My oldest son, Francis’s wife just had a baby. Being a thrilled grandparent, of course a trip from the Northeast to California was in order!
Exactly 23 hours and 50 minutes before my flight, I dutifully “checked in” with Southwest in order to get a boarding pass with a “low number”. For those unfamiliar with Southwest Airlines, passengers are boarded according to the letters and numbers on their boarding passes, Letter A, 1-60, Letter B, 1-60 and Letter C-1-60. You can only register 24 hours or less to get a boarding pass, so I try to do it as early as possible in order not to get stuck with a high letter/number. It never ceases to amaze me that calling in at 10 minutes after 24 hours yields me the combination B-10. How could 70 people have checked in before me? Was everyone else sitting at their computers at 5 in the morning just waiting for that magic moment when their prize would be a low number? But I digress…this system is only mentioned because it will pertain to an issue which will occur later in this post.

Anyone who knows me knows that I get motion sickness very easily. (Almost my entire childhood was spent sleeping in the backseat of my parents station wagon as we traipsed across the country.) My plan was to sleep the entire 7 hour flight to California. (Another talent of mine is to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime, a skill that came in handy in college where cat naps were caught on the couches in the student lounge between classes.)

My sleep technique is somewhat unique…I can only sleep if a pillow is wrapped around my head. Yes, a pillow wrapped around my head. Tightly, so as not to let in any light. Using a king sized pillow with some of the feathers removed, one end of the pillow goes under my head, the pillow is wrapped around the front of my head, and the other end of the pillow is secured behind my head. For those unfamiliar with my technique, it looks as though smothering myself is a possibility, but an air hole from my nose down to the bottom of the pillow is created. Sleeping my way to California would be no different. Dragging my pillow onto the plane the next morning, I settle into my window seat waaaayyyyy at the back of the plane. (There is always the possibility that the plane won’t be full and I could have the whole seat to stretch out on to sleep. Alas, not so lucky this time.) Settling in and maneuvering my pillow strategically around my head, I became comfy. Because I put my own comfort first and don’t worry about what others think, any references to the appearance of “Marshmallow Head” would not hurt my feelings. As I sat there, cozy and drifting slightly off to sleep, I could hear the usual commotion of the “onboarding” of the plane. Most of the seats have been filled except for the unpopular middle seats. At this late stage of boarding, three different sets of couples found themselves in the back of the plane trying to get seats together. Their seat numbers were probably in the C-45 range. As they moaned and groaned about being separated, the stewardess ordered single people to change seats. People like myself who had obtained earlier boarding passes were being directed to move into those vacant middle seats! I feigned sleeping; it would have been upsetting to sit in a middle seat in which my pillow manipulation would have been unsuccessful, especially for a flight of more than 7 hours. One kind gentleman who gave up his window seat to sit in the middle seat next to me, instantly regretted his choice. The woman in the aisle seat had obviously had one too many to drink, and she slurred her words as she chatted to him, providing him with a non-stop foray into the dysfunctional family she called her own. As I woke intermittently throughout the flight, and she could always be heard talking about one thing or the other. I was filled with sympathy for my poor seat mate who had no place to escape and no pillow on which to feign sleep.

The flight was otherwise uneventful Of course, I could not know for sure because I slept through most of it…


For more stories about my childhood, please, read my book. Here is a link:

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane


Comments on: "Just Call Me Marshmallow Head!" (18)

  1. trevwashere said:

    this made my Sunday morning

  2. Lesson for your seat mate: always bring headphones 🙂

  3. I wondered about the Southwest phenomenon as well, but I now realize that their special “upgrade” class that costs a bit more provide a guarantee of the earlier A seats, so I think depending on how many of your flight mates decide to spend the extra money determines how low you are in the B seats if you get online quickly. 🙂 I don’t know how much you cared…but, that is the reason! 🙂 And good for you for feigning sleep. No one should be asked to move unless there is a small child involved!

  4. what a fantastic post and i can identify with a lot of this. motion sickness, desire to sleep, window seat to prop myself against. so funny and congrats )

  5. Haha, I love your pillow method! Mine is similar but I maneuver it with two pillows. I also require one behind my back though too which makes plane sleeping quite the challenge! 🙂

  6. Love the pillow! Not only do you get to sleep, you don’t need to deal with overly-chatty seatmates. I learned the headphone method a long time ago, taking Trailways back and forth to college.

  7. Oh, how I wish I could sleep in a plane! I do not like flying Southwest at all. Even when you do sit in front of the computer to get a low letter, the people already on board are allowed to save seats for the folks that didn’t bother to go the extra step and in our case, pay the extra money for better seating. I can not have my son (autism) sit by himself on the plane. I don’t understand that whole situation at all.
    But back to the point 🙂 If I thought the pillow wrap would work for me, I wouldn’t care what anyone thought either! Congrats on the new grandchild!

    • I have an awful story to tell about my son, Steven. When flying to Orlando for our ill fated trip to Disney World when he was 3, we had to sit apart from the rest of our family. It ended up being a good thing for them…Steven, with severe OCD and sensory issues, freaked out the entire plane ride, needing to be restrained by me. He screamed and yelled and kicked and generally expressed his distaste for this new experience. It was sooooooo awful. They had an ambulance and police waiting when we touched down. The rest of my family was lucky because they didn’t have to acknowledge that this child was part of THEIR family, and got off the plane tsk tksing with the rest of the passengers. I learned my lesson, though, and obtained a dose of valium for him for the ride home, where he sleep like a baby.

      • Lesson learned! Yikes! I remember DC’s first plane ride, not anything close to what you experienced but I’m sure the rest of the passengers were very happy to see us go! I think it’s hilarious that your family pretended not to know you – I’m sure you didn’t find it funny at the time though 😃

  8. Congratulations on being a grandma! I had someone talk my ear off on the last flight I took, but I didn’t have a pillow to pretend to sleep!

  9. Congratulations!

  10. Congratulations! Despite the uneventuful, eventful flight, you must be so thrilled!

  11. I use a sleep mask and a scarf to achieve a restful night’s sleep. Haven’t tried the technique on a plane though.

  12. As someone differently-abled who is now an adult, but was once a kid the last time I checked :), It’s great to see a parent such as yourself! I actually just wrote a story about an experience I had as a kid when I was literally kicked out of class for what amounts to simply being in a wheelchair. You can read about my story here:

  13. A sleep mask (which I use) is easier to carry, but I’m attached to my pillow so I carry it anyway. Love your story about Steven. I’ve always be grateful in retrospect that we couldn’t afford to travel when our children were small.

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