My 6 Hour Flight Fling And What I Learned from It

This is the love story of a my very unscripted and brief flight-romance. It wasn't a whirlwind, passionate, earth-shattering affair—I mean how could it have been, I was seventeen at the time! But it was innocent, lovely, and definitely straight out of a movie. I've changed his name because god-forbid he ever see this embarrassing recount for anonymity, but every event and feeling is as accurate as possible and straight from the depth of my first travel journal! Enjoy!

short I was seventeen years old, alone, and terrified when I left for Iceland in 2013. I had to connect from Virginia to JFK, and then from JFK to Reykjavik International Airport where I would meet up with the rest of my group for our two week exploration of Iceland. I'd joined this trip on a whim to get some travel adventures in my life before I started university, but it didn't hit me how big of an adventure it really was until the plane took off.
short I made it to JFK despite multiple silent existential crises and my choice of an itchy wool sweater despite it being mid-July. And after an 8 hour layover, my mind was raced as I boarded the plane that would take me out of the United States. I was such a wreck that all I was worried about possibly sitting next to someone who snored or  worse, had kids, for the six hour flight—it would push me over the edge. I made my way to my aisle seat (fist pump) and as I prayed to Jesus, Allah, and Oprah I was interrupted by an, "Excuse me, I think I'm 14E". I looked up and was met big, emerald eyes looking back at me.
He was beautiful. I knew he was perfect in the first few seconds as I stared at him, but it was confirmed when he saw I was still clinging to my carry-on for dear life and offered to stow it in the overhead bin for me. After we sat down, I turned to him and started up as casual of a conversation as I could before I chickened out.
short "Nate" was on his way to do a EuroRail trek for six months with his best friend. I asked him where he was from and he replied San Diego, and that he went to UCSD  (all my family is from San Diego, and UCSD was my second choice aside from VCU! Another heart string pulled). Before I knew it he and I had fallen into effortless conversation, and I quickly lost all of the anxiety I had been carrying with me until that point.
The rest of the flight I was completely consumed by him. Our conversations quickly evolved past casual as I told him how I was going to Iceland as a personal challenge to myself, and he talked of how travel had forever changed him as a person. When the dinner cart came around, we ordered the same thing and ate together like we were at a nice restaurant in the city and not in row 14 of a Delta flight. He told that at 23 he was a recent graduate, and that after backpacking Europe he would move to Ireland because to his Master's degree in Aquatic Agriculture... and then he asked what I was studying.
Yikes. I couldn't tell him that I wasn't even old enough to vote yet, so I said that I was majoring in Biomedical Engineering (technically it was true), and that I was a sophomore in college (technically, very untrue). Before I could worry about if my lie would catch up to me, he grinned and told me that he's always loved smart girls. I died again.
short Time felt so slow and yet so fast at the same time. Three hours into the flight it was the dead of the night, and we were speaking in whispers. Apparently I'd look more tired than I'd thought because he suggested we sleep before we landed. I didn't want the conversation to end, but I also didn't want to keep him up. I was wrestling with how I could tell him sleep was on the bottom of my priority list at the moment when he intertwined our finger, gave my lips a quick kiss, and pulled our heads together so we could sleep leaning against one another. It took a while to fall asleep with my heart thundering between my ears, but eventually I drifted off.
short When we woke the plane was thirty minutes from landing, and we were still holding hands. We spoke more about our plans, as he had 3 days there before he had to catch his connecting flight to Amsterdam. Then the dreaded question finally came: can I see you again?
I froze. I was still overwhelmed by just being in Iceland, let alone trying to continue this serendipitous flight-fling further than Row 14. More importantly/devastatingly, if I gave him my Facebook information (why didn't have WhatsApp yet??), he would find out that I lied about my age! And though I was mature, I wouldn't blame a 23 year old for having doubts about being interested in a person 6 years younger. So after a long pause I told him that I didn't think that was a good idea, and before he could respond the captain announced that it was time to depart the plane.
short We walked quietly together to the luggage terminal and after we grabbed our bags we both knew it was time to go our separate
ways. His eyes looked very sad and I could tell that he didn't understand why I had said no, but we star-crossed! It broke my heart, but I gave him a long hug goodbye and I told him that if it were meant to be I would run into him in Reykjavik.
short In the next few days exploring Reykjavik I held onto a small hope that I would to bump into him on the Strætó (the Reykjavik bus system), or at a big tourist attraction like the Hallgrímskirkja. But after the third day I knew that Nate would already be on his next flight, and I would very likely never see him again.

