Passengers Share The Most Interesting Person They Sat Next To On A Plane

If you've ever been on an airplane, you know that in a space that tight, whatever legroom you get is prime real estate, and the armrest between two seats very quickly turns into a battleground. 

But the coziness of an airplane also means it's the perfect chance to make friends with the person sitting next to you. As these Quora users found, sometimes that person just happens to be someone with an incredible life story!

[Sources listed at the end of the article.]

(1/2) "I sat next to a woman who was a mail-order bride. She was on her way back to home to Ukraine for the first time since had been married in the US 5 years earlier, and she was flying alone with a heavy heart.

For the first half of the flight I simply thought I was sitting next to a cute young college girl, but after we got our food on a long flight to Amsterdam, we had a brief chat where we introduced ourselves. It was then I asked her the usual... 'work or pleasure?' where she went into her backstory.

She explained how, growing up in the former Soviet Union, she had always dreamed of life in America and going to college in the West. She came across a program that many girls in her city were apart of. It came across to her as an opportunity to meet guys from the West. After saving up for the program, she made it to what was I pictured as a convention of hundreds of girls who would be screened, interviewed and ultimately those chosen would meet the guy that would select you. She basically got processed and was sent all alone to America to be married. The company handled the processing, visas, certificates, and licenses."


Joel Oleson

(2/2) "Her bright future of college and opportunity in the West closed down fast when she found herself married to a guy who loved TV and microwaved meals. He didn't like to travel, didn't appreciate culture, didn't really even like leaving the house. He was extremely shy and introverted. He's an IT expert that lives in Redmond, Washington.

While she realized she was totally incompatible with her partner, she has adapted and found a way to make it work. Still, she was returning to the Ukraine to catch up with her family and decide what to do next. She feels bad for her husband, but doesn't also feel much of a bright future. She was hopeful things would work out.

After our 6 hour conversation and parting hug, I felt like we had an amazing kinship. It was hard to part ways after we arrived. I really felt for her, but was also worried about what advice to give her. We exchanged contact info, but I was worried about getting too involved.

An incredible person with a fascinating story. I wish her all the best, and hope she's found happiness!"

Joel Oleson

"As a graduate student at the University of Miami, I was traveling from New York to Miami. After giving up my seat on an earlier flight, the airline upgraded me to first class. At the time, I was going to school full-time and working 20 hours a week as a graduate assistant and in the Campus Sports Publicity department, while living on pasta and day-old bread that the Winn Dixie discounted before it went stale. So the upgrade felt like winning the lottery. 

An elderly woman sitting beside me was dressed to the nines. She had violet eyeshadow to match her sparkly eyes and also lots of gold and diamonds. I assumed she was some sort of socialite. In fact, she lived in West Palm Beach; however, she was extremely warm and friendly and had a very easy laugh. At the time I was very preoccupied with school and bills but she seemed to think every little trial and tribulation in my life was 'wonderful!' She was such a positive person and seemed to know a little about everything.

Near the end of the flight, I asked the woman what was her secret. She put her hand on mine and smiled. 'Well, I am a Holocaust survivor you see, so I know how precious life really is.' She pushed up her sleeve and showed me the number tattooed on her arm."

Michael Lent

(1/2) "This was while flying from London to Atlanta for the Olympics in 1996 as a none-too-smart student. Somehow, even with a rucksack and wearing jeans and a t-shirt I was upgraded to business class. Obviously, a great start to my trip.

We took off and I settled in with some snacks and a glass of champagne. At that point, I noticed that 3 or 4 passengers around me, were, if at all possible, even scruffier than I was. I started to chat to my neighbor about our respective trips and found out that they were a band who had just finished a tour and were on the trip back home. Eventually it got to the obvious question--what was the band called, and did I know them.

When he told me their band name, I said I was sorry I didn't know them. This had quite an effect! First of all the entire band got involved throwing song titles at me and were almost stunned I didn't know them."


Andrew Jordan

(2/2) "What happened next was my own private concert. A guitar was retrieved from the overhead bins, drumsticks (or similar, time has made my memory hazy!) were found and the back of my seat became an impromptu drum kit. I proceeded to get a 'greatest hits' compilation of songs, including 'Freebird' and 'Sweet Home Alabama.' Before each one, they would insist, 'You must know this one!' 

And that's how I got my own dedicated Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at 40,000 ft above the earth.

Afterwards, when instruments had been put away, I found out about the band's history. Their formation, the tragic plane crash, how they broke up and then re-formed. Johnny [Van Zant] explained how he was looking forward to running around naked in his fields on his return!

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, except for a few businessmen who were sitting nearby stopping me on the way out--they wanted to thank me for inspiring the most incredible flight they'd ever had."

