Dear John McCain,
In 2014, you were on my flight from DC to Arizona. It was the first time I experienced a ‘celebrity’ spotting in real life - I didn’t get a picture with you, I didn’t get a chance to speak with you or shake your hand to thank you for your military service to our country, but I do want to thank you for something else.
Thank you for sitting in coach.
As I was boarding, I noticed that the people in first class on our flight leaving Reagan Airport seemed a little pretentious. Maybe it was their suits that bothered me or the way they all already had drinks and were on their computers, not bothering to look around them and see the people that walked onto the plane. It’s not that I’m upset that they didn’t notice me - but they didn’t seem to notice anyone. They were so wrapped in their own worlds that they didn’t seem to acknowledge that the world around them was still turning, that people were walking right past them.
The man in 15B next to me - Jason, a New York native living in Phoenix and working for the Department of Education - told me you were on the flight. I was so excited - a Senator and a former presidential candidate?! I asked Jason to point you out to me. I saw your white, bald (sorry to bring it up, but it’s distinguishing) head sitting in the window seat seven aisles up from me on the opposite side of the plane. Jason mentioned that he had seen other Arizonian political figures on the plane (congressmen, the governor, etc.) but they were all sitting in first class.
And you, John? You were sitting in coach.
Jason told me that when he saw you, you looked a little perturbed and we wondered what meeting you had all left that day. I remembered that you were on the Foreign Relations Committee and I wondered if I could approach you to chat about Foreign Affairs because I had studied that in college. Of course, I didn’t know as much as you do and I wasn’t up to date on current international relations, so I quickly decided I wouldn’t talk to you about that. A few minutes later, we saw the flight attendant come up to you. She offered you a seat in first class because there were extra seats available.
But you, John? You declined. You chose to stay in coach.
Jason was convinced that it was because you were upset with the other political figures in first class and you wanted to separate yourself from them. He thought maybe you guys had had a disagreement and you didn’t want to sit with them. Maybe Jason is right, but honestly, I don’t think he is.
If you were perturbed, as he said you were, you would’ve probably enjoyed the luxury of first class - the larger seat, better service, and the curtain to further isolate from the rest of the world, pretending like the problems in coach didn’t exist. You probably would’ve enjoyed life without the prying eyes and constant comments from those of us who were starstruck, tossing out your name as if you couldn’t hear us. I overheard one woman say, “look, he even gets his own bag!” as you hoisted your carry-on into the overhead bin. She was closer to you than I was and I know you, too, must have heard that. But you brushed it off, because what does one say to that?
I don’t know, but I do know what would I say to you, John.
Thank you. Thank you for being an example of what it means to be of the people and for the people. It’s been seven years since that flight and three years since you passed, but your example remains.
Thank you for sitting in coach.