short Now that may sound like a (very) depressing end, but I don't consider it one! AirportThat six hour connection flight is one of my dearest memories, and I consider it a huge milestone in my journey as both a woman and a traveler because:

1.) At the time I hadn't known how complex love could be, so my range of emotional experiences was definitely broadened.
2.) From the beginning, lying about who I was prevented any chance of progression regardless of what either of us wanted. I realize it was better to just be honest about my age and accept however he felt because at least we could've kept in contact and still have been friends!
3.) I learned that the most exhilarating moments are usually fleeting, and it's important to know the value of enjoying a moment and also letting it go.

So while it was sort of an sad way to end such a unexpected romance, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It's been three years since that flight and I still believe that if it's truly meant to be I'll run into "Nate" again in the future. And if I do, I hope he's more open to the age difference now!

Have you ever had any crazy experinces like this? Flight connection romance or not? Tell me!

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28 Discussion to this post

  1. Brenda says:

    Well, as I said the first time I read this on the collab post, I definitely understand what you went through and that maybe the fact you were young made you think that the age was a huge hurdle. It might be definitely true, but looking back now, if this guy was totally mature he would have understood. I even believe that if he noticed that in fact, even though you were young you were definitely a real smart girl, he would have still been totally interested. Even though, I know is not easy, and many scenarios come to mind when you’re trapped in the situation.

    I definitely hope he gets to read you someday and notice that you still remember that flight. I have never been that lucky to have real cute guy next to me on any flight, so it must be an experience!

  2. Joanna says:

    I enjoyed so much reading your story! It reminded me of a “Mr Lude Law” lookalike from seat 12C, whom I shared a flight with, from Stockholm to London. His big blue eyes, his blondish hair, his long fingers on his big book filled with musical notes. And how we bumped into each other several times in the baggage claim area, shyly smiling at each other each time. 🙂

  3. Penelope says:

    All of me is SO hoping he comes across this and gets in touch and it’s a happily-ever-after… HOW AMAZING WOULD THAT BE?!

  4. Arzo says:

    Such a cute story 🙂 Though u didn’t see him again it is still nice to have a fling once in a while

  5. Wow!
    Sounds like a version of the ‘Serendipity’ script, just that this one has a lesson on ‘be practical I say!’ way of leading life… Nice!

    I am sharing this read on my timeline for sure. It will definitely rekindle memories for my ‘nearing 40year old’ pals!!!


  6. Hannah says:

    Wow, nice 🙂 A friend of mine met her husband on a train! I guess fairytales do happen!

  7. Catriona says:

    Ha ha wow! I thought this only happened in the movies!

  8. Tess says:

    Awwwww! That is so romantic! Well if you guys are meant to be each other, I’m sure you will cross paths again! 🙂

  9. Tamar says:

    What a meet-cute! That’s such a cute memory that will stay with you forever I’m sure! I love the feeling of butterflies when you first meet someone you click with 🙂

  10. Mel says:

    This was such a cute memory you’ve shared, Gabby! How cute that you had a little snuggle! Whenever I board a plane I think about having some Hollywood-type whirlwind romance with some deathly hot Mr. Darcy kind of guy sat beside me who falls instantly in love. More often than not, I end up beside a 60-year-old woman telling me about the contents of her trail mix.

