Recently, I boarded a plane with my husband to fly from San Francisco to Amsterdam, on our way to Edinburgh. We flew KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. Do not let the name fool you. Royal Pain in the A-- Airlines would be more accurate. We flew Economy Class. Again, a misnomer. It's really Serf Class. But then, we were flying to Edinburgh so what could be more appropriate than to pretend we were serfs. The problem was that nobody checked first to find out if we were game. I, as it turned out, was not.
When it was time, we went to our gate and waited to be called for boarding. I was feeling more than a little apprehensive about the 10 hour flight and the 11 hour layover in Amsterdam before we would proceed to Edinburgh. I asked my husband if the plane we’d be on was bigger than the planes I was familiar with (I admit I am a novice when it comes to flying). The most I'd done recently was a two hour flight to Tucson in a 737. He assured me it would be much bigger, but warned that it would also be a lot more crowded. I had no idea. It went something like this:
Our row is called. We shuffle down the long, narrow, stuffy ramp to the plane. A flight attendant at the door checks our boarding passes. We go thru a narrow opening into the Serf Class section of the plane. Another attendant is flagging people to their appropriate side of the plane to find their seat. Down we go, passing row after row of full seats that are incredibly close to an adjacent wall with small openings to kitchens and lavatories. Our seat numbers are in row 42. Way down, over the wings. Oh good, I naively think. Sitting up here across from this wall would feel so claustrophobic. Glad I'm not up here.
Row 42. Doesn’t look too bad, but wait. Our seats are not on the window side of the plane. They are in the middle, where the wall used to be; four seats all in a row. As I study how close the seat backs are from the seats in front of them, I figure I must be hallucinating. I’m flabbergasted. Before climbing in I start thinking about how it’s going to feel to have my head in that tiny space. After my husband wrestles our bags into the upper compartments, I take the bags I want handy and start stuffing them under the seat in front of me by drop-kicking them into place. I sink into my chair, start doing some deep breathing exercises, and whisper, “Oh God...” the sincerest prayer I’ve ever prayed. Once seated, I found that I couldn’t lean over far enough to touch my fingers to my ankles, and even to get this far my face smashes into the seat in front of me. The flight is 10 hours long, and I am literally wedged into a space designed to comfortably hold my 20 lb granddaughter. To make the flight even more enjoyable both of the people in the seats in front of us elect to immediately, and permanently, push their seat backs out of the upright position so that, if I wanted to, I could count the hairs on their heads to pass the time.
Eventually, a couple of hours into the flight, dinner was served. I was optimistic that we'd at least have something to do to pass the time for a little while and take my mind off my space problem. Not to be. To get the full effect of what we experienced during our meal here’s what you can do at home. Strap yourself into a dining room chair with another chair within 6 inches of your nose. Then put your arms at your sides and have someone tie them down at your elbows. Now have your helper put a small, flimsy plastic tray full of food on your knees. The challenge here is to actually get food on a tiny picnic-size utensil and lift it all the way to your mouth without flipping the food over your shoulder. Trust me. This is fun for the whole family.
After a few hours I realized what a joke it was thinking I was going to whip out my knitting and while away the hours working on a cap. In fact, I had put enough yarn in my carry-on for two caps. I didn’t even crack a book, let alone knit. How could I? I couldn’t reach the floor to pull out my bag, and even if we did somehow manage that, I didn’t have any extra space in my lap for my knitting needles.
Finally, it was time to attempt sleep. We were jumping ahead 9 hours from San Francisco to Amsterdam, so suddenly it was 2:00 in the morning. Time to pop an Ambien and whisper another prayer for at least semi-consciousness for a few hours. I managed to wiggle my eye mask out of my purse, and then in a complete act of defiance, I too tilted my seat back out of the upright position and tucked my 4 inch pillow behind my head. Well, God is indeed good, and I think my husband and I both managed to doze for a few hours. Enough to make the time go by quicker, but not nearly enough to meet the minimum FDA requirement.
At long last we land in Amsterdam. How odd we humans are. The people all around us were noticeably quiet during the flight (probably couldn't inhale enough oxygen to produce a sentence), but as soon as the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign was off and people began standing, there was a flurry of conversation. I overheard several people who had just spent the past 10 hours sitting next to each other, discussing what they were going to do in Amsterdam, who they were going to see, who they worked for, etc., as if it was suddenly safe to open up because the conversation could only last for the few minutes they had before leaving the plane. I, however, uttered only a few necessary words to my husband, thinking that if I could just hold on another few minutes, I could have my panic attack in the comfort of the airport terminal.
Well, we made it to Edinburgh and have been enjoying our visit. Two nights after we got here we called KLM. We've upgraded our seats on the way home to Business Class. It only cost us $5,000. Some things you just can't put a price on -- well, I guess you can. In this case, it's $5,000. When I get on the plane, I will still whisper a little prayer for all the serfs, but fortunately for me I will not be one of them.