Why I Can’t Sleep on a Plane – Part 2

I’m a good sleeper. I’ve been practicing my whole life. While some may need white noise machines and meds to rest, I usually just need to be not standing and tired—I’d like to thank each of my four kids for consistently making the latter possible. But sleeping on a commercial flight, for me, is next to impossible. The reasons are two fold. The first deals with money, catch up on part one here, the second reason is entirely different.



There’s nothing more comforting than the warm touch of a loved one. Like when my wife lays her cheek on my shoulder and holds my hand. Two people that love each other, sharing body heat.

But the warmth of a complete stranger?

Pass. Super pass.

A stranger’s touch isn’t really warm. It’s white hot. Burning your skin like you’re leaning against a giant block of Ebola.

I was on a flight a couple weeks ago where this came into stark clarity. I settled in my seat and was preparing to sleep. The guy sitting next to me had laid claim to the “shared” armrest. No problem. As long as he doesn’t break the invisible plane that constitutes my space we’re cool. But this is America, so my row buddy winged out his arms.

And there it was. The unsolicited warmth of an unfamiliar human being. And it burned.

If I was walking down the street and someone said that they would give me money to feel how warm some guy’s arm was, I’d pass. Super pass. But this is modern air travel. You get three cubic feet of space and the loose, honor-system-based promise that it won’t get invaded. Here we were, two men whose elbows now knew more about each other than he and I did.

So I nonchalantly collapsed the right side of my body. Trying to suck my shoulder and arm into my chest cavity—made me think of turtles, and how they are definitely built for modern air travel. As I did so the warmth left but was replaced by something equally sinister, maybe even more so.

Arm hair.

Being summer we were both wearing short sleeved t-shirts. And being half grizzly bear my traveling partner had arm hair that, like the old AT&T commercial, wanted to reach out and touch someone.

I immediately realized that by getting further from him I had allowed his arm hair to stand up and stretch. And to my horror it felt, soft. Like he’d glued long-haired cats to his arms to avoid pet travel fees. It would’ve been better if the hair was prickly and sharp. Then I could at least hope to be stabbed in the brachial artery and bleed out, finding the sleep and lack of touching I wanted all along. Instead it was much worse.

Each micro bump and jolt of the plane was a caressing reminder that my travelmate is a giant, fluffy sasquatch.

Having my arm tickled and teased by a stranger is not my idea of “flying the friendly skies.” I would much rather be scratched and lacerated by barbed wire arm hair because, then it would be truthful. It would say that the world is unfair and filled with pain.

By the time we landed my arm had been gently buffed to a nice shine.

I didn’t sign up for that.


On a different flight that same trip I scored the Southwest jackpot and landed a middle seat. Thank you to the airplane manufacturing executive who many years ago said, “I bet we could squeeze another seat into those rows. Think of the profits! Surely there is a large demographic of folks that hate the joy of a window seat AND the restroom convenience of an aisle seat.”

The problem with the middle seat is that there is no way to lean. Especially if you don’t know your neighbors. And if you fall asleep upright you can never truly be sure how your body will settle. Because you’re asleep. The last thing I wanted to be was the hairy arm guy, invading other people’s space like some kind of barbarian.

I was wearing jeans but was still worried about touching my row mates if my knees fanned out during unconsciousness—being concerned about this is what separates us from the animals. So apart from removing my belt and tying my legs together, which may have resulted in an emergency landing and me being arrested because I don’t know what the rules are on belts, I dozed in and out of surface level sleep and remained cognizant of my appendages.

Fortunately this time so did my row mates. There was no touching at all. But because of this there was also no sleeping either.


Airline: 2, Sleep:0.

So for me, not sleeping on a plane boils down to two things. Money and touching. I long for the mythical early flight where I have a whole row to myself and they’ve lost the boxes of tempting complimentary refreshments instead of my luggage.

That’s the dream.



photo credit: “Harry” via photopin (license)

One Comment

  1. Eleanor said:

    “Pass. Super Pass.” Bahaha! That is awesome.

    These posts were, at the same time, entertaining and mournfully true. I’m impressed with your ability to so adequately describe awkward situations.

    October 15

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