The Four Seatmates of the Apocalypse


‘Fellow travelers from Hell’

Now, why couldn’t it have been Drew Barrymore and her daughter who sat behind us on our 17-hour plane ride?

See, I happened to run into Drew and her daughter in the lobby of our building the other day, and boy, was she nice. I had spotted a cute little girl sporting an unmistakable school uniform and said, “Hey, is that a Brearley Girl?” (Brearley being the name of the exceptionally fine New York City girls’ school that The Child attended.)

The Child rocking her blue Brearley jumper

The Brearley Girl thus addressed responded with true B-Girl enthusiasm as her mother beamed. I then praised the school and threw in a few deets about my own Brearley-burnished daughter. (Math Whiz, Tech Genius, Forbes Thirty Under Thirty honoree, and so on and so forth.)

Realizing I was being, well, gushy, I focused my attention on the blue-jumpered sprite in front of me. “Hmmm…fifteen?” I guessed, knowing that little girls want to be thought of as much older. “Ten. Next week!” she piped up. That’s when the mom chimed in with the girl’s name, then held out her hand and said, “I’m Drew.” Me, (knowing that celebs, at least in New York, never want to be acknowledged as such) “Nice to meet you, Drew. I’m Alice. I live in the secret apartment.” (To ten-year-old) “Wanna see?” So I opened the swing door next to the elevator to reveal the shiny red door to the Ken & Barbie House. “I’d show you, but I’ve gotta run. Maybe next time!”

Now-grown still-youthful Child plus shrinking aging Mom inside the secret apartment, AKA the Ken & Barbie House, on my last Very Big Birthday

It was a lovely encounter, especially when I remembered that Drew had been our main competition for the K & B House. (She wanted it for one of her staff.) It would have been so nice if it were she who sat behind us on our flight. Though I realized that wouldn’t happen, since no doubt she would have flown first class.

I briefly considered first class when booking our Africa trip. I say “briefly” because I practically had a heart attack when I saw the price. When I told Dude Man, he said something like, “Why not go for it; it’s only money.” When I quoted the figure, he said, “For both of us, right?” “Nope; multiply that by two.” “Oh.”

I think he was relieved when I admitted that, even if we sprang for it, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. I’d be thinking every single minute of those 17 hours that the flight was costing as much as the entire tour.

Some of the things that made the trip worth every penny: elephants

So there we were, settling into what Delta calls Premium Select (which wasn’t exactly peanuts, though they did give you some), when I see a mom and a dad towing two small children down the aisle. I’m crossing my fingers and holding my breath when, sure enough, they stop right behind us and consult their boarding passes. “We’re right here!” chirps the female parent in one of those gratingly annoying sing-songy Mom Voices.

Oh noooooo.

Well, all I can say is that I’m so grateful that Dude Man bought me noise-cancelling headphones — and that I elected to bring them on this trip. (Which I almost didn’t, since we were going to be traveling from lodge to lodge and bringing head phones meant more gear to tote.)

Aboard our first flight home. Sweaty palms, but no need for headphones

The kids — boy around seven, his sister, around five — weren’t so bad, except for the occasional obligatory seat-back kick. It was the parents. They kept it up with the (loud) sing-songy voices: “Mommy’s going to go potty. Would you like to go potty too?” “Here, let Daddy help you pick out a movie.” Whereupon he reads the description of every single child-friendly film. “You loved Frozen. Oh look! The Little Mermaid!

Seventeen hours, friends. Seventeen hours.

Well. Flash forward three weeks. Through three weeks of amazing African adventures. Enough to fuel many a blog post.

Me with cubs. Lion cubs, not people cubs

Our travel home started with an hour-long ride in an open safari vehicle, followed by a flight in a plane so small it was like wearing a plane, then a small regional jet from Maun to Johannesburg. Six hours and two airport lounge stays later, we’re settling into our seats in Delta Premium Select when I hear, “Let Mommy buckle that for you.”

Yes, it’s them. The Flying Family From Hell. Same seats, right behind us. Same sing-songy voices. Same periodic kicks in the back. For seventeen hours.

Those noise-cancelling headphones were worth their weight in gold. God bless you, Sony.

The only way some children should fly. In my humble opinion

New York City. October 2023.

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9 thoughts on “The Four Seatmates of the Apocalypse

  1. judy robbins

    Glad you had a nice encounter with a celebrity. What person wouldn’t be nice when you pay nice compliments and attention to their child. And you are rightfully proud of your Child.

  2. What are the odds they’d be right behind you on the return trip, too!? Wow, don’t go playing the lottery, Alice! I do think oftentimes the parents are worse than the kids. On my sister’s and my return flight from Portugal, this summer, there was a woman and toddler. The toddler was fine. The mother of the toddler was so very strange–doing the loud baby talking but then also getting mad at the toddler, the way you’d get passive-agressive-mad at a boyfriend if you were 13 maybe. Like, “oh, you don’t like me now? You don’t want me to hold you now?” I was about ready to adopt that kid by the time we landed. Flying sure brings out the strangeness in folks. Glad you’re back on terra firma. Those photos–wow, elephants and lion cubs. You all sure know how to travel. Maybe 1st class next time!

    • OMG! That poor little child! I too have seen the “passive aggressive” thing aimed at kids. It’s amazing they all don’t grow up to be ax-murderers. And yes, I was dumbfounded to see that very same family behind us AGAIN! And it wasn’t even that our travel dates were typical. We left on a Tuesday and returned on a Saturday (!) I guess I can save my lottery-ticket money and use it for first-class tickets. (Though it would take a heck of a lot of lotteries to get to those seats!)

  3. Kary Peterson

    I understand that feeling of guessing who will sit behind you while waiting to board! usually if you see the largest unkept person waiting to board, I tried to look away and not notice, but that usually meant they would sit next to me!

    It would have been great to have Drew Barrymore and family behind you, but pretty cool you met them, and sounds like they were very nice family!

    • Hey Kary! So sorry you’ve shared in this experience, but glad to know I’m not the only one (!) Meanwhile, happy belated birthday to the lovely Tanya. Here’s hoping you have only happy travels together!

  4. Madeleine Szabo

    Since we usually get on a plane first because of Alex’s bionic hip that “presents health problems”, we are the first seated. We nervously watch with bated breath as all kinds of creatures head down the aisle towards us. We have a running bet about whom we are going to get stuck next to or behind. “Omg. Look at that one coming; has a screaming infant; please, please dear Lord, not here….no, no, noooooo!”.

    Fortunately, we have never had to endure 17 hours (sounds like seeing creatures in the wild was well worth it).

    It would have been nice when God made man that he gave us flaps to cover ears and nostrils like eyelids cover eyes. Fortunately technology has finally started to help block out the world… He did give us brains (!) —-err, some of us.

    Great blog, Alice. What a fabulous trip you went on!

  5. Debra Fried

    Ha!!! Amazing (not good amazing, obvi) that they returned for your return. I’m sorry (but only kind of sorry, because if it hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t have had this funny story to tell.).

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