Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One of those flights worth forgetting

Some flights are better than others and some are far worse. I don’t think I’ve had a genuinely memorably terrible one since the olden days, before I had enough status to get out of the crammed sections of the plane. For the last couple of years the worst I have come to expect was the section with increased legroom and the best was of course Business. Lately I’ve been upgraded so often that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to sit among the real people. And having spent 11 hours and 20 minutes doing so today, I’m going to go ahead and offer the fact that I really, really resent my company’s cheapness in not taking care of frequent travelers like me.

I spent the bulk of my time this morning sitting in the lounge writing and looking out the window. An hour before my scheduled departure I went down to the gate and was happy to see that we were leaving on time. I boarded early and took my seat, the first row in the regular cabin, which of course meant a bulkhead that in turn meant no moron was going to jam his seat back into my face. People filed by, the guy across the aisle from me appeared and inexplicably sat in the second seat, working the Sunday crossword puzzle with a pen. An exotic looking woman came up next and started loading the bin over my head with her stuff, I figured her for the aisle seat across, but as it turned out she was with me in the window seat. I’d seen her earlier in the lounge, because you notice people like this – most likely Middle Eastern, micro-mini-skirt-one-piece-dress-thing, lots of jewelry. She sat down and began to arrange her things, having an awful lot of them and once nested, excused herself to go and put on her pajamas. Fine I figured, she planned on sleeping.

An Asian man and a boy and what was probably grandma showed up next and asked the second-seat-sitting guy if he was in the right place. He admitted that he wasn’t, that in fact he held the aisle seat (which got be doubly wondering). The Asian man asked him if he would like to trade for a business seat so that his threesome could sit together and naturally the answer was an emphatic “yes.” Who doesn’t like hitting the lottery, after all? This little exchange brought to mind my own seat selection last month when I had chosen the seat I was in, versus the one that just received the free upgrade, such is the fall out from innocent decisions. I sat and stewed. The woman next to me came back in her pajamas and wanted to get something out of the overhead that she could barely reach. She asked my permission to climb up on my armrest and I said sure. She climbed up there and in doing so put her thighs straight in my face. Being the gentleman that I am I demurely recoiled and turned the other way.

We got off a bit early and the woman crossed herself in the style of European Catholics, kissing her fingers on the last pass. I wasn’t sure what this meant until she asked me to look out at the wing as we ascended, concerned about a “plume of smoke” that didn’t seem right to her. I explained the concept of condensation and rapidly falling temperatures but she didn’t seem to buy it, preferring to think that the engine was on fire. She brushed me off and fell asleep.

Today’s flight was loaded with “those guys”, starting with the idiots that wait until the announcement requesting that everyone sit down to get up and rummage through their overhead luggage. From there we move on to those requiring that one last cell phone call as we’re in the middle of the safety announcements and culminating with the window screen openers who seem content to blind everyone in order to look at the clouds over the Pacific. Today I had one of those directly behind me who did it about every 20 minutes as though something was going to change. Maybe he was hoping to get a glimpse of the North Pacific Trash Whorl, or maybe migrating whales, I don’t know but it was really annoying. Even more so when he did it because the guy behind him had just opened his. It’s stinking broad daylight in the middle of the ocean there’s nothing to look at and if these guys are hoping to catch a peak at the re-emergence of Atlantis, they should know they’re on the wrong side of the world.

The food came remarkably early and once fed I drifted off to sleep for a while. I would have gone longer except that little boy whose dad had traded off his business seat woke up and started to yell. Not cranky baby yell, just loud talking yell. This continued on for the rest of the flight, continuing to drive the point that I’d made a bad seat choice straight into my heart.

My row mate woke up and wanted to talk. She made that clear by asking some obscure question and apologizing for interrupting my movie. I sat and listened as we covered the story of her life from growing up in Lebanon to meeting her husband at 13 to being a virgin on her wedding night to her recent divorce. She described her house, her polymath children and her business which involves some sort of small part manufacturing and assembly here in China. We talked about her new boyfriend and how good in bed they were together and how God had clearly arranged it. Fly-fishing and houseplants rounded out the natural world element of our discussion. We had similar views on China, and we both had degrees in Psychology although hers was gained in Japan. In other words it was one of those encounters that you simultaneously dread and welcome because of the awkwardness and the fascination. I talked about My Lovely Wife, horses, our children and the weather in New Mexico. We went on like this until one of the flight attendants came along and she took the opportunity to tell him just how bad their service was today. I hoped he didn’t think we were together.

Due to some odd combination of headwinds and solar effects we landed a full hour early, once again re-affirming my belief that the only time this happens is when it increases your already absurdly long layover time. On this day though I picked the longest lines and really took my time getting through the health check, immigration, clearing customs and re-checking my bag. All that done I decided to talk my way into the Air China lounge instead of trying to find some place to hole up on the always over-heated concourse. It turned out to be less difficult than anticipated with the desk guy calling me “sir.” The best news is that for once in this godforsaken airport I found a place under a bellowing air conditioning vent and spent my time lolling away the hours by watching the old flights on the board and waiting for mine to show up; for some reason they kept recycling flights that left an hour ago. Oh wait, I must be back
in China.

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