The People of Economy.
July 10, 2017
It’s a red-letter day! It’s the first time I’ve ever flown on a plane that isn’t booked to capacity. It’s only half-full. Can you believe my luck? And it isn’t just me—everyone in economy is over-the-top excited! What? You mean no one has to sit in the gosh-awful torture chamber that is the middle seat? Why, no they don’t! Once the flight attendant announces that boarding is complete, everyone shifts about the cabin—running to and fro as if we are children on an Easter egg hunt. We all spread out desperate to relish this unexpected gift of “space”.
My husband and I put a seat between us as we move up closer to the front. A woman comes charging up from the back and finds a row all to herself right in front of me. She is absolutely giddy, as she waves to her people in the back of the plane, giving them the “thumbs-up” as if to say, “Look at me! Isn’t this just the best day ever?”
And for the 1.5-hour flight from Charlotte to Indianapolis, for once, we all feel like we are in first class. Why, I have never seen such joy on a plane.
So this is what it feels like to fly the friendly skies. Ahhh…
Oh, we know that it won’t last forever. Trust me. We all know who we are. How can we forget?
We are the people of the economy class.
And usually it goes like this.
Usually the flight is over-sold.
So right after those who need assistance board the plane, the first-class fliers are next in line—Group 1 Priority is printed on their boarding passes.
Now I will digress just a bit to offer up a little suggestion for the airlines. Seems to me first-class fliers should get to board last, instead of first. Who wants to sit on the plane longer than need be? You know, “the last shall be first.” Sound biblical advice never intended to aid airline boarding, but the concept works for the scenario. Just saying.
Okay. Back to the boarding of first-class fliers.
When they approach the airline agent before entering the jet bridge, I notice that they are the relaxed ones—laughing even. They have pretty and stylish carry-ons that never seem to have wonky rollers or pull-up handles that get stuck or duck-taped zippers. They seem to travel light and organized–their coffee of choice in hand.
The next time I see them—on the plane—they’re still smiling. It’s when I parade past them on my way to the bowels of economy. They’ve likely already ordered a cocktail or a sparkling water with a splash of lime. Hey, believe me when I say I’m not judging. If I could, I would be right there with them–toasting and smiling with a nice Syrah.
Sometimes, if I’m in boarding Group 7, the “economy line” is backed up all the way into first-class—it’s at a stand-still. This is likely the most unpleasant part of first-class flying—the boarding of “the rest”. This is when economy children begin to wail. Their moms begin to sweat.
Three-two-one. Take-off. Kid launches paci. Dad’s eyes dart about frantically trying to find where it landed. Kid screams. There it is..just under first-class lady’s chair. Dad bends down to retrieve the paci, aware that he has totally invaded lady’s personal space. He attempts a quick getaway, but instead he practically takes her out with the heavy diaper bag which has slipped off his shoulder. Coffee spills. Poor her. Poor him. Everyone’s a loser.
Excuse me. So sorry, is all the poor, red-faced dad can say, as he plugs up the kid with the dirty paci. Don’t judge him. Extreme measures.
It’s when the “eye-rolling” begins.
All forward momentum has ceased because a hunt is going on in economy—a hunt for storage space in the overhead bins. Good luck to those in Boarding Group 8—you were warned in an earlier announcement that you might not find space for your carry on. Shame, shame for not checking in earlier so you wouldn’t be in Boarding Group 8. Here’s the thing. No matter how carefully you packed your liquids in small 3.4 ounce containers or how hard you worked to squeeze them in a quart-size clear plastic bag for easy screening by the scary screening guys who never smile, it doesn’t count. Even if you sacrificed “beauty” and left your tube of retinol at home because it is slightly over the limit and too expensive to have confiscated—even if you went the extra mile, it still doesn’t count. Here is your likely reality. You’re probably going to drag your carry-on down that skinny little aisle, past happy first-class people, past irritated economy class people (Groups 5 through 7) only to find there is no overhead storage for you. Zero, zilch, nada.
Sorry. The $700.00 round-trip ticket you bought didn’t buy you reserved overhead bin space. Oops. So sorry. Back it up, Sweet Cheeks. Drag your bag all the way back up to the front, hand it over to the flight attendant and pray that it finds you at your destination. Then, walk with your defeated head down back through first class and go quietly to your seat. Shh…uh-uh. Don’t say a word about that empty first-class bin. I mean for pete’s sake, you have a stinkin’ piece of green yarn tied to the handle of your bag so you can pick it out in a crowd. Pshhhh. Now go on back and sit down—in those non-reclining seats right in front of the bathroom.
I know this is difficult to read, but these are the ugly realities of flying economy.
Now there is something called “premium economy”. We flew that once a few years ago because it was our first intercontinental flight and we thought we could use a little leg room to reduce our risk of blood clots. The “extra leg room seats” were right behind the bulkhead wall.
