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May 2, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Seat or Soulmate?

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Cheers from the good ol' US of A. We left off from Rio de Janeiro (here's the link), and this week fly back via Sao Paulo on one of my most memorable flights ever (you have to read it to believe it). I have breakfast in Miami before heading back to L.A., interrupted by yet another emergency landing -- the second of my life, and both within a week of each other. What are the odds of that?! I finally made it back to California, but was home for only two nights. And one of those was spent in Anaheim's newest hotel, as I attended the largest international travel trade show in the U.S. Unfortunately, I had to cut that event short when I learned my dad needed emergency bypass surgery in Western Pennsylvania. I'm here now in dreary Erie -- but as long as my dad gets better I don't care where I am. Because of all the circumstances there's no video this week, but we do have Part Two of my brother Frank's trip to Florida's forgotten coast (here's the link).

My flight to Sao Paulo (airport code: GRU) was supposed to depart at 8:05 p.m. Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed us 90 minutes. Fortunately I had a business class ticket, so waiting in TAM's plush, quiet lounge with free internet, food and drinks made the time pass quickly. Travelers without lounge access weren't so lucky: The Rio airport has just a couple of shops, and there were no bargains that I could see. The 40-minute flight down to GRU was supposed to be on an A330 wide-body plane, but it was downgraded to an A320. Rather than 36 premium seats there were just 16. A bunch of passengers were bumped down to economy. The good news is no one threw a hissy fit like they would have in the States.

In Sao Paulo it was a quick transfer to the TAM Airlines flight for Miami. My designated seat, 7H, turned out to be the worst spot in Business Class: a bulkhead with no legroom. Because I had an unfriendly businessman seatmate I didn't want jumping over me throughout the night flight, I asked a flight attendant if I could switch seats. The plane was not full, and every other row in Business had plenty of legroom. The FA told me my best option was the back row center seats (Biz Class was configured 2-2-2). The center row is perfect: Both are aisle seats, so no one disturbs a seatmate. With my stroke of luck, a pretty young Brazilian woman was sitting beside the empty seat, and had placed her oversized purse on it. I asked nicely if she minded if I sat there. Her look was not very welcoming. She took her bag down with a bit of attitude (which meant getting up -- that's how much legroom there was). Then she walked to the front of the plane. The center wall partition blocked my view, but I knew what she was up to —which was confirmed when the FA popped her head out and looked at me. She was asking the FA why this jackass was now sitting next to her. "What a biatch!" I thought. She came back, and there was an eerie silence. I didn't even look at her, but the tension was so thick I could almost cut it. I felt uncomfortable, and decided I would not look at this woman the entire flight, let alone talk to her --- no matter how hot she was.

Storms in Sao Paulo delayed us another 90 minutes. I passed the time writing in my travel journal and reading magazines. When I began quietly ripping out articles that listed useful travel websites, I sensed my seatmate getting even more perturbed. I didn't even care. Thirty minutes later I finished, just as we rolled down the runway for takeoff. As we built up speed, the pills she had placed on the center armrest tray slowly slid down. I was about to save them, but her cat-like reflexes stopped them. We caught each other's eyes -- and shockingly, she smiled! She broke through my wall, and I smiled back. I asked if they were sleeping pills (thinking she might loan me one). She said no, they were for her upset stomach. It turns out she was pregnant. I congratulated her, and introduced myself. Her first name was Gisele. I don't recall her last name, but it was long and very Portuguese. Her second impression was the opposite of what I had originally thought. We made more small talk. I asked her where she learned how to speak English so well, and she said she studied in New York. I asked if she liked America, and if she had been treated well during her stay. She said she loves America, and that everyone was so nice to her. "Even the women?" I asked. She said, "Well, maybe not as much as the men." That figures! I said, "Most American women are jealous of beautiful women." Gisele thanked me, with a big smile. As we talked I felt more and more comfortable. I couldn't believe how wrong I was about her. We spoke about our families, and shared photos and laughter.

My dinner was served first, but I waited to eat until she received hers. That took a while, but she appreciated the gesture. I learned that Gisele's dad is Danish. That was neat, because my mom's father came from Denmark too. Gisele had been to Scandinavia --and all over the world -- as she loves to travel as much as I do. It was weird: I had the sense I had known her forever. I even told her that. She blushingly said she felt the same way about me. I semi-joked that maybe we were married in a past life. Again she concurred. It was completely innocent, but I felt so comfortable with her that I just wanted to give her a big hug. After dinner we both fully reclined, practically lying flat but holding our heads up with our elbows so we could talk face to face over the wide center armrest. The cabin was dark. The seat belt sign went on, and then the plane started to shake. She looked worried. Without even thinking, I put out my hand out for her to clasp. She did, and I held on to it for a good portion of the flight. I was so happy holding her hand. I didn't want to let it go. I even thought as the plane traveled through rough air that if we went down right then, I wouldn't have been all that upset, knowing I was with her. Is that the craziest thing you have ever heard? But it's the truth. Those foreign feelings were almost supernatural -- and definitely indescribable. Please don't misunderstand: I don't go for married women, and Gisele is happily married. Unfortunately, I realize I'm a few years too late, and even if she wanted more (which she didn't), it's way too complicated now.

I normally wouldn't divulge this strange and highly unexpected encounter, but I can't stop wondering if soul mates really do exist. Is it possible I just had a one in a trillion encounter? I never had that feeling in my life. As we walked to passport control I suggested we better say goodbye, because we had to wait in different lines. I dropped my bag and hugged her in the middle of the hallway, as if there were no passengers rushing by. We both knew we most likely will never see each other again. It was a very sad, surreal moment. When I looked at her for what I thought would be the last time, I was even more surprised to see tears rolling down her face. Wow! What a full circle we made in just eight hours. To top it off, during the hug Gisele's passport fell on the ground. As I picked it up I noticed her maiden name. That's when my eyes almost popped out of my head: Her maiden name was the same as my mom's. That's almost impossible to believe. Maybe I really did know her in a past life!

Because of my encounter, I paid little attention to TAM's in-flight service. However, I did notice plenty of details on my way down to Brazil. If you missed it a few weeks ago, here are my thoughts on TAM's Business Class.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip




TAMs Lounge


My Favorite Brazilian Drinks


Boarding TAM




Champagne Anyone?


The Magic Red Carpet


Biz Class


Leg Room


Five-Course Meal


Din Din


Fresh Fruit


In Denmark


My Mom


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