Saturday, August 02, 2008

Zen and the Art of Flying Coach

I have come to despise, no hate, flying. Back in the day prior to 9/11 the task was easy. It was like you saw in the movies with friends and family pulling up to curb, parking it and hanging out, people moving freely through the airport and seeing you off at the jetway, bringing whatever the hell you wanted on board, and on and on...

Of course things have changed and the times have changed even more. Now my 4-year-old son gets patted down, and my flip-flops are examined. Because all American airports (especially LAX) were and still are not equipped to handle the stress, our airports and the grumpy security people who man the place, have become shit-holes. Compare any European airport to any of ours and the differences are extreme. The Euros know how to handle security because they've been doing it for years. We got cocky and cheap and as usual, without something tragic happening, we/American industry usually doesn't seek to progress. The most current examples are: the mortgage industry, and the sudden turn to "green" technology. Now all of the sudden the banking community has tightened down on loans, and American car companies are suddenly bypassing the praise of horsepower and have moved to highlighting fuel efficiency. I digress...

Airlines too have determined that screwing the customer is the best way to save money. Now or soon, you will pay for your checked bag(s), which means people will try and stuff as much into that one bag as possible. Be careful of course because the bag still has a weight limit and they have become more stringent on that. In the past they would "look the other way" if it was too heavy, but now the extra $25+ is golden. You want something to eat? Nope, it will cost you $7. My advice, bring your own food. We did on our way back from Hawai'i recently. It's better food and people around you tell you how smart you are. Perhaps there is a new industry arising: buy enough food to sell some on the plane. If someone will buy a hot-dog cooker from SkyMall while in the air, they'll surely be open to purchasing some hummus and crackers from you for $5.

With all of this uptight flying, the class difference has grown even wider. First Class folks don't feel the strain. If you are able to fly first class, you aren't bothered by the hike in price or the fact that the exit row has now become an "upgrade". You don't care. The cheese tastes the same, the silverware is just as shiny, and the legroom still borders on the size of a walk-in closet.

So I am stuck in Coach. I am fine with this. I am an excellent flyer and frankly would rather spend my money on finer things than use on an upgrade. My preference is the window because I can snooze without being bothered by seat mates. Though the aisle has its strengths including the freedom to roam, and for making a quick dash to the can before that grumpy old woman from Tulsa t-bones you, it puts you on call. On the aisle my snoozing becomes lighter, even one-eyed because I know the minute I doze, Cindy from DC will tap me on the shoulder so she can touch up her mask. Plus, the aisle offers no place to rest your head.

The middle seat is the worst and people who occupy the space have this sense that they own both arm rests. On my recent flight from Maui, a women sat, immediately bundled up with blanket and pillow and stretched out, spreading both arms on the rests and then proceeded to widen the elbow a couple more inches so that she was now 3 inches into "my" space. With an elbow in my gut, I had no choice but to apply pressure and back her off an inch or two. This pressure lasted four hours, and when I departed the plane, I made a vow that I will never sit on the aisle.

The window is where I am most at home. Plop the "pillow" that is still free against the window area, drape the blanket that is still "free" but for some reason are scarce, across my legs and nod off. I can go eight hours without moving, talking or going to the bathroom. I am what you call a "air travel survivalist". It's a crew that is becoming few and far between but we are out there and we don't need your $7 "meals" or snotty flight attendants. Give me a window, and a drink (they are still free) and leave me the hell alone.