I know I've already covered all of my recent Hawaiian Thanksgiving, but as a coda of sorts, I wanted to share the story of my redeye flight home. Generally I am pretty good at sleeping on an airplane. When I went on my cruise, I think I was the only one of my friends who got a decent night's sleep on our redeye to Miami, and I've redeyed home from Hawaii at least once before. Generally the hardest part of it is turning down free inflight movies in favor of getting some rest.
Unfortunately this trip was not to be so. My parents were in two seats together on one side of the plane, and I had a window seat more or less across from them on the opposite side (2-3-2 seat arrangement). I got a window seat with the idea that it would be easier to lean against the wall and sleep than to just sleep sitting up in my chair. I even brought my sweatshirt with me to use as a makeshift pillow, given that the brillo pad airplane pillows aren't exactly made for sweet dreams.
When I got to my seat there was an Asian businessman seated in the aisle seat next to mine, and we exchanged a minimum of pleasantries as I got seated. I saw he was trying to turn on his reading light and I showed him that you have to do it now using the touchscreen on the seatback in front of you. His light still didn't turn on, and he expressed some concern because he was planning to do "a lot of reading" during the flight and wouldn't be able to do without the overhead reading light. He flagged down one of the flight attendants to explain that his light wasn't turning on, and she said that it could just be because the cabin lights were on, and that if it didn't work once we were in the air, they could look into a solution.
Once the plane was loaded, we pulled away from the jetway and were taxiing toward the runway when someone hit their attendant call button a few times, and a few minutes later, we were taxiing back to the gate due to a medical emergency. Being no stranger to on-plane medical emergencies, I was able to look at this delay with the silver-lining view that "Hey at least we weren't in the air already" and "At least I don't have to worry about making a connecting flight in Los Angeles." Because both of those complicating factors can really make a slight delay into a big mess. We parked at the gate for a bit and some medical personnel came on, and it wasn't entirely clear what else happened besides that. I didn't see any passengers come down my aisle, but I wasn't paying too close attention.
At some point, while we were waiting they enabled the movies and I found something to watch while waiting to take off. Meanwhile Asian businessman was still unable to turn on his overhead reading light, but was able to get some reading done with the cabin lighting. As far as I could tell, what he was reading was some sort of local Hawaiian business newsletter, something like Pacific Business News that looked like the Murray newsletter that gets dropped off at our house once a month or something. Like a small newspaper.
Eventually our flight did take off, and they dimmed the cabin lights. When his overhead light still did not turn on, the flight attendants sadly informed the passengers that they would need to reboot the computer system that runs the seatback systems, meaning everyone would have to restart their movies. They did this (FYI its a Linux system), and eventually everything was up and running again. Except for Mr. Pacific Business News's reading light. So they rebooted the system again. Finally, his light was working. Oh joy! :)
At this point I was pretty much ready to get some sleep (it was probably getting close to midnight Hawaii time), but I was surprised to find out that the overhead reading light is actually REALLY bright. Ugh. I struggled for quite some time to fall asleep, thinking that eventually my seatmate would finish up his reading and catch a few z's himself. I eventually took some sly glances to see what was so important that he needed to be catching up on it in the middle of the night. As best as I could tell, he was meticulously poring over bankruptcy notices and tax notifications and other really small print items, the back pages of the newsletter. And then I noticed they weren't even recent newsletters. The one he was working on then was nearly two months old!
In a desperate attempt to get some sleep I ended up putting my sweatshirt over my head to block out the glare of the megaspotlight shining down on us, and tried that for a while. Not that Senor Asian Business took any notice of my struggle for sleep. He just kept on staring at his newsletter. Until, what's that?! he nodded off himself. I wasn't sure if he was really sleeping or just resting his eyes for a moment or something, but after a minute or two, I decided he really must be asleep. So I carefully reached over to his touchscreen and turned off his reading light! :) All those years of sneakily writing on sleepy classmates' notes in college was really paying off. I then tried to hurry and get to sleep, but sadly I did not find dreamland before he reawakened and turned his light on again. At least two more times during the night, when I caught him dozing, I turned off his light. And always he would wake up again and turn it back on.
Eventually I did fall asleep for a while. Maybe an hour or two. At one point I awoke to the sound of him ripping out newspaper articles that he had found fascinating, or perhaps were destined for the "My Trip to America" pages in his scrapbook. I'll never know.
When I finally gave up on sleep for good, I roused myself to find that he'd given up on reading up on the best of last month's Pacific Business bankruptcy notices, but certainly had not given up on his overhead light. He'd pulled out an ipad from somewhere and was meandering his way through the settings screen. Not sure what he was looking for, but it was immediately apparent that his iPad was not in "Airplane Mode". I considered calling the flight attendant to complain about our security, but worried I might not have the best ground to stand on, given my secretive light turn offs. It seemed like maybe he was trying to connect to the internet and frustrated by the absence of free in-flight wi-fi. And despite the iPad's built-in lighting, the cursed reading light continued to shine down on us.
We landed safely in Salt Lake (despite any danger presented by a non-airplane mode iPad) and we got our bags and headed for home. And I did get some sleep that morning, and eventually caught up on my sleep. But I just wanted to share this cautionary tale for the benefit of my readers. If the guy sitting next to you on a redeye informs you early on that he's brought a lot of reading material, you might try to find someone to trade seats with you. If not, you might be in for a long night. :)