We were just realizing that we had been sitting in our plane seats for a little too long on the runway, when the pilot’s announcement came on. First in German, then in English, he explained how a variety of delays had added up to our missing our slot for take-off, and we would probably have at least an hour wait, then need to have an alternate route selected and be given a new landing slot at our destination. All of which added up to who knows how much time and how many missed connections.
In this climate we were resigned- air travel is struggling lately and also we are still full of that post-quarantine gratitude to be able to get on a plane at all. But the young man sitting on our aisle seat just put his elbows on his tray table and his masked face in his hands.
He was a big guy, with thick, tanned arms coming from his pristine mint green sport-shirt. He wore khaki shorts and appeared the picture of strength and good health. His hair was reddish-blond and stuck up in a trendy haircut. His face remained in his hands, his body quite still.
Once the plane took off and the seat belt sign turned off, our seat-mate got up and went toward the restrooms at the back of the small plane.
Between our word puzzles, kindle-reading and cat-naps, we looked at his empty seat and wondered about him. Was he sick in a bathroom? Was he claustrophobic, perhaps had asked for a first class seat? But the plane was full. We hadn’t seen him walk past but we could have missed his passing. We joked that perhaps he was a spy who had changed his identity in the restroom. But the seat remained empty, with no water bottle, paperback, or evidence he had been there.
As this short, two hour flight prepared for landing I thought surely he would return to his seat, but no. I kept looking back the few rows to the bathrooms. I saw a flight attendant knock on a door and briefly check inside- nothing.
Landing and the rush to navigate the new airport to try and make our connecting flight distracted us from conjectures about our missing seat-mate. Once settled into our seats in that new plane we asked ourselves- should we have alerted a flight attendant? Didn’t they have procedures- surely they would have noticed… After awhile it dawned on us that we hadn’t taken off yet. It was deja-vu all over again.
Finally the pilot came on to explain, saying that a passenger had luggage on board the plane but had failed to show up. You know, in these airplane security days that means they have to get the luggage off before the plane can fly. In case a stored suitcase contains a bomb, of course. The delay was in figuring out this passenger was never coming and in finding their luggage after it had been stowed in the belly of this large airbus.
Was it our mystery companion? Had he been scheduled to also take our connecting flight? Had he become really ill, perhaps even died, perhaps overdosed on drugs? We didn’t see or hear any indication. Had he committed suicide in the confines of the tiny airplane bathroom? Again, no hub-bub, no sign of emergency or trouble. But I do know that plane personnel are very good at discretion and taking care of unfortunate incidents after the public have departed that plane and before the next set of passengers come on.
It could all be explained by boring mundane reasons. Or not. I have to accept that I will never know.