  11. Karin says:

    Such I cute story 🙂 Do you still check out other passengers on flights to see if maybe…? 😀

  12. Inês says:

    This seems like such a beautiful memory. And it reminded me of one of mine as well (and, even though I didn’t lie about my age ;), I ended up making the same decision as you to let it go). I feel like encounters like these are what remind us of just how human we are. Of course you will always wonder what would happen if you were to meet again 🙂 Who knows – maybe “Nate” will stumble upon this post 🙂

  13. This post makes me so happy and inspired. Love that you shared with such honesty and vulnerability. When you’re 17 everything seems like an “earth shattering” affair. I so remember that! And the line about the best moments being fleeting.. Perfection.

  14. Aww I really feel for you. What a sweet story, I hope you get to meet him again one day.

  15. Pam says:

    Hehe cute 🙂 I love it ! I’m soo over dating travellers or hooking up with them for a longer period, maybe I’m just not there yet with this easy letting go if you have emotions developed 😀 But it’s def true that it’s lot of fun while it lasts 😀

  16. Noemi says:

    Oh I love this story! I was grinning from ear to ear and my stomach was fluttering like that of a teenage girl upon seeing her crush. Lovely composition! You got me hooked right away!

    What if you see him again on your next great adventure? :p That would be a great follow-up story to this one.

  17. Katerina says:

    Awww what a sweet story! I hope one day your paths will cross again!

  18. Kristine says:

    Aww I was reading this story in excitement too, what a flight! *winks* Perhaps one day you guys might even cross paths again!

  19. Sophia says:

    This is so funny! I actually had a really similair experience – though mine is much more embarassing than yours! I met this guy from AUSTRALIA at an international conference in Montreal and we hit it off right away, despite the fact that I was 17 and by far the youngest member of the group. He ended up staying at my house a few hours away for almost a week and then we dated for almost seven months. Woops. Let’s just say I got a little head over heels, despite the fact that he lived literally on the other side of the world and we were very opposite people. Now I just deny the entire thing ever happened. I can definetly relate to your pain.

    • Gabby says:

      Hahah that is so funny! 17 is obviously a vulnerable time for us! I hope you learned lessons from your little stint just like I did mine though!
      Don’t deny it happened, thats what being young and dumb is all about 🙂

  20. Janey Mae says:

    I love this post! I have a similar story but it wasn’t on a plane it was in the train station and our trains were delayed…. Funny how these things happen huh?
    Mine ended slightly different as he actually (believe it or not) lived two streets up from me! CRAZY! but we didn’t stay in touch, it was a fleeting romance as well 🙂

    Loved reading this post!

    • Gabby says:

      Wow! That is a crazy story!! I appreciate you reading it and that you liked it haha, even they weren’t long term loves they’re still so fun to have as little memories, right?

  21. Yamuna says:

    Sigh, the innocence of youth 🙂
    “I learned that the most exhilarating moments are usually fleeting, and it’s important to know the value of enjoying a moment and also letting it go.” That is a beautiful, and essential, lesson to learn and you learned it at a very young age!

  22. Svetoslav says:

    What an amazing story, Gabby! I really loved reading through it and as it is sad, it is also quite exhilarating. I agree – if you were meant to be, you would definitely meet somewhere. I bet he’s reading your story now! Aren’t you, Nate?

    As regards my experience, I met a Chinese girl in Geneva randomly in the hotel we stayed at with my parents as a stop-over point from a Euro trip we did some years ago. I just asked her for the Wi-Fi password and then we had the most amazing conversation for 2 hours straight.

    I then visited her, some months after that, and we had our kind of fling for the couple of days I was in China. Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue it, but I also learnt my lessons. 🙂

    • Gabby says:

      Thanks for reading Svetoslav!
      (If Nate is reading this I still love you email me, LOL!)
      Love that you have a similar love story, these little flings may not amount to more than a good memory but to this day it’s still one of my favorite memories I’m sure yours it too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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