I was ready for departure. My seatbelt was fastened. My seatback and tray table were in their upright and locked positions. My backpack was stowed underneath the seat in front of me. My electronics were turned off.
I was ready to go.
The pocket in front of me held a paperback novel, my iPod, noise-reduction headphones, sleep goggles, and a bottle of water. My backpack held snacks, and my laptop.
I was prepared.
My shoes were already off, and I was wearing comfy socks. As was my custom (read here), I was wearing my BYU t-shirt. For pants I was wearing some loose, comfortable khakis.
I was comfortable.
The reason I needed to be ready, prepared, and comfortable is that I was on my way to Africa - and it is a long trip. The flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg is the third-longest commercial flight in operation.
17 hours. No layovers, no changing planes. 17 hours in one seat. Luckily I got an aisle seat, but it was still coach.
The lady sitting next to me in the center seat was not as prepared as I was. She was trying to get her things put away and fasten her seatbelt with one hand. The other hand held a large orange juice that she had brought on board from the McDonalds in the concourse.
She was flustered, so I offered her the use of my tray table while she got her things together. She set the orange juice down, and finished up. She sat back in her seat and sighed. We introduced each other and exchanged pleasantries. If you are going to be sitting next to someone for 17 hours, it is wise to get off to a good start. She was a bit older than me, but not elderly, and she was friendly.
She noticed her orange juice was still on my tray table and thanked me. Somehow as she reached for it, she caught her sleeve on the corner of the table - it flipped it up - just enough to dump the entire contents of the orange juice cup into my lap. All of it.
Unable to jump up, or do anything quickly, I could feel the orange juice seep into my pants, and beneath. I glanced over at the lady - she was aghast. She sat there motionless with her hand covering her mouth. I felt bad for her.
I picked up the cup, put up my tray table, and undid my seatbelt. As I stood up, I expected to see a puddle of juice on my seat - but there wasn't one. Apparently my khakis and underwear were very absorbent. I looked over at the lady again and she was still frozen in place with tears in her eyes. I told her "It's OK, it was an accident. I'm going to go see if I can get this cleaned up."
As I went to the rear of the plane to the bathroom, the aisle was blocked by a very stern flight attendant. "Sir, you are going have to return to your seat - we are about ready to take off."
"Look," I said, motioning to my crotch. I looked like a 3 year-old that had had an accident. She understood. "Oh no! Go ahead, but you only have a minute. Hurry."
I went into the bathroom grabbed as many paper towels as I could and dropped my pants. I soaked up what I could (not much) and rinsed off what I could, (not much) in the brief time before the flight attendant started knocking and telling me it was time for take-off.
I pulled up my pants, rinsed my hands and went back to my seat. This was going to be a long, sticky flight.
The orange juice lady had regained some composure, and when I sat down she immediately apologized again. I told her it was OK.
Then she said something that really caught me off guard. "Thank you so much for not getting mad at me." I reiterated that I knew it was an accident, and that I was fine.
As we began to taxi, I mulled over what she had said. It was true. I had not gotten angry with her - it hadn't even crossed my mind. Things had happened so quickly that I really hadn't had time.
Then another thought crossed my mind, and I chuckled to myself, "If that had been one of my kids, or my wife, I would have let them have it."
Then I stopped chuckling - because it was true: Had it been my wife, or one of my kids - the people that I love most in this life - I would have unloaded on them. Yet this complete stranger got a pass.
The flight was going to be long.