While there are more things that amuse me than annoy me on flights, a filthy lavatory is the worst. Perhaps the airlines should put signs in each lavatory: “Our aim is to keep this lavatory clean. Your aim will help, too!” But then again, if it is that hard for some folks just to get in to the lavatory then the sign would probably be useless.

Every airline has carry-on luggage allowances. However, there is a way around that. Duty free bags are allowed as carry-ons and do not count against your allowance. I watched a guy today who managed to get on our flight with his carry-on plus five or six bulging Duty Free bags that were bigger than his carry-on. Honestly, if you start collecting duty-free bags and use those instead of luggage, you will never have to check another bag again. After all, I have never ever seen a flight attendant actually inspect the contents of a duty-free bag. My strangest carry-on experience happened in London as I was boarding a flight to Pakistan. The security attendant on the jetway took one look at my bag and told me it was too heavy. “Really?” I replied with amazement. Here was a person with some kind of bionic capability to look at my bag and determine its weight. Long story short, she made me take things out of my backpack to make it lighter and then told me to proceed on to the plane as she warned me to not put those things back into my bag. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

I have observed a few other things from my economy seat. There are always folks that do not realize that they have actually been assigned a specific seat. I watched one guy take a seat and refuse to give it up when the person assigned to that seat arrived. Even the flight attendant could not get him to budge. And then there is the matter of turning off all electronic mobile devices and the time I thought a petite flight attendant on Air India was going to stuff an electronic device down the throat of a big guy who refused to comply after several warnings. She won! Once while leaving Beijing some guy dropped off his carry-on in the seat next to mine and disappeared. When the plane started to move I told the flight attendant about it and she phoned the pilot who stopped the plane while they searched for the guy. They eventually found him in another seat and mercilessly lectured him while everyone looked on. Even though it’s better to err on the side of caution, I felt sorry for the poor guy.

There are so many other stories I could tell about what I have observed from my economy seat. But what about you? What have you observed? What amuses or annoys you on a flight? In spite of the goofy stuff that happens on flights, I enjoy observing humanity in motion and I love sitting among the hoi polloi. It’s all a part of the grand adventure and I have met some great people along the way. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to meet in the air sometime. You will probably recognize me as the guy seated next to the dude carrying the kitchen sink in a duty-free bag. And now that I am done writing this post, I am headed to the lavatory with my fingers crossed!


  1. Omar, Great and funny insights on air travel! I bet you could go on and on with the amount of travel you do. (On one flight we saw cheese dripping from an overhead bin during the incline of takeoff as a suitcase squished it out of its container. Eewwwww!)
    I enjoyed following your blog on this trip and glad you are headed back to Texas.

    • Dripping cheese … Yikes! Great to be back home. Thanks for following my journey to serve in Qatar and Jordan.

  2. Omar, love this one and every blog! How true. My favorite was boarding in Karachi and a guy borught on as carry on a car door! One time the pilot stopped hard after repeated take your seat warnings as we taxi’ed into Dhaka People went flying and the flight attendant said “I told you so”. Americans need to travel in Asia to experience the Fun of Flying

    • Thanks for sharing, Don. A car door gives new meaning to carry-on. I did check in two frozen fish as baggage when flying out of northern Mongolia years ago. No one seemed particularly surprised to see the still frozen fish circling on the luggage carousel at the airport in Ulan Bator. I’m sure they had seen stranger things than that while flying the friendly skies above the steppes of Mongolia.

  3. They might not have been carry-ons, but I once brought back a thousand or so t-shirts… With the help of some friends! 🙂

  4. When I left India 43 years back, Cochin to Mumbai flight in an Avro plane, 3 hours flight after stopping at Goa. Then from Mumbai to London via
    Boeing 707, from London to Chicago via Montreal through V.C. 10 in first class through a miracle. In those days, people sitting at the same seat row used to talk, but now even the next seated person won’t look at us and talk anything. Big revolution of isolation in the flying experience!

    • Yes, I often find it hard to get others seated near me to engage in conversation. Occasionally I am fortunate to find someone who is willing to chat. I love meeting others and learning about where they are from and where they are headed.

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