Andrew Jordan

"When I was a grad student at the AI Lab at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I used to fly back to the DC area on the shuttle via NYC. At that time, the shuttle offered student discounts which made this really cheap.

One time, I sat next to a really smart guy who knew a lot about the Internet. I talked with him the whole flight... about AI, the web, networking, and so on. This was 1993, so the web was new and the Internet still largely unknown outside of academia and defense.

I later found out it was Vint Cerf. He never let on, in the slightest way, that he was one of the most important figures in the history of computing, and would go on to be one of two people widely referred to as the 'Fathers of the Internet.'

I even sent him email later, and he actually answered! The kicker? He was literally one of the inventors of the first commercial e-mail system. 

So that's the story of how I emailed with the guy who invented email--and the Internet itself. Coolest thing I've ever done."

Dave Baggett

"In April 1992, I sat across the aisle from Hillary Clinton on a tiny charter plane, flying from Pittsburgh to a campaign event in Erie, PA. 

It was right before the Clintons received Secret Service protection, so an Arkansas state trooper was on the plane with me, Mrs. Clinton, and two of her regular traveling staff members. What I remember most about the trip was that we flew through a lightning storm and Mrs. Clinton managed to sleep through it. 

She was obviously fatigued, so there wasn't too much talking. We were both wearing headbands, so we bonded a little over that. Below is a photo taken right before we boarded the plane:"

Jennifer Miller

"Today on my flight, I sat down next to a 10-year-old girl who was traveling from Colorado to Connecticut by herself. The plane was stopping in Chicago, where I was getting off to catch my connecting flight. I sat down and pulled out the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the little girl said, 'I like your bookmark!' (It was a Lord of the Rings bookmark with a 3D version of Gandalf's head peering over the pages.) I turned to thank her and saw that she was reading The Hobbit. Instantly, we became best friends.

We talked about magic, wizards, the Shire, and Hobbits for most of the flight. She was a wonderful conversationalist - telling me all about her family and her dogs and being sure to ask me details about my own life.

When the plane landed she looked shyly up at me and said, 'I hope that the next person who sits next to me on the plane is as nice as you.' I was touched. I smiled and thanked her, and told her that I hoped her next seat-mate was nice, too. As I was about to stand up and head down the aisle she suddenly leaned over and enveloped me in the biggest of hugs, and said 'I'm an odd, different girl...but I think that's ok. Different means special. Thanks for being my friend!'

I know I'll never see her again, but I hope that this little girl knows how much I enjoyed talking about Tolkien and magic with her. As a 26 year old 'different and odd' girl myself, it warmed me to see her embrace the things that make her different and connect with someone in such a pure and honest way."

Brittany Sovran Greiert

(1/2) "In about 1997 or 1998, I was sitting on an Air Canada flight out of Toronto. As is usual for me, I had a stack of magazines to read on the flight, including a copy of WoodenBoat MagazineIt happened that this particular issues had a retrospective on the late Joel White, a well-known wooden boat builder. Beside me sat a middle-aged woman.

As I was reading, I struck up a friendly conversation with my seatmate, and seeing the pictures of the beautiful boats she asked a few questions about boats.

Then I mentioned to her that the best parts of the issue I had in hand were the articles about Joel White. I happened to tell her very casually that Joel was the son of E.B. White, the writer most famous for his classic children's novel, Charlotte's Web.

'Ah,' she said. 'E.B. White. I have a sort of connection to him.'

'Really! Tell me more,' I replied, as I'd always been an E.B. White fan."


Scott Welch

(2/2) "'Well,' she began, 'My father was one of those people who collected first editions of books. He was a schoolteacher, but he'd always dreamed of being an author. He had a few authors who he corresponded with, and he'd send the first edition books to them for their signatures. One of those authors was E.B. White, and the two of them carried on quite a correspondence for many years.

'When I was fairly young, my father received a nice letter from E.B. telling him that he was about to start a children's book, and that because of how much E.B. had enjoyed the correspondence with my father, he wanted my father to suggest a name for one of the characters in the new book. So, my father wrote back to E.B. and suggested that he name one of the characters after me, his daughter. In the next letter, E.B. said that he would.'

'Wow!' was my immediate response, 'That's pretty darn cool! So... I have to  ask, what's your name?'

I was speechless at her answer:


Scott Welch

"In 2007, I was attending the National Business Jet Convention in Las Vegas, and was touring one of the display aircraft. I had been a Royal Air Force Pilot in my former career, so I was enjoying just examining the aircraft up close. I was sitting on the flight deck when an older gentleman walked into the area, spotted me, and introduced himself.

'Hi, Im Gene Cernan.'

