"I actually recognized this famous DJ at the Toronto Pearson airport's VIP lounge. I was relaxing after a tiring flight from NYC and had an hour to kill. Funny thing is, I snuck into that lounge (it was for VIP card members only, or whatever).
I walked up to him and asked (I didn't want to seem rude) 'Are you Steve Aoki?'
He looked up from his seat and smiled, 'Yeah, you got that right, buddy.'
I didn't like his music, but it was amazing to see someone with an Asian heritage being so successful in the music industry. (He's Japanese).
I also ended up sitting beside him on the airplane, (he recognized me) which made me feel special. We spent the entire four-hour-long flight to Vancouver talking about music digital audio stations, performing and what living in Los Angeles was like.
After the flight, he gave me a shirt and told me to keep representing Asians."
"I was on a flight from New York 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 curious and asked technical questions. He seemed 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 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.
There is a 'Wired' article about Ted that he does not consider accurate, but one thing that was true was his habit of taking pictures of people he meets. At the end of the flight, he took my picture, and made a note, 'Vladimir, young technology guy.'
I looked up the article above and other information about Ted after the flight and found it quite fascinating. In fact, I spent most of the vacation in Phoenix reading about Ted's projects."
"With 25 years as a product evangelist, including traveling around the world for hundreds and hundreds of user group meetings, I've been lucky to sit beside a lot of interesting people. But here's my favorite story:
In about 1997 or 1998, I was sitting on an Air Canada flight out of Toronto. As is usual for me, I had a stack of magazines to read on the flight, including a copy of 'WoodenBoat' Magazine. It happened that this particular issues had a retrospective on the late Joel White, a well-known wooden boat builder. Beside me sat a middle-aged woman.
As I was reading, I struck up a friendly conversation with my seatmate and seeing the pictures of the beautiful boats she asked a few questions about boats.
Then I mentioned to her that the best parts of the issue I had in my hand were the articles about Joel White. I happened to tell her casually that Joel was the son of E.B. White, the essayist, and author.
'Ah,' she said. 'E.B. White. I have a sort of connection to him.'
'Really! Tell me more.' I replied (I'd always been an E.B. White fan)
'Well,' she started, 'My father was one of those people who collected first editions of books. He was a schoolteacher, but he'd always dreamed of being an author. He had a few authors who he corresponded with, and he'd send the first edition books to them for their signatures. One of those authors was E.B. White, and the two of them carried on quite a correspondence for many years.'
'Anyhow, when I was fairly young, my father received a nice letter from E.B. telling him that he was about to start a children's book, and that because of how much E.B. had enjoyed the correspondence with my father, he wanted my father to suggest a name for one of the characters in the new book. So, my father wrote back to E.B. and suggested that he name one of the characters after me. In the next letter, E.B. said that he would.'
'Wow!' was my immediate response, 'That's pretty cool! So, I have to ask, what's your name?'
I was speechless at her answer:
"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 Admiral's 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 his 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.
Suddenly, my mind began parallel processing two things at an amazing speed: i) What intelligent thing could I say to him? and ii) My memories from the 2000 election. I felt excited and wanted to talk to him because a few months prior I had become a US citizen and had I been able to vote in 2000, I would have voted for him. But it wouldn't have mattered anyhow since I was a grad student in Massachusetts. Even if I had been in Palm Beach, Florida it would not have changed anything also. In a way, I felt sorry that he lost under interesting conditions.
I took another look at him as he started a phone call while my mind drifted back to my US naturalization ceremony. Hanging on the wall next to the American flag was W's picture -- not Gore's of course. But why? I extracted from my memory that Gore had won the popular vote, but lost the electoral. I dug deeper as my brain went into overdrive -- hanging ballots, Florida recount, Supreme Court - until I could no longer distinguish present from past. Yet there I was, sitting in front of the guy who was going to be the most powerful man in the world.
It was so close and he lost. What if he hadn't done that intimidating maneuver at the debate when Bush gave him the nod? Could Gore have used Clinton better in the campaign despite the Monica scandal? Should Gore have sent a better team to fight James Baker in Florida during the recount? None of these questions matter now. Nobody can change the past.
