A recent trip to New York required that I fly commercial, in coach. Which means that for 2.75 hours, I was back to being in elementary school.
Flying on an airplane turns everyone into a second grader. I’m not ancient and I’m not terribly sophisticated, but even I’m embarrassed at the way I sit there in my seat, slightly hunched over, looking up with hopeful puppy eyes at the flight attendant, waiting to see what she’s bringing me.
Snack? Is it snack time yet? Oh, just the drinks? What should I get, what should I get? Last time I got apple juice and I got all excited and drank it too fast and got a stomachache.
You don’t dare go back to your magazine, because as slow as she’s making her way down that aisle, if you take your eyes off of her, she’ll go right past you. And you can forget about getting your juice. That cart doesn’t have reverse.
I don’t want to point any fingers, but I think the airlines do this on purpose. They know we’re getting a deal on those tickets - when you can fly across the sky in a big metal object both ways for the price of a nice dinner out for four people, you know you’re going to have to pay a price for that. And the price is to be a humiliated 7-year-old while you’re in the thing.
Take the seats: They’re narrow enough that you’re forced to sit with your hands on your lap. The seat backs are curved so that you’re slightly hunched. If you were a dog or a concubine you would be in a forced submissive position. But you’re on an airplane, so you’re in a forced second-grade submissive position.
You’re unable to do anything with your legs that makes them look the least bit attractive, no matter how short your skirt or how sleek your pants. You’re unable to straighten your back enough to make your boobs even appear to the naked eye. You have to keep both feet flat on the floor, your hands on your lap, and your head slightly bowed, so that when you make eye contact with the
headmaster flight attendant, you’re looking up in a pathetic way. What a crossed leg and a hand on a hip wouldn’t do for my self-esteem on an airplane. I might have enough confidence to hail my own cab from the airport to the hotel.
As the flight attendant gets closer with - what? what is it? I THINK IT’S SNACKS THIS TIME! - you anxiously put your tray table down and get ready.
The snack is coming, the snack is coming, the snack is coming . . . Don’t you dare take your eyes off of her.
One time I said, “No thank you, nothing for me” and the flight attendant cocked her head and said, “Are you sure?” I had been sure . . . very sure . . . but suddenly I doubted my second-grade decision-making skills and had a small pitter-patter panic. Great. Now I have to decide which snack I want while she’s standing right here by my seat, staring at me and tapping her foot. My eyes darted to the cart's selections and I quickly blurted out, “Popcorn chips!” Then I got them and saw they were caramel flavored. Caramel flavored! Shit! I hate goddamn caramel flavored popcorn chips! I ate them obediently and without a fuss.
And snacks on the airplane have changed? You bet your ass they’ve changed. No more peanuts, because someone was allergic. You watch, we’ll be down to apples and granola bars by 2014, because someone's mom called the main office.
International flights are even worse. The “meal” they give you isn’t fit for a feral cat, but it’s four courses that you eat with a plastic fork with zero elbow room. You’re unwrapping pungent chicken in a pungenter gravy, and buttering your little roll with T-Rex arms, feeding yourself like a squirrel. And you eat every bite with the eagerness of a maximum- security prisoner.
The first time I flew across the Atlantic I was surprised to learn about the mandatory nap time.
“Please turn out your light. Passengers are sleeping,” the flight attendant said to me, just as I was settling in with a book. On the ground in any first- or second-world nation, I would have reminded that little bitch that I was an adult and I could stay up all night reading if I wanted to, that my book was rated R and had lots of swears and sex in it, and she is not the boss of me. But in the air, I meekly closed my book, turned off my light and took my scheduled nap.
My only consolation is that everyone else on the plane is in the second grade, too. If Hillary Clinton were flying coach (god forbid) she would be the nerdy goody-two-shoes who was sucking up to the flight attendant by paying close attention to the safety instructions.
Airplanes have the regular cast of characters from the second grade. There are bullies, show-offs, crankypantses, and wallflowers. There are the kids who will try to sneak out their toys after we’ve plainly been told that all toys have to be shut off.
He’s not following the rules! I’ve whispered to myself, as I sat with my crumpled-up baby napkin in my fist, waiting for the flight attendant to make her way down the aisle to take our trash. I always did hope the rule-breakers would get caught in second-grade.
And if someone throws up everyone will remember it forever.