I nearly threw up. I have never been so nervous. Gene, who passed away in January of 2017, was a NASA Astronaut, Naval Aviator, Electrical Engineer, Aeronautical Engineer, Fighter Pilot.

Oh, and he was also the Last Man on the Moon.

A living legend, just casually chatting.He was absolutely charming; asked me about my Royal Air Force career, what I had flown, where I had visited.Rarely have I been tongue-tied, but in this case words nearly failed me.

He made me feel special--thats the best way to explain it.I watched him later with other people and he did the same with everyone.A charming, warm, funny man."

Jonathan Breeze

(1/2) "I was on a flight from NYC to Phoenix in late 2009, and was sitting in coach next to a much older gentleman who was wearing pretty loose-fitting clothing that seemed to contain a lot of gadgets.  I don't normally talk to people on the plane, although I thought he looked curious.  

In this case, I was traveling with my girlfriend and our small dog, and our seats were not adjacent, so I took the job of making sure the dog was properly under the seat and out of sight of the staff.  The older man next to me saw the pet and said something like, 'Oh, I guess they're not supposed to see him, huh?' and then helped make sure that didn't happen.  Then we started talking about Phoenix and he had a bunch of suggestions for museums, even though he was not from there.  

Later on, I took out my laptop and started working on something related to algorithms--at the time, I was working in the high frequency trading business.  The man next to me was pretty curious and asked technical questions.  He seemed very unassuming and eager to learn, which made what happened next all the more surprising."


Vladimir Novakovski

(2/2) "I switched over to do something on a web browser, and made some comment about how it was great that this plane had installed wifi and we could use the Internet, to which he responded, 'Oh well I actually invented hypertext.' He seemed like a really nice man and I did not want to be rude, so I played along: 'Oh, hypertext, as in hyperlinks and HTML?'  'Yeah, hyperlinks, but HTML was not the way it was supposed to work, that was not my original idea,' he responded.  

Then he introduced himself: 'I'm Ted Nelson.' He went on to talk about his recent projects at a university in Japan. After the flight, I googled him. Lo and behold, his Wikipedia page very clearly states that he was the early Internet pioneer who coined the terms 'hypertext' and 'hyperlink.'"

Vladimir Novakovski

(1/2) "I was settling into my seat, looking out the window and sipping some sort of cocktail when that lovely, sweet man sits down next to me and says,

'Oh, do you work for [the desktop organization app] Evernote?'

I looked down, and I was wearing one of my Evernote T-Shirts.

I silently swore under my breath before replying, with my best customer service demeanor.

'Why yes, I do! I happen to be the head of Tech Support.'

His reply: 'Oh, that's great! I'm having a bit of trouble with...'

This led into an Evernote talk that lasted for around 20 minutes as I walked him through the things it could and couldn't do on his various devices, took notes he had in general usability, and got to know who he was.

His name was Ed Catmull. As we talked, I learned he was and is the President of Pixar Animation studios, among his many other amazing credentials. When I realized who he was, an unexpected rage came through me like none other and I was having trouble keeping it down.

I tried, I really did. I didn't succeed.

'I'm so sorry, but I just have to say - I feel the way your company chose to market the movie 'Up' was very deceptive.'"


Heather Wilde

(2/2) "He gave me a sort of double take, like, is this woman off her rocker?

I continued, 'All the advertisements--print, multimedia, what have you--depict a fun romp whereas it is a quite depressing movie with themes that parents should have the chance to address with their children ahead of time.'

He now had had the time to come up with a response. 'All of Pixar's movies deal with emotional themes. That's what make us so universal.'

We kept going on like this, him with salient, well-reasoned responses, me refusing to back down. I know it had gotten absurd because his final remark to me was, 'Have you seen Tangled? It's great.' (Note that 'Tangled' is not even a Pixar film. I think he wanted to change the subject.)

Let this serve as my apology to the great Mr. Catmull.

I have seen Tangled. It is great. Not as good as Pixar movies, though.

I still think Up should have had a warning sticker."

Heather Wilde

"I once sat next to legendary music producer Steve Aoki on a plane.

I actually recognized him at the Toronto Pearson Airports VIP lounge. I was relaxing after a tiring flight from NYC and had an hour to kill. The funny thing is, I definitely snuck into that lounge (it was for VIP card members only, or whatever).

I walked up to him and asked, nervously, 'I'm sorry but, are you Steve Aoki?'

He looked up from his seat and smiled. 'Yeah, you got that right buddy.'

I didnt really like his music, but it was really amazing to see someone with an Asian heritage like myself being so successful in the music industry. (Hes Japanese.)

I also ended up sitting beside him on the airplane, since he recognized me and greeted me like a friend, which made me feel really special. We spent the entire 4-hour long flight to Vancouver talking about music production software, performing live, and what living in Los Angeles was like.

