The lucky last aisle seat next to the “Fat Man” on the plane

Yesterday, I had an experience that restored my faith in humanity. One of those heart-swelling moments when I thought to myself, “Yes, all is right and good in the world.”

I was flying on Southwest from LAX to BWI. I don’t regularly fly on the airline (but when offered a free flight, I’m not one to turn it down!) and had forgotten to check-in for my boarding group. By the time I remembered, I was relegated to C30 and practically guaranteed a middle seat.

*A note about my flying style: I’m mildly claustrophobic and particularly fidgety and faithfully book an aisle seat whenever I fly. 

When I boarded the plane, I scanned my seating options — all middle seats.  I carefully walked down the aisle, looking at potential mates, searching for someone who’d be able to handle me getting up at least a few times to go to the bathroom and stretch my legs.

And then I saw it, oddly open and beckoning — an empty aisle seat.

I curiously approached the row, and asked the man sitting in middle if the seat was taken. He said No.


After I sat down, I thought a little about my good fortune, and wondered if the man’s weight had anything to do with the seat going empty for so long (I’m not assuming it did, but simply stating it was one of the explanations I considered for such an unlikely event).

He was definitely heavier than the average male. His belly protruded beyond his mid-thigh and he appeared slightly uncomfortable sitting in the middle. But flying next to him for five hours turned out to be a notably pleasant experience.

He was mindful of not intruding on my space, and invariably calm and low maintenance.

Towards the end of our flight, I asked him if he was from Maryland (he was) and then inquired into his trip to LA. It turned out he, and his three daughters traveling with him, were just connecting from Hawaii.

His wife had gotten a year-long job assignment in Waikiki and they were moving there this summer.

He told me he was a middle school teacher (of math and science) in Baltimore City and he would be taking a sabbatical from teaching in order to “just enjoy Hawaii and spend time being a dad.”

I subsequently burst out in a huge smile and exclaimed, “I’m so happy for you!”

We talked for about 20 minutes. I wish I had struck up the conversation earlier. He was smart and insightful and seemed kind and compassionate. His one daughter, about 10 or 12 years old, sitting in the window seat next to him, was quiet but cheerful and regularly smiled as we talked.

I walked off the plane carrying the feeling that there is justice in the world. That good things can happen to good people.

And it was a rousing reminder of how much we can miss in life when we only look at the surface of things.

PS – I considered not posting this, for fear of offending those sensitive about weight. However, after moving to an environment that glorifies youth, beauty and thinness over everything else in this world, it was a much-needed reminder of what I value and hold dear.

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