"In April 1992, I sat across the aisle from Hillary Clinton on a tiny charter plane, flying from Pittsburgh to a campaign event in Erie, PA. It was right before the Clintons received Secret Service protection, so an Arkansas state trooper was on the plane with me, Mrs. Clinton, and two of her regular traveling staff members. What I remember most about the trip was that we flew through a lightning storm and Mrs. Clinton managed to sleep through it.This is a photo that one of my co-workers took right before we boarded the plane in the background. And we both wore headbands" (Source).
"Think of one of your favorite famous professionals whether it be athletes, musicians, actors, etc. Then imagine sitting right behind them on your flight. As a proud Canadian, my sport of choice was hockey. I played competitively for many years, against teams from all over the world. I played hockey on ice, on the road, on fields, on the driveway and in the basement. I also watched a lot of hockey. My whole life revolved around hockey. Saturday evenings were always the same, sitting in front of the television with my family watching Hockey Night in Canada. I grew up in Toronto, and have been a Leafs fan my whole life, but I went to precious few games. Tickets were expensive, generally unavailable and the cost was not in the family budget.I digress, back to the flight. I was running late for my flight and got there just in time before they closed the gate. I walked down the tunnel, turned the corner and was greeted be the flight crew. As I walked down the aisle I couldn't help but notice a large group of large (tall and well built) young men. I immediately thought hockey players, but there are thousands of players in the Toronto area. As I looked closer I started to recognize faces. I was like, holy shit, this is the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. I changed from a 30 year old banker to a young child all excited about my good fortune. I was trying to figure out how I could approach someone on the team, or who I could approach. While we were in the air, I asked the Flight Attendant for her opinion. She said she would see what she could do. I would say from the picture below she did an awesome job helping me" (Source).
"When I checked in for my flight back to the US, the agent made a comment that I would travel in very good company, but somehow that didn't register in my mind. It was a Wednesday and I never fly on Wednesdays, but this time was different. My wife said I had to be back for our daughter's kindergarten graduation. I said you have to be kidding -- there is no such thing, kindergarten is not a degree. But I quickly realized that I was not going to win this argument by being rational so I changed my ticket and headed to the airport. After going through security and passport control I arrived at the Admirals Club. In some countries American Airlines has a separate section for First Class and I noticed the staff was unusually excited, but again I didn't think much of it. I sat down on a sofa and about 10 minutes later it happened. A big guy comes in, accompanied by a woman from American Airlines, and he has the back to me as I hear her saying 'I will come back when the flight is ready to board'. He puts the suitcase to the side and sits down at about a 45 degree angle from me at another sofa. He was pulling things out of his bulky laptop briefcase when I saw his face. I was dumbfounded, but now the weird behavior from the airline staff made sense. It was not some third-rate celebrity or retired basketball player -- it was Al Gore. His climate initiatives and subsequent Nobel Prize made him very liked outside the US. After the initial excitement I quickly started scanning the rather small lounge. There was only a pale guy who looked like some type of staff assistant who came in with him and retired to the corner to look at his Blackberry. I thought where is the secret service? But there was clearly nobody else and that made me sad" (Source).
"That would be nationally syndicated columnist and television personality Erma Bombeck in First Class from Cleveland to Phoenix in the mid-1980's. Ms. Bombeck had just appeared as a cast member on ABC's Good Morning America_**_on location at the Bond Court Hotel in Cleveland. Like Ms. Bombeck, I was also a guest in the Bond Court Hotel on the Concierge Level during the broadcast of the show. Ironically, when I checked into my room, I was greeted with a vase of flowers, a champagne bucket and a fruit basket. It was only when I opened the closet that I discovered women's clothing. I had somehow been assigned to the same room as GMA's host Joan Lunden! Back to the flight, Ms. Bombeck writing style was a humorous send-up on everyday American life. Hence, she regaled me for the 4 hours aloft. Sadly, Ms. Bombeck was taken too early at age 69 succumbing to complications from a lingering kidney disease" (Source).
