I flew back to Seattle yesterday evening on a UA 767 -- a nice big plane. It is very rare for me to talk to the person sitting next to me in a plane. It isn't that I'm not friendly (I hope), but rather that I tend to sit near the front of the plane and I'm usually surrounded by bussiness travelers. Most of these folks just want to get home and rarely talk.
I knew it was going to be different when the woman sitting next to me said "You'd look good in a skirt..." How could I not have a conversation after that opening line!?? She turned out to be a coach for a Tacoma Synchronized Swimming club heading back from the nationals in Buffalo NY -- with a bunch of 14-15 year old kids. She had some great stories. For example -- you might guess that the hair has to look perfect (and not get in their eyes). Do you know how they keep it that way? It is wet all the time, so isn't going to look very good -- to solve this problem they use Knox gelatan (jello!!) to freeze their hair in place. The best was when one of her kids ran out of the plain unflavored type and her mom only had orange jello left... I almost fell out of my seat laughing.
You're probably wondering how she managed to come up with that starting line. We were sitting right behind the first-class blukhead and the door on it snapped open as we were taxiing out to the ruway. I closed it with my legs -- which made a loud bang that all the flight attendants noticed. Afterwards one came by and thanked me and offered to make me an honorary flight attendent. My seat-mate then piled on.
Henry, another prof here at UW, was also on that flight, sitting in first class. He was quite kind and sent back a glass of wine. Which prompted the flight attendant to ask "how do you know that guy?" Her comment, after learning we worked together, was "I never would have guessed!" And when she learned that we were professors of physics she said to Henry, "But you're so normal!" -- that comment was specifically not addressed to me, apparently. Henry claims that is the first time he was ever called normal and wonders if he might travel with me more often.
On a more geek note, the captain gave a 15 minutes presentation on the channel 9 audio about the plane, its engines, how the takeoff works, weight calculations, etc. I'd never heard that before; that was great.