The Air Traveler’s Nightmare–Sitting Next to the Ugly American

The Air Traveler’s Nightmare: Seated next to the “Ugly American”

By Wendy VanHatten

Are you seeing double? Or maybe just the lady sitting next to you is...this is gonna be a long flight!

The Ugliest American went to Cancun. I should know. She sat next to me…on a 3½ hour flight.

The day started out great. My husband and I were leaving the cold of the Midwest and going to the sunshine and warmth of Cancun, Mexico. The plane boarded on time. Flight attendants politely asked people to sit down and buckle up.

Only one empty seat on the whole airplane was next to me. The start of a perfect flight to paradise was one minute away.

Not to be

Bulldozing her way to our row she stomped over our feet. Falling into her seat she snapped out an order for a @#*@ drink and loudly proclaimed it’s time to get this @#*@ flight in the air. Our seat companion had arrived! Immediately she earned an icy glare from the attendants as they politely asked her to buckle her seat belt.

The required safety instructions were shown on the monitors in both English and Spanish. After all Spanish IS spoken in Mexico. However, Spanish did not meet with our seat companion’s approval. She voiced her displeasure at having to listen to @#*@ Spanish. Loudly. Continually. Five times in less than five minutes. I counted.

The Air Traveler's Nightmare--Sitting Next to the Ugly AmericanRequests for @#*@ drinks were first met with polite explanations from the attendants. We weren’t even in the air. Then they tried ignoring her. Stares and glares from other passengers only resulted in more editorial comments on the @#*@ passengers on this @#*@ plane. Fortunately, flight attendants and passengers soon realized we were not “with” this person.

The Clues Were Obvious…

By now she was no longer “our seat companion.” Nor was she even “The Ugly American.” She vaulted right into “Ugliest American” status. Clues were obvious.

It was a book and a movie starring Marlon Brando...about a fictional place in Asia where Ugly Americans made asses of themselves.

Clue number one, her language needed some work. Actually it needed a lot of work. I’m sure some passengers learned new words on this flight.

Clue number two, she needed a volume control. Every passenger heard every word out of her mouth. Headsets were no match for her voice.

Clue number three, she was drunk. This was not an assumption. She told me. After two bottles of champagne and three beers in the airport she now wanted some @#*@ wine on this @#*@ plane.

My only hope was she would pass out. The sooner the better. Not to be. If possible, she became louder.

Clue number four, she was rude. No surprise there. She critiqued every passenger within sight on their attire, hairstyle, body shape, and overall appearance. Nothing fazed her.

Clue number five, she didn’t shut up. Graphically she related her life’s story, her marriage woes, her bar ownership problems and dozens of details I blocked out. I tried to be patient. I really did. If only for the sake of my sanity.

Feigning Sleep

After all, who wants to start their vacation upset over a plane ride? As she started the second (or was it the third?) round of stories, I knew it was more than I could take. Interrupting her monologue I told her I was tired and was going to sleep. Actually I yelled at her. Promptly I squeezed my eyes shut and reclined my seat. I don’t know why I thought this would stop her continuing saga. It didn’t. She kept on going and going and going. Only louder.

She ordered yet another mini bottle of wine and spilled part of it on my tray table. Even though my eyes were still tightly squeezed, she loudly apologized in my ear for being a klutz and kept on talking. I did not open my eyes nor respond the rest of the flight.

I imagined stuffing her in the overhead compartment. I know there would have been plenty of volunteers to help. I thought about going to the restroom… and staying. Or maybe one of those little pillows would fit in her mouth. At this point no idea was too bizarre. Just when I thought about doing something really drastic, she fell asleep.

A collective sigh settled over the plane.

Upon landing she awoke, complained about her head hurting and said she needed a beer. She couldn’t wait to get through @#*@ customs so she could get to her hotel, get drunk, and lay in the sun. Mentally I was congratulating myself on ignoring her.

Time to Relax?

Getting rid of her would not come soon enough. My time with the “Ugliest American” was about to end. I could ungrit my teeth and relax. There are hundreds of hotels and resorts in Cancun and she could hassle some other poor vacationers. In a few hours she would be nothing but a bad memory.

As the plane taxied to the gate she asked where we were staying. Upon hearing the name of the resort she screamed with pleasure. That was exactly where she was staying. I thought about screaming, too. Did I mention there are hundreds of hotels in Cancun? What are the odds?

The expression on my face must have registered with her drink overloaded brain. Or maybe it was the way my mouth was hanging open that caused her to apologize profusely for monopolizing the conversation. She repeatedly said we didn’t have to speak to her if we saw her at the resort! Little did she know I wasn’t planning to.

During the week we saw her only three times. We acknowledged her repeated cheerful loud hellos with a nod. From a distance. The last time we saw her on the beach sporting a total-body sunburn. Her scalp to her toes appeared to need medical attention. I almost felt sorry for her.

She shouted a greeting to us as she fell into a beach chair. We nodded and kept on walking. Time to find another place to sit. We have no idea what happened to her after that.

The “Ugliest American” was not going to ruin our vacation. Life’s too short and we were there for a good time.

However, I have a request. Next time let somebody else have her.

Wendy Van Patten is a travel writer from Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. Contact her.

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