"Flying from Los Angeles to Washington DC, in the 1980's, for the very first 'Women's March on Washington' I had the opportunity to spend some time sitting next to Leonard Nimoy. I was a sophomore in college. My ticket did not put me next to him, it put his wife next to him. But I had happened to be chatting with his wife and some other actors (long story, but I was flying with the Hollywood Women's Committee to DC, and there were many interesting people on that flight). I mentioned to his wife, who was sitting up front with her friends, that I would love to talk with her husband. To my joy and amazement, she wrote a little note, and said, 'Here, you go bring a note to him, for me'. I suspect that she wrote something in her note, about me, but I'll never know. He took the note, and invited me to sit in the empty seat next to him. He asked me who I was. I told him my name, and that I was a student at the University of Judaism, which he had donated to (his name was on a plaque on the donor's board, and I had seen it there)" (Source).
"His name is Ed Catmull. He is the President of Pixar Animation studios (among his many other amazing credentials.) He is a kind, gracious and brilliant man. And I was, for want of a better term, a complete and utter shrew to him. We were traveling on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Orlando, in their lovely First Class service. I'd had a really long week at work of 10 hour days in the office followed by 8 hours additional back at my hotel (that had a terrible mattress, I might add) answering an endless mountain of Customer Support emails, leaving me with very little sleep. I was looking forward to returning to my home - which was at the time located inside Walt Disney World (yes, really - The Happiest Place on Earth), so I could relax again and get back to a normal schedule. I was settling into my seat, looking out the window and sipping some sort of cocktail when that lovely, sweet man sits down next to me and says, 'Oh, do you work for Evernote?' I looked down, and I was wearing one of my Evernote T-Shirts. I silently swore under my breath before replying, with my best customer service demeanor. 'Why yes, I do! I happen to be the head of Tech Support.' His reply: 'Oh, that's great! I'm having a bit of trouble with...' This led into an Evernote talk that lasted for around 20 minutes as I walked him through the things it could and couldn't do on his various devices, took notes he had in general usability, and got to know who he was. And this was the key thing - When I realized who he was, a rage came through me like none other and I was having trouble keeping it down. I tried, I really did. I didn't succeed. 'I'm so sorry, but I just have to say - I feel the way your company chose to market the movie 'Up' was very deceptive.' He gave me a sort of double take, like - is this lady insane? I continued, 'All the materials - print, multimedia, what have you - depict a fun romp whereas it is a quite depressing movie with themes that parents should have the chance to address with their children ahead of time.' He now had had the time to come up with a response. 'All of Pixar's movies deal with emotional themes. That's what make us so universal.' We kept going on like this, him with salient, well reasoned responses, me on the attack. I wouldn't back down. I know it had gotten absurd because his final remark to me was 'Have you seen Tangled? It's great.' (Note: this was absurd because we weren't even talking about Pixar stuff anymore.) Let this serve as my apology to the great Mr. Catmull. I have seen Tangled. It is great. Not Pixar excellent, though. I still think Up should have a warning sticker though ;)" (Source).
"Earlier in my career, I traveled quite bit in United PS Service from LAX-NYC, which led to a lot of fascinating conversations with a host of businesspeople and celebrities. Alan Alda explained to me how unsafe it was to fly in private planes (which was why he always flew commercial), Neil Diamond politely asked me to switch seats with his fiancee, and I had a great conversation with Rick Schroeder on how he was one of the few child celebrities who had avoided the pitfalls of fame, raised a normal family outside of Hollywood, and now had the freedom to work on acting and directing projects that he enjoyed, and not ones that he had to do to pay the bills. You'd pretty regularly see the casts of various Warner Brothers TV Shows (ER, West Wing, as TimeWarner had a big travel deal with United. But by far the most interesting person I ever met in my travels was Lawrence Herbert, the CEO of Pantone Pantone). He told me the fascinating story of how Pantone had basically patented the color system in use in printing/computers today, and how he had successfully fought off Adobe and Microsoft and eventually sold the company for $180 MM to X-Rite. Great story of tenacity and reminder that high tech doesn't always win" (Source).
