I Have The Flu And I'm Sitting Next To You

Hi there. I'm the sick person with whom you have the distinct privilege of sharing an airplane. Nice to meet you.

Jan 7, 2013 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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Hi there. I'm the sick person with whom you have the distinct privilege of sharing an airplane. Nice to meet you. Don't worry; I won't shake your hand. Nor, probably, will I make eye contact with you, because the truth is I'm wildly embarrassed to be That Sick Person On The Plane -– the one with the hacking cough, runny nose and low-grade fever. I'm especially embarrassed if my sickness includes vomiting or, horror of horrors, diarrhea. 

I'm well aware that my presence disturbs you. I know my place in the plane passenger hierarchy is the bottom of the barrel, even worse than the shrieking, screaming baby who looked so deceptively adorable back in the airport. But believe it or not, I do deserve a bit of respect and, if you're in the mood, even a gesture of genuine human kindness. Because believe me, I feel way worse about being here than you feel about me being here.

Here, then, are seasonally appropriate do's and don'ts for flying with a sick person. Whether I'm across the aisle, in front of you in the bathroom line, or right next to you in those itty bitty seats, I remain a human being with feelings and needs. 

1. DO give me a kind smile when I break into yet another hacking fit or attack of the shivers.

I already feel isolated by my illness, and your smile reminds me that there is human goodness in this world, and that I am not alone. Perhaps it will inspire me to one day pass on the same small signal of sympathy to a stranger in need.

2. DON'T give me a dirty look when I dare to violate the sanctity of your ears by making a coughing or sneezing sound.

I did not come here to achieve my dream of being Patient Zero, the plague-bringer. I am not trying to emulate Gwyneth in "Contagion." I am on this flight because I have to be on this flight, because I couldn't afford to stay longer in my hotel, because I have to get to my kid, because I can't miss a day of work, because I couldn't pay to switch my flight to some future point when I'd be perfectly healthy. 

3. DO use your hand sanitizer, and politely offer me some, as well.

After all, I don't want to make anyone else sick.

4. DO come back from the bathroom with fresh tissues.

Feel free to offer them to me! I may not need them, but I will appreciate your thinking of me.

5. DON'T hit on me.

First of all, what do you have, a snot fetish or something?  Second of all, I can assure you that sex is the absolute furthest thing from my mind in this, my time of need. And third of all, um, what if I actually took you up on your offer? You'd get my plague in an instant. Not smart thinking on your part, Imaginary Airplane Horndog.

6. DON'T loudly say, "Oh, GREAT," or, "Now I know what my weekend is gonna be like," or something similarly grumpy and passive-aggressive when you hear me cough/sneeze/yak.

If you want to tell me to fuck off for being sick, just say it to my face so I can have the pleasure of telling you to fuck off harder.

7. DO have patience if I need to leave our row to go to the bathroom.

I may need to do this multiple times during our flight, particularly if I'm stricken with a stomach flu. I promise you that I did not select the middle or window seat knowing that I would be sick by the time that I flew. Had I possessed this knowledge in advance, I surely would've picked the aisle seat. But given our present situation, perhaps you might offer to change seats with me so that I have easier access to the bathroom. The look of embarrassed gratitude I give you will be more expressive than a thousand words. And it's probably best I open my mouth as little as possible in between bouts of yakking, so there you go.

8. DO feel free to let me go in front of you in the bathroom line.

Trust me. It's better this way.

9. DON'T hesitate to politely ask me to cough into my arm or into tissues if I am coughing all over you.

What am I, an asshole? (It's possible. My sickness does not confer sainthood.) The likelier scenario is that I'm so out of it that I've forgotten some basic rules of etiquette and, um, sanitation. ONLY use this tactic if I'm genuinely coughing on you. Chances are I'm doing my best to keep my sickness to myself, so if I'm simply coughing near you, keep it to yourself. But if I actually appear to be trying to share my disease with the world, well, feel free to speak up. Nicely.

10. DO feel free to say, as one of us leaves the plane, "Hope you feel better. Flying sick really stinks."

It'll make me perk up a little and appreciate that someone else noticed I was suffering. 

Pretty easy stuff, right? Nothing too wild or radical there. Just a few basic tips for being nice to someone who will likely really, really appreciate it. For example, I, your authoress, almost cried with gratitude when a (Terminal 3, L Concourse, O'Hare Airport) Starbucks employee was cheerfully understanding after I puked in his recycling bin yesterday. And I went on to have a pretty decent flight, partly because I got on it with a warm, fuzzy feeling of being accepted in spite of my illness. 

Now in conclusion, this seems an apt time to call for stories about your worst flying-while-sick adventures. Leave 'em in the comments below. Be sure to shout out anyone who was particularly nice to you during your illness, like that flight attendant who made you a hot toddy and didn't charge you for it, or that guy who lent you his Dramamine.