After the flight, he gave me a shirt and told me to keep representing Asian folks. Great guy."

Allen Rapadas

"Earlier in my career, I traveled quite bit in United PS Service from Los Angeles to New York City, which led to a lot of fascinating conversations with a host of businesspeople and celebrities. 

Alan Alda explained to me how unsafe it was to fly in private planes, which was why he always flew commercial. 

Neil Diamond politely asked me to switch seats with his fiancee.

I had a great conversation with Ricky Schroder, who was a child star in the 1980s on the show Silver Spoons, on how he was one of the few child celebrities who had avoided the pitfalls of fame, raised a normal family outside of Hollywood, and now had the freedom to work on acting and directing projects that he enjoyed, and not ones that he had to do to pay the bills. 

You'd pretty regularly see the casts of various Warner Brothers TV Shows (ER, West Wing,  as TimeWarner had a big travel deal with United PS."

Jason Kay

"I flew first-class for the first time in my adult life on May 19, 2013.  The flight was Virgin America VX 2 from Reagan National to SFO.  Although I enjoyed every inch of additional leg room--I am 6'7--I really remember the flight because I got to sit next to a certain older man.

Although he was busy editing a presentation on his laptop, I introduced myself to him soon after take-off.  He was very friendly and proved to be deeply knowledgable about Silicon Valley and technology. I mean, not every 60-year-old man has Pinterest and Quora accounts.

I soon learned that I was sitting next to Glenn Edens who designed the first laptop computer while at GRiD Systems, a company he co-founded in 1979. 

I am usually a pretty talkative person, but, suffice to say, I did most of the listening during the flight which seemed to go by in no time."

Eliot Hodges

(1/2) "Bella was the person everyone noticed at the gate as we were getting on board. She was wearing a very bright, and fairly fitted suit--short skirt, bolero jacket, big hair. And she was tall. To my surprise, she sat next to me for the cross-country flight from New York to Seattle. 

Bella was super sweet and friendly. After we hit cruising altitude, she pulled out a cooler filled with food, I'm not sure what. She offered to share her lunch with me. She told me that health is very important and I should be eating good food. She ate. We spoke for a few hours. Have a granola bar, she insisted. It turns out, Bella is a body builder--she competed for years and is now retired from competition. I have an extra yogurt if you want. She was flying to Seattle to open a new gym. Here, let me get you some hot water and I'll give you some green tea, it's good for you. Would you like some carrots?

As a bodybuilder, Bella had big muscles while having modelesque looks, with a very healthy self-image and pride. I'll also admit that she was not 'my type' in terms of the women I tend to be attracted to--while I think her type is far more stereotypically masculine than I'll ever be. So I was fascinated, and she was friendly and engaging, but it was not anything more than two people flying together."


Gil Yehuda

(2/2) "As it turns out, I had recently produced a classical music concert for a friend of mine who is a classical composer. I had an MP3 player with me and offered her to listen. She was really impressed with my friend's music, and we kept on listening to music for more than an hour.

I had a CD of my friend's music that I had also produced with me, and gave it to her as a gift. I am still not sure if she was actually hitting on me--for goodness' sake, I'm hardly the kind of guy that women hit on.  Then I told her a bit about me, and we landed, parted ways.

She sent me a nice note a few days later with $15 for the CD I gave her. She included a note to my wife, saying that she is used to having men hit on her all the time, but that I was a perfect gentleman the whole trip. I was."

Gil Yehuda

"When I checked in for my flight back to the US, the agent made a comment that I would travel in very good company, but somehow that didnt register in my mind. It was a Wednesday and I never fly on Wednesdays, but this time was different.

When I entered the lounge area in first-class--I fly constantly for work and sometimes have that privilege--I noticed the staff was unusually excited, but again I didnt think much of it. I sat down on a sofa and about 10 minutes later it happened.

A big guy comes in, accompanied by a woman from American Airlines, and he has the back to me as I hear her saying 'I will come back when the flight is ready to board.' He puts the suitcase to the side and sits down at about a 45 degree angle from me at another sofa. He was pulling things out of his bulky laptop briefcase when I saw his face. I was dumbfounded, but now the weird behavior from the airline staff made sense. It was not some third-rate celebrity or retired basketball player. 

It was former US Vice President Al Gore, whose climate initiatives and subsequent Nobel Prize made him very liked outside the US.

After the initial excitement I quickly started scanning the rather small lounge. There was only a pale guy who looked like some type of staff assistant who came in with him and retired to the corner to look at his Blackberry. I thought, where is the secret service?

I was too nervous to speak to him, and he was on a phone call for most of the flight. Instead, I just indulged in the moment, contemplating the randomness of life."

Pedro Miranda

Article Source


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