Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics


The Sick Traveler: An Easy Person to Hate

posted by Padmini Mangunta

Last weekend I returned from a lovely, restful weekend trip to San Francisco. As I boarded the red-eye back to New York, I found myself hoping that just this once, I would have the ideal flying neighbor–the non-existent one.

What I got instead was a middle-aged man, sniffling, sneezing, coughing his way through the 5-hour trip. I am the opposite of a hypochondriac–I spend most of my time denying disease and infection exist. But this really threw me.

Come on, man! Ever heard of swine flu? And by the way, you just sneezed all over me…sorry I just happen to be sitting so close. Also, don’t worry if I can’t hear my movie because your hacking cough is SO LOUD; I’ll just jack up the volume.

As I covertly gave him the evil eye (covert only because he was so wrapped up in his illness it would have taken a punch to the face to get his attention), I also envisioned the movie “Outbreak” in my head. I composed angry letters to this man asking him how in @!$$#@ he had justified getting on the plane that night when obviously he was harboring infection. He might as well be a terrorist! (I kid).

Should he have gotten off the plane? Cancelled his trip? He was most likely much like me; returning from a lovely weekend vacation and desperate to get back home. There’s nothing you want more than your own bed when you’re sick.

And canceling your trip? That costs money! At least it does if the airline gods don’t take kindly to you and don’t cut you a break.

All in all, despite my ire, I have to sympathize with the man’s plight. “What!! Sympathize?” you ask. “You’ve spent the last page getting angry at him for spreading contagion!”

Weeelll…yes. But I also left out a tiny detail. I was a little sick myself.


NOT as sick as Contagious Carl, but still a little coughy, with a bit
of a sore throat. I basically chalked it up to talking a little too
much and a little too loudly all weekend–at least until I came home
and spent the entire week cursing my body for giving in to the summer
cold cliché.

So should I have gotten off the plane or switched to a later flight?
This definitely would have been an expense I could ill-afford. But though I generally don’t take common illnesses too seriously, I’m
well-aware that others do.

Plus, everywhere we turn, we’re being chastised by the medical media to
stay home if you’re feeling ill, don’t travel, don’t go to work.

So how many people actually take this advice? How many completely
disregard it? (My personal count: 2). It’s pretty easy to stay home
from work when you’re sick, but you can’t shut down your life. Yet
every time I stepped out of the house this week and gave a little
cough, I saw people giving me the evil eye and looking at me like I was
the terrorist.

In this age of swine flu pandemics, is there a fair compromise, or was I (and Contagious Carl) simply wrong for sharing our germs with the rest of the world?

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