On a recent flight back to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday, it suddenly dawned on me why flying economy is so miserable; we make it that way. Now I know we all love to blame the airlines and there is plenty of reason to. But some blame needs to be placed squarely on our own cramped shoulders. The problem with flying economy is that we behave as if we are flying economy. It is the mindset of the downtrodden. We assume our second-class citizen status as we lumber and lug our way past the first class section upon boarding.
It starts even before we enter the threshold of the plane, with the announcement of the rows that are “free to board”. Maybe it’s the indignity of watching the business and first-class breeze ahead, exchanging easy smiles with the ticket taker at the gate. Whatever imputes, it doesn’t excuse the crush at the gate when the first boarding group is called. Instantly, the scene starts to resemble the evacuation of Saigon, with everyone seemingly belonging to the same five rows. You have a ticket; you will board. Jostling, shoving, and sneering only confirms the impression that you don’t belong in first-class. Only plebeians or refugees travel in such a fashion.
After takeoff, when the plane has reached its cruising altitude, economy class truly earns its distinction. The second the captain signals that we are “free to move about the cabin”, half of economy-like some Pavlovian test group-feel compelled to file into the thin capillary between the seats. Do we really need to stretch our legs after 45 minutes of being seated? These are the same people who routinely drive hours on end, seated in a car, which is no more spacious than the seats they can’t wait to leap out of. I don’t see everyone in first-class hopping up like a bunch of spring-loaded spastics. Perhaps, time would be better spent while waiting to board, putting the items you are planning to access on the flight into the bag that will reside under your seat-not in the overhead compartment, which is seldom over your own head.
Further contributing to economy’s third-world aesthetic is the parade of toddlers careening down the aisle. They are usually followed by a smiling parent marveling at how refreshing and cute this must be for the rest of us. Trust me, it’s not. Any shift in expression from dour to congenial, owes more to decorum, than to any heartfelt longing to switch places with you. In fact, children running amuck on an airplane are akin to live, squawking chickens getting loose on a bus ride through the ghettos of South America.
The scene above is often complimented by the sound of shrieking children and hacking coughs. The flight I recently took featured a baby wailing three rows behind me for the duration of the six-hour flight. This is not cool! I know that I am treading into unfamiliar territory, as I have no children of my own. And I know how challenging it must be for those of you that do. But guess what, it’s not my problem. None of the other passengers care to hear your screaming baby either. If you are operating under the impression that a bubble of empathy surrounds you, it doesn’t. Even those with children are just thankful it’s not their children shattering the solitude only being 40,000 feet above ground can supply. So unless you can amuse, intimidate, or sedate you children into silence, maybe they are not ready to travel in an airplane yet. When walking through the cabin note of the absence of children in first-class sometime.
I don’t want to limit my vitriol to babies and children; adults are plenty annoying when flying. For instance, if you want to talk with someone on a flight, then get a seat next to that person. Clogging the aisle and hovering over people who can care less about your conversation is selfish and unnecessary. You’re not as fascinating as you would like to think you are.
Why can’t we accept the fact that there is no space and we can’t afford to purchase more of it, if we could we’d be in first-class. Drawing attention to this by complaining, fidgeting, and behaving like boat people, only reinforces that fact that you’re not ready for the coveted first 5 rows. Just sit quiescent in your chair, pop a Valium, chase it with a cocktail and you’ll feel “first-class”. Act as if people!