Airplane seat swap makes a grieving son feel at home

Written by Staff Writer

When Canadian accountant Steven Nolan lost his mother three months ago, his fear of flying was so bad he shunned the idea of returning to the United States.

“I couldn’t do it,” he told CNN Travel. “I didn’t want to look at my mom’s grave again, so I kind of went into a depressive stage. Traveling sucks for my mom, I couldn’t travel there and I couldn’t fly here and it turned out to be horrible.”

Nolan has reached out to CNN Travel with that personal story in hopes of connecting with another bereaved family.

A father’s love

So imagine Nolan’s surprise — and his family’s delight — when it became clear that his story was not a fluke.

After learning Nolan’s story, fellow CNN Travel viewer, Brent Bozier , was going through a similar experience with his father, a retiree based in rural North Carolina. Bozier flew home to the States after a meeting in Germany, only to find that his flight had been canceled.

“I was lying at the computer, trying to read travel and I read something about how a guy who had been on some negative things had this experience in Canada,” Bozier told CNN Travel. “I called him and he said ‘look it was a great story and I appreciate you looking into it.’ So I said, ‘my dad’s going through this.’ And he said, ‘wow.’ I was just blown away.”

If that’s not enough, Bozier set out to find Nolan and eventually tracked down his email address and number. Soon enough, they began emailing, learning that both men were a bit intimidated about sharing their individual stories with the world.

To make up for that, they scheduled a flight for April 24 — the anniversary of Nolan’s mother’s death — at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Flying solo

Nolan says he was up all night.

“I was more than ready for this, at least at first,” he said. “It was like the first time of finding someone new after a deep depression.”

Bozier’s father, an ex-serviceman, also owned a plane, and his flight was canceled. They flew together. “We did it solo, had a red-eye together and spent 24 hours together over the course of the night at the airports I had flown out of yesterday,” Bozier said.

They caught up on emails, shared stories and shared experiences with other fellow bereaved travelers. Nolan was determined not to feel “scared” during his reunion with his father.

“I tried to remember what I thought I felt when I met him and I just came back from the airport feeling even more loved,” he said.

“I have flown from Toronto to Boston and I had a lovely time, but I never got to spend an entire day together with somebody. The way it worked out this way was fantastic and I have kept in touch with him over email.”

Safe to say, Nolan isn’t going to be canceling any more flights: “My daughter had a big ‘No means no’ sign behind the counter at the airport when I checked out. I should never have put myself through this,” he said.

Good manners

Avid travelers go through ups and downs.

A large part of the friendship is maintaining good manners while traveling. No one is perfect. As Bozier said, “people can be walking down the street and their voice breaks and they’re crying and they’re confused. We don’t want to make you feel weird, especially if you’re grieving.”

Bozier will be visiting Montreal to spend some time with Nolan.

Leave a Comment