Column, Movie Diary

Pain and suffering

By Dom Cioffi

I traveled to Europe last week for a work event — my first trip abroad since the craziness of the pandemic.

The outbound flight was uneventful for me other than being fortuitously bumped into business class, which allowed extra legroom and a wider, more comfortable seat. Business class also comes with a variety of dining and beverage upgrades that I was happy to indulge in.

An hour and a half into the flight, I was satiated and drowsy, which allowed me to sleep for a good portion of the 7-hour journey. The comfy pillow and blanket they supplied also helped in that regard.

All in all, the flight was a pure joy, filled with modern conveniences and underlying comfort. My trip back, however, was a lesson in suffering.

First of all, I had to get up at 3 a.m. to catch my flight. That’s hard enough to do, but I had celebrated with some work colleagues the night prior, so the early morning rise was especially difficult.

And then, the 45-minute taxi ride to the airport cost $135, which floored me. I suppose it makes sense when gas costs $10 a gallon in Europe, but it still seemed outrageous.

Once I boarded the plane, I quickly realized that I was sitting in coach, which immediately set the tone for the day. I usually fly coach for domestic flights, but transatlantic flights in coach are tough.

Coach, in this day and age, is tantamount to torture. The seats are ridiculously small and there is little to no legroom. Being over 6 feet tall, I don’t do well in such confined spaces. I can stand it for a two- or maybe three-hour trip, but anything longer starts to wear on me.

Traveling back from Europe adds a couple hours to the flight due to the headwind, so I was staring down a 9-hour, trip tucked up against the window with two strangers next to me.

And ultimately, it was these two strangers who really made things unbearable.

I was the first one in my row to arrive so I tucked my carry-on bag into the overhead bin and climbed into my seat next to the window. I then began the game of watching people walk down the aisle, trying to figure out who would be sitting next to me.

The plane was almost full when my hopes of having the seats end up empty were dashed by a young German couple.

They both were in their 20s; she was rather large and he was paper thin. After observing the physical stature of both, I prayed that he would sit next to me, which he did. She sat in the aisle seat and literally had to squeeze herself between the armrests to fit.

My heart breaks for anyone facing this condition, but my sympathy for her was short-lived. Within minutes of sitting down, the two of them started making out and groping each other. They were speaking German so I couldn’t understand them, but it sounded like a lot of lovey-dovey talk, which sort of made me nauseous.

I tried my best to ignore them but it was hard. She was constantly leaning over and touching his face or rubbing his leg, which made him more and more agitated. This in turn caused him to squirm in his seat, which obviously affected my comfort.

I spent several hours watching movies trying to distract myself, but it barely helped. For the majority of the flight, I felt like I was a cornered animal being primed for the kill.

The one time I asked to get up, they both seemed irritated. I used the bathroom and then stood in the aisle for several minutes before finally returning, only to find them grossly intertwined. I cleared my throat, which caused them to stop. I then waiting while she struggled to get out of her seat. As he emerged from his seat, he gave me a dirty look like I was putting them both out for having an assigned seat.

At that point, I think my mind and body shut down from stress. I climbed into my seat and forcibly fell asleep. Thankfully, my slumber lasted to just before landing, at which point I thanked God that I actually survived the ordeal. In this week’s feature, “Smile,” we meet a woman who is also trying to survive a grave situation, except in her case it involves the suicides of mental patients that she believes have inhabited her body in an attempt to force her to do the same.

It’s Halloween season so you have to expect a bevy of horror films to capitalize on the holiday theme. And while I’m the first one to admit that it’s fun to be frightened, in this case the vehicle is too flawed to be considered viable.

Check this one out if you like to be jarred out of your seat by unsettling imagery. While it succeeds in that regard, the overall storyline fails to fully entertain.

A predicable “C” for “Smile,” now playing in theaters everywhere.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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