A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

Photo of an airplane windowWhen somebody flies over a million miles like my husband, photographer, Jeffrey Aaronson, humorous things are bound to happen. Here’s a glimpse into a few things Jeffrey has experienced on airplanes over the years :

In 1989 Jeffrey was on his way to China from our home in Aspen, Colorado. On the small BA-146 jet, he bumped into his friends, tennis star, Chris Evert, and Olympic ski racer, Andy Mill. The three ended up sitting next to each other, chatting and laughing on the short thirty-minute flight to Denver, then parted ways once they landed.

Inside the Denver Airport, a Japanese man who had been on the earlier Aspen flight, scoped out Jeffrey from a distance and smiled and bowed to him. Jeffrey smiled back politely, then focused on a magazine article he was trying to read while he waited for his connecting flight. A short while later, the man walked past and did the same thing. Jeffrey glanced up and smiled back, but then began wondering what this guy was all about.

When it was time to board the flight to Beijing, once again, there was the Japanese man–this time walking down the aisle with his carry-on luggage, once again smiling and bowing as Jeffrey settled into his seat. Jeffrey smiled back courteously and even nodded, but was now starting to feel a little awkward.

It wasn’t until about an hour later that Jeffrey finally found out what this guy was all about. At 38,000 ft. as Jeffrey was sipping soda water and reading a newspaper, the Japanese man reappeared. After walking up and down the aisle two times, he finally built up his nerve to stop. Jeffrey looked up quizzically, then he heard, “Ah, Mr. McEnroe, may I have your autograph?”

Photo of John McEnroeJeffrey could barely repress his laughter, but was so tickled by this earnest gentleman, he couldn’t bring himself to tell him that he wasn’t the tennis legend he idolized. Instead, he just smiled and bowed, and scribbled John McEnroe onto a piece of paper.

That wasn’t the first time Jeffrey had been confused with curly-haired tennis great, John McEnroe, but this was the most amusing.

Looking back now Jeffrey chuckles, “You’d think he would have known I wasn’t John McEnroe when I wasn’t flying first class. He must have assumed that since I was talking with Chrissy Evert on the Aspen flight that I had to be McEnroe.”

Fortunately for the Japanese man Jeffrey never yelled, “You cannot be serious!” like John McEnroe often did on the tennis court.


In the early 90’s Jeffrey was on another flight to China (yes, he went all the time). This time, well into the flight over the Pacific, he was sound asleep. Jeffrey often joked that he got some of his best sleep on airplanes. After snoozing for a couple hours and being in a deep sleep, he was woken by a flight attendant standing in front of him, smiling broadly, holding a glass of champagne.

In his groggy, disoriented state, he was trying to figure out why she would be doing that. Then the guy sitting next to him, whom he hadn’t ever told his name, said, “Jeffrey, I really like what you do.” Trying to get his bearings, he squinted at the flight attendant and the passenger next to him, then glanced across the aisle. Several people were looking at him and smiling.

“Is there something going on here I should know about?” Jeffrey asked.

“We just watched you on the inflight movie.”

“Huh?” Jeffrey muttered. “What are you talking about?” Jeffrey couldn’t decide whether he was still dreaming or if these people had lost their minds.

“While you were asleep, they showed you photographing…it was on the video monitor.” When Jeffrey finally heard, “It was called Colorado Picture Perfect and it was hosted by John Denver,” it suddenly made sense.

A few years earlier he had been part of a documentary television show on NBC which featured three Colorado photojournalists working out in the field capturing winter in Colorado. The program, Jeffrey discovered at that moment in his travel weary state, had been syndicated and was now being shown on United Airlines.

The curly-headed guy sitting in Row 7A suddenly became a welcomed distraction for all the nearby passengers. All Jeffrey wanted to do was go back to dreaming.


Then there’s the funny stuff that’s only funny after you’ve landed safely. Like…

Flying with a drunk pilot in a single engine Cessna over the Bass Straight in Tasmania, Australia. The rosy-cheeked pilot looked more like an unmade bed than a professional pilot, and his flying skills matched his appearance. As the plane bumped along through marginal weather, he left little room for error as he flew way too close to the sea. I happened to be on this assignment with Jeffrey and years later, I can still remember the smell of the pilot’s whiskey and the death grip I had on Jeffrey’s hand, and how I practically kissed the ground when we finally landed. Thankfully we’re both still here to laugh about it.

Flying on Druk Air from Bhutan to Thailand and nearly crashing in Dhaka, Bangladesh while trying to land during a typhoon. The pilot pushed the engines as hard as he could to get through the storm, and then the wind suddenly whipped around the other direction and thrust the plane from behind during landing. It came in WAY too fast to land and the plane skidded sideways down the flooded runway, then finally came to a stop just inches from crashing off the end.

Having to make an emergency landing at a military base in Xinjiang, China because the China Airways plane Jeffrey was flying on ran out of fuel. Jeffrey was on assignment for TIME Magazine and had been trying to fly from Beijing to Turpan for days. Each day the flight was cancelled due to fog in Turpan, some five hours away. Finally the day arrived to fly, but when the plane tried to land, once again fog prevented it. The determined Chinese pilot decided to circle. And circle. And circle. The plane circled for nearly an hour, and then the pilot suddenly realized they had run out of fuel. It was straight out of a bad movie with passengers screaming and crying during the plummeting descent…you get the picture. This is only a tiny part of one of the most bizarre and difficult assignments Jeffrey had ever done for TIME Magazine, a story which will be chronicled later in my upcoming book.

