Monday, July 21, 2008

Fear of Flying Coach

© 2008 Leighann Lord

I'm a platinum level frequent flier on American Airlines; at least I used to be. Since elite status is determined by number of miles flown in the last calendar year and not the lifetime number of miles, I've been demoted. As Joni Mitchell so correctly crooned, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."

When I had platinum status I went through a separate security line at the airport. The TSA agents smiled sweetly as I breezed through the screening process. The search itself was a mere formality because it's common knowledge that elite level fliers can't possibly be terrorists.

Once at the gate I was invited to board the plane early; critical if you want to secure precious overhead space, or guarantee yourself a blanket.

I was first on the list for an upgrade. I still remember the first time I flew first class. I was treated to a pre-take off beverage, a necessity so you don't become parched with the effort of getting comfortable in your spacious leather seat. It was pre-9/11 so not only did I get a hot meal, but I ate it with real mini metal silverware. Before the meal of course was the hot, moist, lemon-scented towel I was given to wipe my hands.

You meet the coolest people in first class, too. On an early morning flight I once sat next to Maya Angelou. She boarded the plane, sat next to me, and all I could think was, "Oh my god its Maya Angelou! I am sitting next to The 'Phenomenal Woman' herself!" I was in the presence of greatness.

When she took out her laptop I thought, "Oh my god, Maya Angelou is gonna write a poem right now!"
My curiosity got the best of me. When I peeked to read what she was writing, I saw she was playing solitaire; an integral part of her creative process I suppose. When the flight attendant came by to take our drink order, I asked for a cup of tea; Maya ordered a vodka and OJ. I guess now I know why the caged bird sings.

But alas those days are gone. When I didn't rack up enough frequent flier miles with American Airlines, my status dropped from Platinum to plebeian. The transition has not been easy. It's like using an outhouse once you've had indoor plumbing. It's like returning to the cubicle after having a corner office. It's like replacing your Ipod with a Walkman. Coach by comparison seems light on the amenities. No pillow, no movie, no peanuts. Instead there's "Food for Purchase." I can either be fiscally sodomized in the airport or at 30,000 feet. Delightful.

And then there's the seating. I'm very particular. I like the window on the right, or the aisle on the left, and if I don't get it I'm cranky. I'm cranky a lot when I fly with my Husband. Marriage has doomed me to the middle seat. Apparently when couples fly together, the man – who's taller and more entitled to stretch his legs -- gets the aisle seat.

I could still opt for the window and let a stranger sit between us but that might be awkward in case of an argument. I've tried sitting directly across from my Husband in the other aisle seat, but that’s not very romantic. It's difficult to snuggle up and put my head on his shoulder when people insist on traipsing back and forth to the bathroom, or I'm being knocked in the noggin by a runaway beverage cart.

Some people find it hard to sleep on a plane. Some can surrender to the arms of Morpheus as they're fastening their seat belt. Sadly, some of these folks are also as quick to snore. There's a lot of snoring in coach. That’s probably because of the uncomfortable angle of the seats, the lack of pillows and quality of the cabin air.

I once found myself in a two-seater next to a man who was, as my mother would say, calling hogs. I turned up my Ipod to drown out the sounds of his undiagnosed Sleep Apnea but it bled right through my Marcy Playground:

"I smell sex and candy..."


"Who's that lounging in my..."


"Who's that casting devious stares in my direction..."
That would be the other passengers. But giving disapproving glares to a man who's not awake to see them is as effective as going to war in the Middle East without an exit strategy. So I tried a little something that usually works at home: I elbowed the man in the stomach and then pretended to be sleeping. And whilst I pseudo slept, I dreamt of early boarding, smiling flight attendants, hot meals, and warm lemon scented towels...

"... Mama this surely is a dream..."
Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

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