"I sat 'next to' Ralph Nader on a red eye from LAX to Houston, which is actually a lot longer flight than you might think back when prop planes still flew on some routes. I put "next to" in quotes because I was sitting in the far right seat and he was in the same row, in the far left. The row was empty and I doubt if there were 5 people on the entire plane. So I cloud see clearly what he was doing I learned something from him that preceded Google News, that web site where links to all the online articles about a specific topic are gathered in one place so you can see how each publication reports that topic. His method was analog in the extreme but highly effective. I was so impressed that I immediately followed the same method - at least until the Internet came along and made printed newspapers obsolete. He boarded with a stack of newspapers. Apparently he had stopped at the newsstand in the concourse and bought one of every newspaper. I estimate he had ten newspapers. He placed the pile on the empty seat next to him. But instead of reading each newspaper serially, one by one, the way literal-minded, uncreative me used to, he quickly turned through the pages, scanning the titles and headlines. When he found an article that caught his interest, instead of reading it, he tore out that article and placed it on a growing pile of articles next to the shrinking pile of newspapers. When he was done, he sorted the article pile so the various versions of similar articles were collated together - and then, finally, he read the articles. It was a revelation to me on how to quickly research newspaper articles across various publications. Had he been sitting immediately next to me, and seemed interested in conversation, I would have loved to ask him questions. But I am a New Yorker. We do not approach celebrities. We respect their space and honor their privacy" (Source).
"On a flight to Orlando, I sat next to a brilliant young woman who was on her way to be tested to join NASA's astronaut program. She succeeded, and a few years later, I received an invitation to see her space shuttle launch. She was exactly my age, yet the difference in our lives was remarkable. I always feel so lucky that I was able to sit with someone on the cusp of such amazing achievement" (Source).
"Ted Nelson - the early technology pioneer who coined the terms 'hypertext' and 'hyperlink'. I was on a flight from NYC to Phoenix in late 2009, and was sitting in coach next to a much older gentleman who was wearing pretty loose-fitting clothing that seemed to contain a lot of gadgets. I don't normally talk to people on the plane, although I thought he looked curious. But in this circumstance, I was traveling with my girlfriend and our small dog, and our seats were not adjacent, so I took the turn of making sure the dog is properly under the seat and out of sight of the staff. In any case, the older man next to me saw the pet, and said something like, 'Oh, I guess they're not supposed to see him' and helped make sure that didn't happen. Then we started talking about Phoenix and he had a bunch of suggestions for museums, even though he was not from there. Later on, I took out my laptop and started working on something related to algorithms -- at the time, I was working in the high frequency trading business. The man next to me was pretty curious and asked technical questions. He seemed very unassuming and eager to learn, which made what happened next all the more surprising. I switched over to do something on a web browser, and made some comment about the browser, to which he responded, 'Oh well I actually invented hypertext'. He seemed like a really nice man and I did not want to be rude, so I played along: 'Oh, hypertext, as in hyperlinks and HTML?' 'Yeah, hyperlinks, but HTML was not the way it was supposed to work, that was not my original idea' was his response. Then he introduced himself: 'I'm Ted Nelson' and talked about his recent projects at a university in Japan" (Source).
