I should make it clear that I hate to fly even under the best of circumstances. Once I was "invited" up to first class, and it was a little easier. With the champagne, shrimp scampi, and the glossy Vogue magazines at my disposal, it really was a little easier.
I was around nineteen or twenty. I was visiting my aunt in Florida. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and told the flight attendant I needed to get off the plane. Now. I imagined I would have to live out the rest of my life at my aunt's retirement community in Miami Beach because I just couldn't do this.
The flight attendant assured me I could. She encouraged me to come sit in first class where I would be more comfortable. I know this sounds like fiction, but it was thirty years ago. As I settled into a wide leather seat, some of my fears melted away. I will never love flying, but all the good stuff up there didn't hurt. The man next to me was in sales. Good natured, he talked non-stop all the way to New York, ate my untouched shrimp,(he asked first) and gave me his business card. If you're ever in Buffalo, maybe we could go out?
Thirty years later. I will never know what first class looks like because I book the cheapest seats available which are usually in the back by the lavatory. I will never know what first class looks like if I have another panic attack, because I will most likely be removed from the plane. Oh, how times have changed.
On one of my flights this year, my stomach dropped to see that my seat was in the very last row, by the window. The very last row by the window. The worst possible seat for claustrophobic, fearful, prone to motion sickness travelers. The woman next to me was very busy for most of the trip. She carried a box of disinfectant wipes and cleaned our area several times. She cleaned our shared arm rest, which she actually didn't share.
All that cleaning must have exhausted her, because she promptly fell asleep. About halfway into the flight, I wanted to use the lavatory. Excuse me, I whispered ever so gently. Her husband opened one eye and closed it again. Excuse me, I said a little bit louder. She opened her eyes and glared at me. She moved her legs a little. I'm sorry, I can't crawl over you, I told her. Her husband stood up. She did not. Yes, dear reader, I crawled over her.
I swore I would not fly again until I could afford first class. Memories of ample leg room, champagne, and easy access to the lavatory are hard to forget.
My beloved daughter lives in another city or I would never fly again.
I flew again this week.
On this flight, I made my way to the back of the plane and took my seat. I smiled at the man next to me who inexplicably had an enormous bag of Kettle Korn on his lap. He stuck his entire hand in the bag, stuffed the contents into his mouth and proceeded to lick each finger clean. A procedure he repeated many times. We were still at the gate.
The flight attendant looked weary and overwhelmed as she asked for volunteers to check their carry-on bags. We were packed in like sardines and there wasn't enough room in the overhead compartments for all of our luggage. No charge to ship your luggage! Any takers? Anyone?
I was not going to be a taker. I purposely packed lightly so I wouldn't have the added stress of
losing shipping a bag.
I closed my eyes as we took off for our two hour flight. I heard my seat mate crumple the bag and stuff it into the seat pocket in front of him. He licked all ten fingers one last time before calling the flight attendant over for a ginger ale. He stretched, put his arm on "our" armrest, and burped.
I wonder what they're serving up there in first class. I'm imagining genteel people with scented eye pillows and warm washcloths to wipe their fingers. I'm imagining icy cold drinks with sprigs of mint and small plates of cheese and crackers. It hardly matters. Anything, anything would be better than sitting next to the finger licking Kettle Korn guy.
I'm remembering a time when I hated to fly only because I was afraid to fly.
My daughter is moving to New York in the fall.
Amtrak, here I come.