The sound of the lounge attendant announcing that “United Flight 971 to Hong Kong is now boarding” broke Brig’s thoughts, and once again he gathered his packs and walked towards the exit. He waved goodbye to the lounge greeters, rode the escalator down to the international departure hall, and made his way to Gate 96 where his fellow travelers were waiting to board. He wormed his way through the crowd, gave the gate attendant his ticket, and walked down the gangway onto the Boeing 747. Brig showed his ticket stub to one of the two flight attendants waiting at the open door. She pointed him towards the stairs leading to the upper cabin. “Excellent,” thought Brig. He had always liked the upper cabin. It felt somehow more exclusive than the business class seats below.
Business class on the Boeing 747 was a significant upgrade. United’s business class passengers got their own entertainment system, meals were better, the seats could be adjusted to a nearly horizontal position making it easier to sleep, and the flight attendants were generally more attractive. But for Brig, the icing on the business class cake was the amenity kit that the airline provided, which included a variety of toiletries, a pair of slippers, and an eye mask.
Brig had just finished putting his large backpack in the overhead storage compartment and was arranging his seat when someone startled him from behind.
“Good morning sir, would you like a drink? Some champagne or a mimosa?” A male flight attendant held out a tray of drinks in plastic cups.
“Eh-h-h-h” Brig shuddered as he shied away from the young man.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” said the attendant.
“No. Just surprised me is all.” Brig had expected a female flight attendant. He got an effeminate man instead.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked, nodding his head towards the tray.
“I was hoping for something stronger. It’s been a long morning. Do you have scotch?”
“I’ll be happy to get you something more suitable once we’re airborne,” said the attendant, whose name tag identified him as Cliff.
“In that case, Cliff, I’ll take two!” Brig grabbed two cups of Champagne and thanked him. Cliff moved off to serve other passengers that were boarding and reaching their seats.
Brig was again seated on the starboard side of the airplane. As he sat down, he banged his head on the ceiling and spilled some of his champagne. He chuckled as he realized he was feeling the alcohol from the lounge. Let’s keep the momentum going, eh? He pounded the first cup of champagne as if it were a Tequila shot. The second cup followed soon after.
He kicked his shoes off and slid them under the seat in front of him. He closed the window shade and donned his eye covers. No one would dare disturb him with a pair of those things on. He leaned his chair back and relaxed, oblivious to the other passengers.
Brig was beginning to drift off when he felt someone tapping his shoulder. A man’s voice whispered, “Excuse me.” Brig tried to ignore him, hoping that whoever it was would realize how inconsiderate they were being and reevaluate their actions before touching him again. The annoyer persisted, placing his hand on and shaking Brig’s shoulder. He repeated, “Excuse me.”
Brig snapped his eye covers off of his head and in a falsely controlled tone asked, “What?”
A man in a suit and tie with a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and a full head of dark hair stood before him. Not realizing, or choosing to ignore Brig’s tone, he continued, “I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I was wondering if you would mind switching seats with my fiancée?” Looking past the man, Brig saw that the fiancée was none other than Angie from the lounge. She smiled, nodded her head, and wiggled the fingers of her right-hand hello.
Brig wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or not, but he readjusted Angie’s score back to ten. The annoying man, who Brig had nicknamed Ken, was waving his hand and snapping his fingers in front of Brigs face. Angie giggled.
“I’m sorry, what was your question?” asked Brig.
“I asked if you would mind switching seats with my fiancée. It’s a long flight, and we’d like to sit together.”
“No,” Brig replied.
“Great. Thank you.” He stood up as if to give Brig room to change his seat. “We really appreciate it.”
“No, you’ve misunderstood me. I mean ‘no,’ as in ‘no, I won’t switch seats with your fiancée.’ Not, ‘no, I don’t mind.’ That said, I would be more than pleased if you switched seats with your fiancée.” Brig turned his head to the side, arched his eyebrows, and smiled lasciviously.
Ken stared at Brig waiting to see if he was pulling his leg. When he realized Brig was serious, he moved closer to Angie and whispered something. Ken helped Angie take her seat opposite his own, across the aisle.
Ken placed a small carry-on in the storage compartment and took his seat. He took another look at Brig, paused for effect, and said, “Thanks.”
“I’m sorry,” said Brig. “Doctors orders. I get claustrophobic if I can’t see out of the airplane.”
“Um-hm,” replied an unconvinced Ken. Ken looked over at Angie, extended his hand, and shrugged as if to say, “what can you do?” Angie took Ken’s hand and smiled.
Douchebag, Brig thought.
Despite the satisfaction of his self-proclaimed victory over Ken, and the ensuing silent treatment, which he wanted anyway, Brig couldn’t fall asleep. Brig was “jonesing.” He dug into his stash and swallowed another two pills, knowing the combination of pills, alcohol, and altitude was a dangerous one. He was 30,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, and his anxiety was peaking. Perhaps this was as close as he was supposed to get to Mount Everest. He was flying at approximately the same altitude as the great mountain’s peak. Brig could open the cabin door and throw himself out, but could muster neither the courage nor the energy.
Brig spotted Cliff and waved to get his attention. Cliff had been friendly enough at first, giving him two mini-bottles of Jack Daniels for his first round. “Even though I’m only supposed to pass out one bottle at a time,” Cliff had whispered as if he were conspiring with Brig. But their “friendship” had lasted less than two hours of the fifteen-hour flight. Cliff, seeing the frenetic drinking pace that Brig was setting, recognized that Brig might turn into a problem and forced him to slow down by serving him only one bottle at a time. After another three rounds, Cliff reported that they were out of Jack Daniels. Brig doubted that he had drained the ship of their JD, but he was undeterred.
“No problem. I’m an easy-going guy,” Brig tried to whisper. Most of the other passengers were asleep or watching their in-flight entertainment. “What alcohol do you have the most of?”
“We have lots of Sprite. How about a nice, cool and refreshing Sprite?” Cliff countered.
“Doesn’t have the effect I’m looking for, but thank you for the suggestion.” He was trying hard not to get angry. “How about two vodkas?”
“How about we slow down Mr. Young? Why don’t you take a nap?”
“Would that we could Cliffy. Would that we could.”
“It’s Cliff. Just Cliff.”
“Well, ‘Just Cliff,’” Brig was becoming irritable again, “it’s nice and quiet in here right now, isn’t it? All my fellow passengers are sleeping. Not much work for you, eh? It would be a shame if a drunken asshole like me were to get loud…and obnoxious,” Brig said in an increasingly loud voice. Ken, who was sleeping in the seat beside him, stirred underneath his blanket.
“O.K. Mr. Young. Calm down. I’ll get you a vodka,” Cliff relented.
“Two please,” Brig said, holding up two fingers and whispering. “Oh, and a beer,” he smiled sheepishly. “And some pretzels?”
The rest of the flight dragged on. Cliff gave up trying to stop Brig’s binge. He was, however, effective at slowing Brig down by disappearing for long periods of time. It seemed to Brig that the other passengers were also getting upset with Cliff’s poor service. Three hours away from their destination, Brig passed out.