"I sat next to a mail order bride on her way back to home to Ukraine for the first time since she's was married 5 years earlier. She was flying alone with a heavy heart. For the first half of the flight I simply thought I was sitting next to a young cute college girl, but after we got our food on a long flight to Amsterdam we had a brief chat where we introduced ourselves. It was then I asked her the usual... 'work or pleasure?' where she went into her backstory. Her story started out explaining the conditions of pre Soviet conditions in Ukraine and how difficult life really was after the break up of the Soviet Union. She had it better in communism as they never went hungry and they had the healthcare and jobs. Afterwards she and her family were quite destitute with lack of work and struggled for food. Ultimately she described how it was really everyone in her small village that were really feeling like they didn't have much of a future. She seemed really smart to me and definitely beautiful more or less like a model. She went on to explain how she dreamed of life in America and going to college in the West. She came across a program that many girls in her city were apart of. It came across to her as an opportunity to meet guys from the West. After saving up for the program she made it to what was I pictured as a convention of hundreds of girls who would be screened, interviewed and ultimately those chosen would meet the guy that would select you. This was the real world bachelor, but not dozen girls, but hundreds. She said she was lucky because she said she did meet her mom and she met her briefly, but it was all very quick. She basically got processed and was sent all alone to America in no time to be married. The company handled the processing, visas, certificates, and licenses. Her bright future of college and opportunity in the West closed down fast when she found herself married to a guy who loved TV and microwaved meals. He doesn't like to travel, doesn't appreciate culture, doesn't really even like leaving the house. He's extremely shy and introverted. He's a computer nerd that lives in Redmond Washington. While she realized she made a huge mistake in her quiet nerdy partner, she also has had her needs met in most cases, but planned to catch up with her family and decide what to do next. She feels bad for him, but doesn't also feel much of a bright future. She was hopeful things would work out. After our 6 hour conversation and parting hug, I felt like we had an amazing kinship. It was hard to part ways after we arrived. I really felt for her, but was also worried about what advice to give her. We exchanged contact info, but was worried about getting too involved. Incredible person. Amazing stories of politics and love. I hope she's living a life she's happy with. Hope her the best" (Source).
"When I was a grad student at the AI Lab at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) I used to fly back to the DC area on the shuttle via NYC. At that time, the shuttle offered student discounts which made this really cheap. One time I sat next to a really smart guy who knew a lot about the Internet. I talked with him the whole flight... about AI, the web, networking, and so on. (This was 1993, so the web was new and the Internet still largely unknown outside of academia and defense.) I later found out it was Vint Cerf! He never let on, in the slightest way, that he was one of the most important figures in the history of computing. I even sent him email later, and he actually answered" (Source).
"In 1989, I was flying from Washington DC to Missoula, Montana. It was an early morning flight out, connecting through Denver. I was lucky enough to be bumped to first-class. As I was settling into my comfy wide leather seat, a small man sat down beside me. I looked over and about fainted when I realized it was Willie Shoemaker. The 'Shoe'. The winningest jockey ever (at that time.) One of my closest friends at that time was a young woman whose father owned several racehorses. He was very wealthy, and as his daughter's friend (and riding buddy), I was invited aboard the family King Air to fly to many of the races. So, because my friend's dad had a horse in the race, I was at the Breeder's Cup in 1987 when Willie Shoemaker (then age 55) had ridden Ferdinand to victory over Alysheba. (Only the previous year, Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby on the same horse, becoming the oldest jockey ever to win.) I tried to be very cool, and not stare, but when breakfast was served (with mimosas), Mr. Shoemaker turned to me and introduced himself. And of course I promptly gushed all over him. He had stopped riding by this time, and was training. But he was still very slim and fit. He was small, handsome and reserved, but engaging. We talked about horses (what else?) and he was nice enough to look at a photo of my horse (this was before the days of iPhones, so I had a snapshot in my wallet) and tell me that my big gelding had 'good bones'. Since he had been so pleasant, and I was trying not to be a total creepy fan, I didn't ask him for an autograph. I have always regretted that. I don't think he would have minded. He struck me as an extremely nice gentleman" (Source).
