The deHavilland Dash-8 aircraft is a medium-range turboprop plane frequently used by regional airlines for short trips. If you’ve ever flown on one of these smaller aircraft, you know that turbulence can be prolonged and quite violent.
It was raining when we took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, and as we reached our cruising altitude, I began to doze in my aisle seat, having been informed that there would be no beverage service as a result of anticipated “rough air.” During winter, what appears as rain when you are sitting on the ground is often snow at higher altitudes. Snow, clouds, wind, and the inability to fly above the turbulence combine for what some might describe as a stomach-churning event. For the young female passenger seated across the aisle in a window seat, the combination made for something much worse.
I was awakened from my fitful slumber by two things — a jolting turbulent bump and a gentle tapping on my left arm. Removing my headphones, I looked to my left and found the brown eyes of a young woman who seemed truly terrified. With tears welling up, leaning across two seats and the aisle which separated us she pleaded, “Can I please hold on to you?” At the time, I thought nothing of it and simply replied, “Sure.” She immediately grasped on to my arm for what seemed like five minutes. The plane began to shake and bounce more violently. Soon, I found my knuckles growing white as I clasped on to the arm rests more firmly. I began to break into a cold sweat as the overhead vent blew cool air on my face. Throughout it all, the sensation I experienced in my left arm was that of a person holding on for dear life. When the worst was over, the young lady let go, and I placed my hand on hers and reassured her that we were going to be ok.
Upon landing we formally introduced ourselves. It turns out she is in sales and flies all the time. In fact, she was flying to Boston the next day. She told me that this particular flight was the worst in her experience. For me, it was probably in my top three. As we said our goodbyes, I hoped she wasn’t embarrassed by what had taken place. Taking the time to reflect upon this moving experience, I was reminded of the importance human touch plays as a tactile form of communication.