[39] 36,000 Feet, Michael Harper

“You heading home?”

“Yeah, me and my wife moved to Seattle last year.”

“You’re going to Seattle?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you flying to Miami then?”


The man in the aisle takes his ticket from inside his jacket pocket. He likes to keep it handy for seat disagreements.

It reads, Den ➔ Mia.

The other man quickly fumbles for his wallet, losing several bills as he pulls out his ticket.

Den ➔ Sea.

They stare at each other.

“There must be a mistake.”

“Did the stewardess say anything before takeoff. I’m sure the board said Miami at the gate.”

The man seated in the aisle thinks about asking a woman near him but doesn’t know what to say.

“You don’t have a connection?”

“In Miami?”

The man in the window seat begins scouring through his email, like a squirrel looking for a forgotten nut in winter. The man in the aisle stands and starts walking toward the back of the plane. He concentrates on holding the headrests, to balance himself in the unstable environment.

“Hi, this is a strange question.”

A second stewardess pops up behind the one he is talking too.

“I love strange questions.” Her laughter sparkles.

“What is our destination?”

“Houston. Detroit,” they answer simultaneously.

They glance at each other.

“But I thought,” one starts before faltering.

“What’s your ticket say,” asks the second.

The plane shudders unexpectedly. Everyone braces themselves and then exhales.

“Miami. But the person seated next to me has a ticket that says Seattle.”

She bites her lip. “Maybe they mixed up the barcodes on the tickets. I’m not sure how that could be possible. Ma’am, can I see your ticket?”

A woman halfway through a Bloody Mary shows them her ticket.

Den ➔ Phi

Without comment the second stewardess walks toward the cockpit. The other two follow. When they pass the man’s seatmate he is rifling through his carry on. The cockpit door is locked.

The stewardess picks up the receiver, “Captain? Captain?”

They wait for an answer. The man puts his hands in his pockets and then pulls them out several times. The space between noises deepens.

“It’s just. It doesn’t make sense. How could this happen,” says the laughing stewardess.

Nothing comes from the receiver.

“Why don’t you go back to your seat. We’ll figure all this out when we land.” She tries the captain again.

The passenger is reluctantly herded back to his seat like a toddler at bedtime.

“What did they say?” asks the man sitting by the window.

“They’re figuring it out now. They’re unsure what happened. Maybe something with the barcodes.” He twists a cocktail napkin into a dissolving rope.

The window passenger looks outside. All he sees is grey clouds. No signs of anything. He closes the window screen. We can’t turn around now, he thinks. We just have to keep going. The plane shakes and his fingers turn white as they clutch the armrest. He closes his eyes as an answer to the mystery. All the security. All the process. All the control. All the safety they perform and here they are 36,000 feet above earth and hurling toward God knows where.

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close