Mind if I take a nap on your shoulder?

On a recent flight from Dallas to Tampa, I sat directly behind my 15-year-old son, Will, and watched as he drifted off to sleep. I noticed his head slowly nodding closer and closer to the business traveler on his left.

I could see the passenger’s discomfort, so I tried several times to wake my son by poking him hard in the side. He wouldn’t budge.

I planted one final poke into his rib cage and he slowly sat up. I watched as his head bobbed up and down, finally landing on the open tray table of the man sitting to his right.

Suddenly, my son was that passenger.

Teenagers are vampires, and I realized that he probably shouldn’t have stayed up so late the night before.

Fortunately, this passenger was asleep against the window and didn’t notice my son cozying up to his book and cell phone.

When this kind of inadvertent behavior happens on a plane, however, it is poor etiquette, and in hindsight I should have been a considerate traveler and packed a neck pillow. People doze off all the time for various reasons and on different modes of transportation. Is it wrong to catch some zzzzzs when you have a chance?

Is it ever OK for a passenger to invade your personal space and nod off on your shoulder? Shouldn’t exhausted individuals be allowed to sleep? Do appearances and age of the sleeping passenger matter whether or not you allow them slumber access to your shoulder?

I had a sleeping child lean on my shoulder on another flight from Dallas to San Diego. Her mother was very apologetic. I didn’t mind, since the child had been whining during the boarding process and was obviously tired. Better for her to sleep than cry and subject everyone to misery.

Would I have done the same for an adult? No way.

I had an experience on a business flight from Houston to London 24 years ago. I was dozing during the flight and woke to the passenger next to me sleeping on my shoulder. I woke up to his hair under my nose! I had watched this passenger board the plane previously and had noted that his hygiene wasn’t the best. Actually, that’s a compliment. His hair was so greasy that one could have fried chicken in it. As I woke to discover him on my shoulder, I also noticed a bug crawling in his hair. The passenger had a raging case of head lice.

I was very fortunate that day. The lice decided to spare me and not migrate over for a visit. I don’t know what freaked me out more, the lice or the pool of drool found on my blouse trailing from his mouth.

People have varying differences of opinion on the definition of cleanliness. I understand that the child could have had bugs in her hair as well; however, she was visually well groomed and clean. The man on the flight to London has every right to sleep on the plane, just not on my shoulder. I don’t know if he was aware he had head lice, and I didn’t break the news to him. I did tell the flight attendant upon exiting the aircraft so she could take proper precautions to insure the seat was bug-free for the next passenger.

My son’s hygiene is pretty impressive for his age, but he’s a typical fifteen-year-old boy. Things could have been a lot worse. At least he didn’t grind his teeth, drool, or take his shoes off and give passengers a sampling smell of a high school football locker room.

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