Pretzels, Peanuts, and People: Life lessons of flying

“Write about plane food.”

This was my friend’s suggestion for an article. Plane food? Fine. Well, it could be. Depending on the airline, what class you are flying, and the duration of the flight, plane food could be fine. The various snacks range from tiny bags of pretzels, stroopwaffles, and nuts, to over-flavored potato chips. These are complemented by tiny cups of water or sodas. Entrees could be anything and everything on different flights: from wraps, to burgers, to breakfast burritos, to lasagna, to chicken and potatoes, and shepherd’s pie.

The food is expertly paired with worries and prayers: I’m going to scald my fingers on the incredibly hot tray. How do they get it so hot? I hope the toddler next to me doesn’t spill his salad on me. Will they run out of the dish I want? As nice at the vegetarian lasagna sounds, I’d prefer something else — without mushrooms.

Honestly, plane food is part of the experience of flying. Some trips are over in a flash, while others seem to last an eternity. Chicago to Dubuque? Quick. Chicago to London? Much longer. Chicago to Hawaii? Even longer. People may put on a sleeping mask or use a neck pillow- hopefully a stranger doesn’t use your shoulder as a pillow. People may take their shoes off — some really shouldn’t be allowed to. In a way, buying a ticket and picking a seat means you could be picking your poison. You hope you’re not next to an old man who snores or complains too loudly, or next to a crying baby — or a middle-aged woman who has the flu and doesn’t mind sharing her germs. On a plane you could make a new friend — or an enemy. You never know who you might meet.

That’s why my advice to travelers is to be open to new possibilities, including new people. I’ve shared oranges with a woman from Senegal, and chocolate with a woman from New Orleans;  I shared shortbread with them. I learned what the Senegalese woman’s favorite movie was, and the woman from New Orleans gave me travel advice. The language barrier and strange sense of style seemed slightly off-putting, but I tried anyway. I ventured out of my comfort zone. Last May, my aunt was going to see her in-laws in Dublin, Ireland and she began speaking to the young woman beside her: college-aged, like her own daughter and myself. The girl, with a French accent, revealed that she’d been studying for a semester at a small Catholic college in Iowa- one called Loras College. It’s truly a small world.

Another time, I sat next to international students who were completing internships in Chicago and Naperville. They wanted to hear all about Dubuque and where I went to school.

They asked, “Spell Mississippi?” “Spell Dubuque, please,” and “What’s a Duhawk?”

Travel is a chance to journey to a new place, or to one you’ve already discovered and want to return to. You learn new things along the way about the destination, activities, and culture. Learning doesn’t just take place at the destination, but along the way as well. You never know who you might meet: a new friend, or someone who can help you out down the road. Learning about the world around you includes learning about other people. Real life is full of learning: you can’t experience flying or plane food through a textbook. Besides, that mustached elderly man you sat next to who likes to go to yodeling festivals? You’ll be able to look back and laugh.

“You’ll never believe who I sat next to…”

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Brigid is a staff writer for The Lorian.

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