Gill makes the trans-Atlantic flight home twice a year. She refers to the trip as ‘six hours of hell in a tin can of farts’. Fair description, I say. I used to marvel at her ability to do these long flights and recover as quickly as she did from jet lag. But now, having twice made the trip to Australia, I chortle at the idea of a mere six hour flight. Amateur night! Gill, I take your six-hour trip and raise you a 24 hour door-to-door debacle that includes 14 hours of straight flying plus five hours to Canada’s coast. I am now a seasoned traveller and I have the lumps to prove it.
Flying economy is never a pleasant experience. But shelling out thousands of dollars more to sit in business class is, as far as I can see, ridiculous. If you are a business person and are flying to an important meeting, I can understand it. You need to arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to do battle. But as a tourist or person flying to see family, who cares? They know you at your worst — dissheveled, wrinkled, bleary-eyed, cranky– so why disappoint them? If you don’t look bad when you arrive, they’ll think you didn’t put sufficient effort into the trip and thus don’t think much of you. If you look, on the other hand, like you’ve been through war, your value will rise.
A recent study done by a prof from the University of Toronto shows that the division between first class and economy in planes promotes air rage. Boarding from the front exacerbates the feeling of exclusion. Boarding from the middle is better. Even the addition of a curtain between areas helps since the lowly economy passengers can’t see what they’re missing and don’t take the slight as personally…until they try to use first class washrooms and are told they are not allowed. Really? Are first class washrooms that much better? An airplane toilet is still an airplane toilet.
Coming back from Australia, we had the bulkhead seats (at an extra charge, of course). These allowed us extra leg room to stretch and for our carry-on bags, snacks, books, iPads, headphones, chargers, bags….really, it amounted to a garbage dump fee.
I have fond memories of the bulkhead seat from a flight to California with my three kids by myself — Gill was 4, Crazy D 2 1/2 and L’il Sis only three months. I was somehow under the illusion that a flight across the U.S. trapped with three small kids would be less strenuous than a drive across the country trapped with my ex and his stinky pipe, the family dog, and piles of our stuff would be. Ha! How wrong I was.
L’il Sis was in a cradle attached to the bulkhead ‘wall’ and was able to ride out the flight in stretched-out comfort. Gill and Crazy D filled the available space with their toys, books, crayons, and snacks. And Crazy D’s ‘blankie’ — a double-bed sized blanket in a color I called ‘llama shit brown’. He dragged that thing everywhere just like Pigpen, the Charlie Brown cartoon character. It trailed along behind him, kicking up quite a dust storm, having picked up filth from several different countries in its short life.
At one point during the flight, Crazy D announced he had to use the washroom. I was busy changing L’il Sis’ diaper and couldn’t take him. Gill piped up, “I’ll take him, Mommy!” Taken aback by this generous offer and feeling vaguely unsettled by it, I nonetheless realized I had little choice. Off they went. When they reappeared a few minutes later, I was still trying to dress L’il Sis and was hunched over the cradle, my back to the other two. I had the vague feeling that I heard distant laughter, but didn’t think much of it. When I turned around to see the kids, I noticed that Crazy D had strolled the length of the plane without his pants, his bare bottom there for all to see. “I couldn’t get his pants up, Mommy!” Gill announced apologetically.
I was tempted to turn to the other passengers and announce, “And this concludes this segment of your in-flight entertainment, folks! The next show will be in approximately one hour.” But I didn’t. I ordered a glass of wine instead. It was the only thing that got me to California. When we landed, a very kind gentleman took one look at me and grabbed my bags, helping me balance the stroller, the baby and Crazy D’s blankie. “You’re a brave woman,” he said admiringly.
That experience taught me that the only way to survive long flights is to bring my own entertainment (and lots of it!), drink wine, bring my own food and look pathetic enough to elicit the pity and assistance of fellow travelers. I am proud that Gill seems to have mastered these techniques, learning from our early experience. I personally have graduated to the ‘frail little old lady’ ploy. Whatever works, I say.