I was sitting down, but feeling dizzy and falling deeper into sadness that I felt like Roquentin in Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher, author)'s Nausea. I was consumed by the existentialist angst. 'Anything can happen, anything.' I couldn't expect to make sense of the events that led to that moment. The world is contingent and that meeting could very well not have happened.
I indulged in the moment contemplating the randomness of life. We were both not supposed to be on that flight, but the fluidity of the world picked the two of us. In 2000 while I was a grad student, he was running for president of the United States. I never fly on Wednesdays, but my daughter was finishing kindergarten, so I changed my flight. He was supposed to be on Air Force One, not American Airlines. Even First Class sucks if you were made for AF1.
But on that specific day, our paths crossed and we are a few feet part and boarded the same plane. It was a great honor."
"Once, when I was traveling from Bangalore to Singapore, I got an opportunity to sit next to an inspiring personality.
We, a group of students, were traveling to Fukuoka, Japan, for a conference and it was our first international flight. Every one of us was excited about our first journey. We made ourselves comfortable. I got an aisle seat and my friend got a window seat. There was going to be someone in between. We thought of asking him to sit on the side so that we can sit together.
Then he came! An energetic, simple man in his 50s. We told him what we wanted, and without any hesitation, he exchanged his seat with us.
And then we had the following conversation,
He: Looks like you are on your first time in flight?
Me: Exactly sir. (I told him the purpose of our journey)
He: That's great. At this age, you are getting huge exposure, you guys should explore to the maximum.
Without even asking, he explained a lot about Japan, about food, industries, agriculture, exports and so on. I then asked him.
Me: Sir, what is your name by the way?
He: Oh, I am Raghu Iyer, from Melbourne.
Me: But your name seems like an Indian one.
He: Yeah, well, basically I am from Pune, settled in Melbourne.
Me: That's nice to hear sir. So what are you doing?
He: I am running my own business.
Me: Which company sir?
He: Name of the company is 'Business Intelligence Technologies,' which primarily is into the healthcare business. We have our branches in Pune as well.
By then, my colleagues told me to take pictures of them with my DSLR, but I was a bit shy to walk along the walkaway. He encouraged me not to hesitate but still, I was not comfortable. what he did then was surprising. He took my camera, sat on the walkway and took pictures of us!!!
We spoke some more. He told my friend to think about some business opportunities like photography. He had a vast knowledge of almost everything. But you know knowledge is just the process of filling up facts, wisdom lies in their simplification! That made him different!
We continued the talk till the flight reached Singapore. Then there he left.
After we reached the destination, on curiosity, I googled him.
I was shocked. The first result was 'Raghu Iyer a serial entrepreneur is a founder of Business Intelligence Technologies, SourceDynamix and Global Xchange, all headquartered in Melbourne, Australia.' He is also a board member of Light up Australia Foundation.
Beyond hard work, attitude and simplicity are going to make a big difference in the crowd of intelligence, and then I knew that made him a successful entrepreneur and an amazing personality!!"
"I am based in the USA now, leading AardvarkCompare Travel Insurance Marketplace, but lived in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal.
In a previous life, I was a Royal Air Force Pilot, then moved into the Business Jet world.
Ten years ago, I attended the NBAA Business Jet Convention in Las Vegas.
I was CEO of JetRepublic at the time; we had just placed a $1.5 billion, 110-aircraft order with Bombardier Learjet.
Aircraft are displayed on the ground - there are always many to see and sit in.
I was sat on the flight deck of one of the static display aircraft when this gentleman walked forward to see me on the flight deck of the Learjet and introduce himself.
'Hi, I'm Gene Cernan.'
I nearly threw up. I have never been so nervous.
Astronaut, naval aviator, electrical engineer, aeronautical engineer, fighter pilot. Oh, and also the last man the Moon.
A living legend, just casually chatting with me.
He was absolutely charming; asked me about my Royal Air Force career, what I had flown, where I had visited. Rarely have I been tongue-tied, but words nearly failed me.
He made me feel special, that's the best way to explain it.
I watched him later with other people and he did the same with everyone. A charming, warm, funny man."
"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, Pennsylvania. It was right before the Clintons received Secret Service protection, so an Arkansas state trooper was on the plane with Mrs. Clinton, two of her regular traveling staff members, and me. What I remember most about the trip was that we flew through a lightning storm and Mrs. Clinton managed to sleep through it. "
"Flying from London to Atlanta for the Olympics in 1996 (just to watch) as a no one too smart student on KLM. Somehow, even with a rucksack and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I was upgraded to business class, obviously a great start to my trip.
