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Finding love at 35,000 feet

Air travel inspires a wide range of emotions, everything from tedium to rage. But love? How can Cupid find his mark in such an inauspicious setting? But he does, and sometimes love has special power to move us when it blossoms 35,000 feet in the air.
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With all the security hassles, financial woes and weather disruptions facing the airline industry, the thought of finding love amid the chaos of air travel seems pretty ridiculous. But don’t dismiss the idea, for I have often seen it happen. Yes, Cupid’s arrow would be confiscated by today’s security agents, but it can still find its target on the airplane or at the airport.

In my 18 years as a flight attendant, I have heard of many married couples who first met on an airplane, at the customer service desk, or in customs and immigration, and I know of countless others who met during an extended delay at the gate. I even know a woman who married the man who helped her qualify for the Mile-High Club. A son resulted from that membership induction, and it is no coincidence that his name is John.

The topic of love in the skies is very close to my heart, as I met my wife on a London flight. I had purposely switched flights at the last minute to avoid flying with an ex-girlfriend. What if I had never been on that plane? Would we have ever met? Fifteen years later, I am still thanking my lucky stars for that ex-girlfriend.

Curiously, my mother also met Cupid at the airport. She was a stewardess back in the days when they were still called stewardesses. My father was an airline ramp agent working his way through law school. Instead of landing her traditional pilot, my mother married the young baggage handler. It was against the rules for stewardesses to be married back then -- a silly rule, but one that I am thankful for, because she quit and had me. In fact, I was conceived on one of my mother’s last layovers. It would be a very romantic story if my father hadn’t later had an affair with another stewardess, ending my parents’ 14-year marriage. Oddly enough, two of my next five stepmothers were also flight attendants.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is my favorite story of true love in flight.

It was a chilly November night, and the flight was expected to be fairly empty. I was required to work the first class cabin because we were expecting two VIPs. That usually meant business executives full of demands who would be expecting special attention. To my surprise, the VIPs turned out to be a sweet elderly couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. The airline had given them a free first class ticket around the world.

Her name was Althea. She was 96 years old, dressed in yellow, and she was quite lively for her age. She wore a sunflower in her hair. His name was Earl. He was 94 and a bit frail, but he sported a brand new suit and a wide, ear-to-ear smile. Earl was full of jokes. His favorite was, “I always did like older women.”

Theirs was a long, romantic tale of love and life. They had known one other since the ages of 4 and 6, for a total of 90 years. They’d seen the best and worst of times, including the Great Depression, extreme poverty and sickness. They were each other’s only loves, and they had enjoyed 75 years of marriage.

How amazing, I thought, to spend 75 years with the same person. I was at the point in my life when I thought such fidelity was not remotely possible, for divorce seemed to be America’s biggest pastime. Althea and Earl gave me new hope.

Since I wasn’t very busy, I watched them from beyond the curtain behind them. Clearly, marriage wasn’t merely an endurance test for them; they truly loved each other. When they ate, they talked and laughed, unlike so many married couples these days, who struggle to make conversation. After 75 years, they hadn’t run out of things to say to each other. I was in awe.

After the meal, Earl leaned over to Althea and I could just make out the words “I love you,” followed by a loving kiss. The crew sighed in unison, and a lump stuck in my throat. When the flight was over, Earl smiled and said, “Goodbye! We’ll see you on our 100th anniversary.”

I have since been lucky enough to find my own Althea, and we have every intention of modeling our marriage after theirs (although I’m not so sure that I will last until age 94). Who knows, the way things are going, I might still be pushing a beverage cart down the aisle 50 years from now, wondering whatever happened to my pension.

May you have a very happy Valentine’s Day with your Althea or Earl!

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit or .