There was a service dog on the flight I took from Boise to Seattle for my conference earlier this month. I had seen the dog, and its owner, earlier in the airport, but I had no idea that the dog was going to be on my flight until I found my seat and saw him splayed all over the space where my feet belonged.
His owner cajoled him out of the space where I needed to put my feet, and I thanked her, but I am allergic to dogs. Not so much that I couldn’t be on a flight with a dog, but enough that I didn’t want to be sitting next to one. If I get fur on me, there’s a good chance of itchiness to follow. So I told her I’d asked to be moved.
But then I saw my co-worker enter the aisle of the aircraft. I walked up to her and asked if she would switch seats with me, explaining dog, explaining allergy. She agreed and went to the back of the plane, where, while it was loud, she had a pleasant flight chatting with the dog’s owner, who turned out to be military.
I sat in her seat, closer to the front, but not much less noisy. We were, after all, in one of those puddle jumper planes- not a prop plane, like we’d get on the way back but a small jet nonetheless. Noise permeated the space, but I didn’t care. My focus was drawn inexorably by my nose, which could not help but inhale the disgusting combination of stale cigarette smoke, unwashed body and moldering clothing (that smell that clothes get when they’re left in the washing machine for too long after it’s done, a nasty, nose pinching foulness).
I tried using the air vent above me to keep my nose awash in freshness to limited effect. I tried burying my nose in my coat, in the collar of my shirt, but that was not very effective and a bit too obvious. I mean, did this guy know how he smelled? Did he mean to smell that way? Maybe he’s down on his luck. Maybe this was his cleanest set of clothing. Maybe… I don’t care. When spending an hour jammed into a very small metal tube with fifty other people is on your agenda, you should think about not being stinky.
But, I actually have to thank this anonymous smelly guy. Because I was driven to distract myself by any means necessary, and the means that I landed on was writing. I began to write a story on my phone about a character in an airplane, sitting next to a very smelly person. From that point the experience of the character and I diverged. I landed in Seattle without any other events. I have not yet figured out exactly where my character is landing, but I’m going to find out.