Okay, so those last three stories aren’t exactly ha-ha funny, but more like “holy crap” funny. But since my darling Jeffrey is still with us to tell these stories, it’s okay to laugh…really.

Now it’s your turn. What is the funniest or most unusual thing that has happened to you while traveling? Drop me a comment and share the joys of flying!
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19 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

  1. Great topic, Becky. Loved Jeffrey’s solution to his John McEnroe stalker. Scary things happen on planes. First thought was my first flight. Husband transferred to CA. My fear of flying escalated when I had to met him there to buy a house. We didn’t crash. So flying back to Ohio was a snap. An older gentlemen next to me in 1st class asked if I’d like to celebrate with a drink (free). I had a glass of red wine, we talked. (I wasn’t a drinker). He ordered “other” drinks. We had a pleasant conversation. As we were decending to make the landing, I knew I was going to be sick. The stewardess told me to stay in my seat. NO PAPER BAG IN MY POCKET! So I threw up in my purse . . . ! A long story follows . . . :D

  2. I have way too many experiences to write about. I have literally seen it all . . . everything from bomb scares to breaking up people trying to join the mile high club. I have also enjoyed truly beautiful things like seeing the northern lights from the cockpit. Just stunning! The one thing I have learned is that just when you think you’ve seen it all someone comes up with something you have never seen or experienced before. That is the wonderful thing about people, they will always surprise and amuse you. That being said I enjoyed reading about Jeffrey’s experiences, The John MacEnroe story reminded me of the time I had Robert Redford on board and they had a program on him. He told me that he hated watching himself. I can’t imagine seeing a program on yourself on an airplane. I’m sure it was very surreal for Jeffrey. Keep up the good work. I am really enjoying reading your post’s. :-)

  3. Nothing as exciting as yours, but I was on a plane that flew into a thunderstorm and got struck. Blue flashes, kind of a St. Elmo’s fire dancing on the wings – very pretty.

    I am very grateful to be READING about your plane experiences rather than experiencing them.

  4. Unfortunately I don’t have such funniest moment yet. But i am now in Jeffrey’s fan list. You should write one book at least on his experiences. Everyone is going to love it. A big thank u to you & Jeffrey for sharing these wonderful experiences.

  5. Hi Becky, oh what fun in the air.
    I remember when Doug and I were trying to get out of Roatan, Honduras and the sun was setting. Planes couldn’t take off after dark. BUT, we had to go!!!! SO, they lit 50 gallon oil drums making a runway for us and guys with flashlights directed the plane down the dirt and off into the sky we went. Just fun!!!

  6. On one of my African flights in 1991, the line for the plane’s bathroom was unusually long. I noticed when one bathroom door was opened, it was full of a stack of luggage with a bird-less birdcage on top of the stack. While I waited for my luggage at the terminal, a set of copper pots with identification tags tumbled out of the luggage conveyor belt making quite a bit of noise.

  7. flying from portland to st.paul on northwest airlines one time and they unveiled their new menu of chili and strawberry ice cream, and on the return flight the meal was bbq beef sandwich and yes strawberry ice cream , it was the only time I have seen a toilet paper streamer in real life. very unpleasant flights.hehehehehe

  8. I was flying back home from Oaxaca, Mexico (my husband’s hometown) and I was by myself because the rest of the family decided to stay on a bit longer to visit family. My Spanish had improved dramatically over the past few weeks that I had been in Mexico, so I struck up a conversation in Spanish with my seatmate, a man who turned out to be from Mexico city. He kept looking at me strangely and finally asked, “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you Mexican?” I laughed and told him I was an American but married to a Mexican. He looked somewhat sheepish and said, “Oh, I thought you were an albino Mexican!” I guess that would be a compliment…
    Great stories about Jeffrey–and he really does look like MacEnroe!

  9. After finishing my first assignment in Niger for the National Geographic book “Africa”, the film crew and I got lucky and got a few empty seats on a semi-regular flight from the desert town of Agadez back to the capital, Niamey. The plane arrived from Niamey and the Russian crew of six (four trainees?) headed for the bar. After a two-hour wait we boarded. The Russian jet was nearly full, the lavatory entrance blocked by a mop and bucket and the aroma of alcohol on the crew’s breath permeated the plane. Thirty minutes into the flight, the plane suddenly dropped into a steep dive. As everyone on the plane gasped and screamed, the plane leveled off, the cockpit door opened and the captain looked back to his buddies in the first row and laughed. I think he said, “Gotcha” in Russian. The rest of the uneventful flight I thought about how the 13-hour drive wasn’t so bad. Landing, needless to say, was a huge relief.

    • That reminds me of that classic Far Side cartoon showing the pilots flying like lunatics, messing with the passengers in the back, then saying something like, “Sorry about the turbulence, ladies and gentlemen.”

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