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Mon., March 4, 2013, 5 a.m.

Travel: Don’t Get Too Comfortable (Those aren’t pillows!)

Steve Martin and John Candy, in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'
Steve Martin and John Candy, in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'

   You hear a lot about how uncomfortable modern travel has become and it’s all true. Long lines, security screenings, cancelled flights and cramped seats can take the fun out of getting from one place to another. But, for the sake of argument, I’d like to point out things can go terribly wrong when we get too comfortable.

    It was the earliest flight out and we were a bleary bunch as we boarded. I’d scored an upgrade and sank gratefully into my first class aisle seat. Some people closed their eyes as soon as they sat down and you could already hear snores in the cabin even as the line of passengers was still filing down the aisle and fighting for space in the overhead bins.

     The woman beside me immediately opened her computer, her fingers flying across the keyboard. Across the aisle to my right, two men, dressed in suits and ties, were silently drinking cups of coffee and scanning emails on their Blackberrys. Finally, the plane took off and after breakfast was served the cabin was silent, except for the sound of my seat mate's typing.

   Later, folding back the pages of my newspaper, I glanced over at the two men across the aisle and realized they were both asleep. The thing is, they weren’t just dozing. They were deeply asleep, dead to the world and sort of folded toward one another. Not quite touching, but close. Very close.
    Smothering a laugh, I went back to my paper and it was some time before I glanced their way again. But things had only gotten worse. The two men were by then, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. They looked like an old married couple sleeping nose to nose, with eyes closed and mouths wide open. Still not touching, but close. So dangerously close.

    I tried not to stare but it was hard. I’ve flown a lot of miles and seen a lot of sleeping passengers, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the two men across from me that morning.

    The flight attendant came down the aisle with coffee and did a double-take when she saw them.  Startled, she looked over at me and then hurried back to the galley. Soon another flight attendant was peeking out. By this time the woman beside me had noticed and was laughing softly.

    Our flight attendant returned and, obviously thinking ahead to what might happen if one of the men woke first and, well, took offense, leaned in and asked softly if she could get either of them a pillow. At the sound of her voice their eyes opened, each immediately taking in the closeness of the other, and they flew apart, retreating as far as possible to the edge of the seats.

    The men sat up and with extreme nonchalance, straightened ties, checked wristwatches and brushed invisible lint off their trousers. It reminded me of the scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where John Candy and Steve Martin wake up and realize they’ve been sleeping spooned together, hands tucked where they shouldn’t be, and try to shake it off with a lot of harrumphing and throat clearing.  I had to hide my face behind the newspaper in my hands again.

    When the plane landed the two men quickly gathered up their belongings, walked out into the crowded terminal and never looked back.  And I’m willing to bet that’s one extremely uncomfortable travel story neither of them will ever tell another soul.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.