We took off and I settled in with some snacks and a drink when I noticed that three or four passengers around me, were even scruffier than me. I started to chat with my neighbor about our respective trips and found out that they were a band who had just finished a tour and were on the trip back home. Eventually, it got to the obvious question - what was the band called and would I know them.
What followed made this flight such a great memory for me. When he told me their band name, I said I was sorry, I didn't know them. This had quite an effect! First of all the entire band got involved throwing song titles at me and were stunned I didn't know them. (I should mention by saying that country music, and their particular genre wasn't my thing, had it been an author, a scientist, an actor I'd like to think I'd have been a bit better!) What happened next was my own private concert. A guitar was retrieved from the overhead bins, drumsticks (or similar, time has made my memory hazy!) were found and the back of my seat became an impromptu drum kit I proceeded to get a greatest hits of songs including 'Freebird' and 'Sweet Home Alabama' and a lot of 'You must know this one.' So I got my own dedicated concert by Lynyrd Skynyrd at 40,000 feet.
Afterwards, when instruments had been put away, I found out about the band's history - the plane crash bit going down as well as could be expected halfway over the Atlantic. I heard about how they reformed, about 'Forrest Gump' and a little about American politics. Jonny explained how he was looking forward to running around naked in his fields on his return!
The rest of the flight was uneventful except for a few businessmen stopping me on the way out and thanking me for the most entertaining flight they'd ever had."
"I fly a lot.
I have been traveling by air since before I can remember (and I have been renewing my passport like clockwork every decade of my life.)
I also was engaged to someone who worked for a major airline while I was in college, then became a flight attendant, and married a pilot, so I had a few years where I flew every other day.
And now I probably spend a good quarter of the year on airplanes.
So, I've had quite a few candidates for interesting seatmates.
I would have to say that my all-time best was this man:
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 long week at work of 10 hour days in the office followed by 8 hours additional back at my hotel answering an endless mountain of Customer Support emails, leaving me with little sleep.
I was looking forward to returning to my home, which was at the time located inside Walt Disney World, 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 drink 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.'
'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."
"The most famous person I sat next to was then-Senator John Kerry. But he was not the most interesting person. That story is about Bella Rose, a bodybuilder.
Let me dismiss of the John Kerry story first. I had just moved to Massachusetts and was working on a project that brought me to Washington, D.C. I did not know who he was; as I was young and not a local, so he was just some tall guy with good hair and a bad suit. When we deplaned, I noticed that he was sporting a fairly large tear in the back seat of his pants. I did not know who he was, so I did not speak with him, so that's not interesting. Yes, he flew coach.
Bella, on the other hand, was interesting. She was the person everyone noticed at the gate as we were getting on board. She was wearing a bright and fairly fitted suit - short skirt, bolero jacket, big hair. And she was tall. To my surprise, she sat next to me for the cross-country flight from New York to Seattle.
Bella was sweet and friendly. After we hit cruising altitude, she pulled out a cooler filled with food. She offered to share her lunch with me. She told me that health is important and I should be eating good food. She ate. We spoke for a few hours. Have a granola bar. She is a bodybuilder, competed for years and is now retired from competition. I have an extra yogurt if you want. She was flying to Seattle to open a new gym. Here, let me get you some hot water and I'll give you some green tea, it's good for you. Would you like some carrots?
Bella was about as much woman as I have ever seen in one person. I'm not sure how to say it - she was just WOMAN in huge capital letters. As a bodybuilder, she has that strange combination of big muscles and big curves, with a healthy self-image and pride.
As it turns out, I had recently produced a classical music concert for a friend of mine who is a classical composer. I had an MP3 player with me and offered her to listen. She was impressed with my friend's music. Fortunately, I had some CD's with me of my friend's other music, so I gave her a CD, and she offered to pay if I gave her my contact info. Then I told her a bit about myself, and we landed and parted ways.
She sent me a nice note a few days later with $15 for the CD I gave her and included a note to my wife saying that she is used to having men hit on her all the time, but that I was a perfect gentleman the whole trip."