Are there any airplane experiences left that do not bear a strong resemblance to an emergency shelter? This is not a rhetorical question.
When they asked me to book my own flight, I did so. When they asked me to check myself in at a kiosk, I touched the screen. When they asked me to pay for my carry-on bag and seat assignment, I wondered what my ticket was actually for, but I did it. When told the only thing free of charge that would be passing my lips would be recycled diseased air, I bought my own water and meals. I did all this expecting nothing more than to safely arrive at my destination within two to four hours of the advertised arrival time. I don’t expect to be greeted by name, or at all. I don’t expect help hoisting my bag up over my head. However I also don’t expect to be surrounded by passengers lacking all sense of civility. The villagers fleeing Anatevka had more respect for their fellow travelers than those on recently endured Flight 197.
I’m not convinced that paying $750 additional each way, and sitting in first class, two rows in front of the woman changing her child’s diaper would have been more pleasant than sitting directly behind her. I’m guessing I also would have heard the battery operated walkie-talkies she had graciously provided her older little cherubs for the trip. Our little Donna Reed reject would have stood up and shouted (20 aisles) to her oldest child (playing in the galley), “Do you want a soda?” just as easily from first class as she did from coach. I’m pretty sure I would have still had my seat back kicked by the attention-seeking four-year-old who extorted chocolate from his mother by claiming (in anguished peals) that he was afraid of the airplane. And that elder man seated next to me? The one engaged in a personal activity so vile as to even embarrass two year olds? I’m pretty sure he would still be one full knuckle up for two hours in first class. But I will concede he might have refrained from cleaning his ears with a pen.
I accept (begrudgingly) that the only way to discern passenger from flight attendant is their speed up and down the aisle. Did my soul weep slightly at the sight of the attendant wearing a fleece jacket and ponytail in a rubber band? Yes, but I will survive. Have I learned to ignore the fact that three quarters of any flight is filled with passengers clearly on their way to rehab? (Why else would they be wearing attire devoid of zippers, buttons, snaps and laces?) Yes, I have made my tenuous peace with all of it. But I refuse to accept (just yet) that I must submit to an atmosphere that feels abusive.
I sincerely am asking, what is a traveler to do?
Brenda Tobias has been writing professionally and for pleasure for over a decade. Her writing is influenced by her background in social work and longtime urban residence.