New ground was broken in the life of Maxine Thayer and in the history of Southwest airlines this afternoon. At approximately 4:32pm while flying 34,080 feet above Kansas City, Missouri, Thayer, 43, spoke the words “that’s cute” insecurely while pretending to untangle her iPod headphones.
The latter action was necessary so as to seem nonchalantly preoccupied. Thayer had been peering at the white bichon frise of Jordan Caper, 28, sitting to her left since Caper had opened the Macbook approximately 84 minutes earlier. The personalized wallpaper, a digital photo taken from home, sparked a potential non-forward-seeming conversation starter in Thayer’s mind. Despite the cuteness and casual intentions of the comment, she was paralyzed by fear of a seconds-long awkward exchange with Caper, a stranger to her.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” reports 4-year Southwest flight attendant Ally Simms, 30. “You see it about once every third flight. Somebody opens their laptop and their seatmate passively glares at the screen for about three-and-a-half seconds, and then quickly shifts in their seat or reaches for their SkyMall in front of them.” Simms walks the aisles of economy jets like this on a daily basis and was kind enough to delve into this underground neurosis of air travel. “Even though we can’t see the screens, we know it’s most likely a pet photo that would implore the seatmate to speak up with a compliment and then get uncomfortable.”
The puppy’s delightful posture – laying on a couch with his face peering between two pillows – insinuated that a comment about it would have been appropriately deserved. The impersonal stigma of the setting and general fear of having to make go-nowhere small talk for the rest of the long flight as a result of the initial well-intentioned phrase is a consistent barrier, though.
“Maxine’s a game changer,” Simms continues. “She’s made it okay for people to trust their first instinct in potentially awkward social situations on Southwest airlines. Not only will the general atmosphere of flights be more positive, but now corporate is putting stakes in shy passengers using this newfound confidence to order priced drinks that they’ve always secretly wanted instead of the free three sips of water or ginger ale.”