"A chartered accountant. I was 18 and flying back from a few months of hitch-hiking in Europe. I was on my way back for an interview as a parliamentary page and had been accepted into pre-med. I was convinced that I was about to become the most interesting person in Canada (in my diary, I mentioned becoming Canada's first female PM). I was obnoxious. During the course of the 11 hour flight, my seatmate and I started talking. He was ancient to me - at least 40 - and was a chartered accountant. I don't remember his name or the company that he worked for. But he managed to talk forensic accounting to me for at least three hours and he made it fascinating. I walked away from the flight with the new understanding that anything is interesting if the person talking about it had a passion for the topic. As a result, I made a point of attending lectures for courses I wasn't enrolled in if I heard other students raving about the prof. The mystery CA was the most interesting person I've sat next to on a plane and he taught me a lesson that has added pleasure to my life. A very belated thank you, wherever you may be, for not simply choosing to ignore an annoying and misguidedly arrogant teenager" (Source).
"I sat next to Saroj Khan. She is a famous choreographer in Indian cinema (Bollywood). She is very nice and we spoke a lot about dance as I was a dancer before my accident. (What are some of the well known (and not so well known) medical miracles?) I was on a flight to Delhi, departing from Mumbai. Since I'm on a wheelchair, I was allowed to board first. I was sitting in my seat just minding my own business and she walks in and sits next to me. I was awestruck, if you're a dancer you'll understand how amazing it is to be sitting next to someone so talented. I didn't talk to her first because I was intimidated but she made conversation about my health. We started speaking and I came to know that she's a very beautiful person inside and out and she's quite humble" (Source).
"On a shuttle flight between LGA and DCA about 20-22 years ago I found myself sitting next to Nadine Strossen, who was then the President of the American Civil Liberties Union. She had a huge carryon bag full of paperwork. I remarked on it and we got to talking. When she told me what she did I said, 'Wait, you're Nadine Strossen?' I think she was a little surprised that I knew her name. Then I pulled out my membership card and showed it to her. Those flights weren't very long so I didn't have very long to talk with her, but we talked about politics, the Supreme Court, the stuff you'd expect. It was a thrill to meet her" (Source).
"I flew first class for the first time in my adult life on May 19, 2013. The flight was Virgin America VX 2 from Reagan National to SFO. Although I enjoyed every inch of additional leg room - I am 6'7 - I really remember the flight because I got to sit next to this man: l thought he was busy editing a presentation on his laptop, I introduced myself to him soon after take-off. He was _very _friendly and proved to be deeply knowledgable about Silicon Valley and technology. (I mean, not every 60-year-old man has Pinterest and Quora accounts.) I soon learned that I was sitting next to Glenn Edens who designed the first laptop computer while at GRiD Systems, a company he co-founded in 1979. He later co-founded another company Waveframe which received an Oscar for developing the first all-digital audio workstation for the entertainment industry. Unsurprisingly, his career includes positions with other iconic Silicon Valley companies: HP, National Semiconductor, Sun, AT&T, Apple, and NBI. He is currently at PARC, and you can check out his bio here: PARC, a Xerox company. By the way, one of the reasons why Glenn is holding the laptop so close to his face is that he has a vision impairment preventing him from being able to make out text from a regular distance. I don't recall the name of the condition, but what struck me was the efficiency and speed with which Glenn was able to use his machine nonetheless. Also, further evidence that Glenn has not let his impairment hold him back, he is an avid photographer whose work is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. You can read up on his photography here: P2A-GlennEdens. I am usually a pretty talkative person, but, suffice to say, I did most of the listening during the flight which seemed to go by in no time" (Source).
"While flying from Phoenix, AZ to California I was working on course project in Computer Architecture involving Amdahl's Law principle. The person sitting next to me told that 'I can see you are having some trouble with your speed up'. I was amazed and asked how he recognized it so quickly. He replied, 'are you familiar with Amdahl's law?'. Thinking in my mind that he must be Gene Amdahl I said, 'yes'. Then from nowhere he replied, 'my name is Gustafson and I proposed Gustafson's law which is the opposite of Amdahl's law!' Plot twisted and an amazing conversation started till the end of flight" (Source).
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