The extra leg room was nice, I’ll admit. And there was no middle seat situation to deal with—just our two seats on one side of the plane. Everyone boarded and then it happened.
The flight attendant yanked the curtain closed between first class and economy. Okay. He didn’t exactly “yank”. Perhaps I exaggerated a smidge. But he did pull it closed.
We were instructed that even though we were mere “steps” from the restrooms just on the other side of that curtain, we would need to use the ones at the back of the plane. The economy ones.
I didn’t like it one bit I tell you, but my husband and I are both middle-child pleaser sorts, so we would comply, despite the reality of “going” problems that come with being middle-aged. We’ll deal. It’s how we roll.
Which lunchable-type adult meal did I want? Neither. Exactly neither. I chose the vegetarian, though. It seemed less….fake. And I couldn’t risk the whole “hangry” thing. If one gets in trouble above the Atlantic and she’s already in economy, what then? Where is she banished to then?
So yeah, I chose vegetarian.
The curtain separating us from first-class was a see-through gray mesh. It’s mean spirited, I think, because it teases those of us in economy. I asked my husband if he could see first-class. He leaned out into the aisle a bit and took a peek. Yes, he told me. He could see.
Tell me, I say to him. Theirs is good isn’t it? Their meal, I mean. He asks me if I’m sure I want to know. Yes, I say. Tell me. I can handle it.
A garden-fresh salad. A GARDEN FRESH SALAD! That’s what he saw a woman eating! But that wasn’t all. It was served in a lovely white ceramic bowl with real utensils. And her wine? I asked him. It’s in a real wine glass isn’t it?
He shook his head yes. He saw it all!
I breathed deep as I peeled back the plastic cover on my veggie plate. I was halfway finished with the slightly rubbery broccoli when I broke a tine off my plastic spork.
Well darn. I’m full anyway, I told myself.
There is really no bedtime in economy. There are only naps. Naps until butts go numb, knees ache, necks get cricks and bladders get full. Lights going on and off all night long. Try to read. Try to sleep. Try to watch a movie. Plead with God to show mercy and let daylight come. Repeat.
Swapped seats with the husband for a new “aisle” perspective.
I peeked through the mesh curtain. No lights on in first-class. Everyone seemingly tucked in reclining seats with leg rests, extra special blankets and pillows that don’t look like the hospital variety. How cozy. And then I couldn’t believe it! What was that warm glow I saw? The flight attendant was doing “chairside smores” for all the first-classers!
Oh wait! No that part didn’t happen. That was not reality. Just something known as a sleep-deprivation hallucination—a real thing when one flies international economy. Sorry about that.
I should not let my eyes wander outside economy. I learn things when I look at others like me–when I observe their economy coping skills.
Like my neighbor across the aisle. He had international travel down to an art. He took his bag and headed to the back of the plane—I assumed to the bathroom. He returned in house shoes and pajama bottoms. He used his carry-on as a sort of foot rest, plugged in his ear buds, tucked the scrawny little blanket tight around him and promptly drifted off into sleepy land.
We the people of economy.
Headed to Europe.
I’m mostly not heading to Europe, though. Mostly only somewhere in the U.S. Relatively short flights, but sometimes…
Sometimes we land the absolute last seats on the back of the plane because we didn’t pick our seats for an upcharge.
Boarding Group 1,023.
Row “there are no more rows”.
Those ones. They don’t recline. But lucky for the Jersey Girl in front of me, hers does recline. Her head of dark, thick hair so close to me that when I breathe, her hair blows in the breeze. She talks loudly. And incessantly. She talks to friends two rows up and across the aisle. They pass each other carrots and hummus. All the way from Newark to Austin. Sometimes that happens.
The people of economy.
Sometimes there is a sick, hacking guy on the row in front of me. He is thoughtful, though. He wears a black hoodie pulled up for the entire flight. He makes me a little nervous despite his illness. I am, at the same time, thankful for security screening and ashamed for profiling him. Dude. Really sorry. Sometimes I wear hoodies too. Feel better.
Sometimes, we sit on the tarmac for some hours, hot and unmoving. Though not just a problem in economy, in economy it’s downright claustrophobic. Sometimes the nicest older flight attendant with a heavy New York accent, pulls down her jump seat right by me (again on the back of the plane) and talks with me. The. Whole. Time. I hear stories of her children. Her job. Her ex. She throws in a little profanity for color. I get a stiff neck from turning sideways to look at her. Once the socializing with her starts, how can it stop without seeming rude? I pull out a magazine. Still she talks. She has nothing to do until we start moving. In the end, she thanks me for being such a nice passenger and she sneaks me three little bottles of airline whiskey for my good behavior.
Good thing, because sometimes on the very next connection, I get to pay it forward when I’m seated next to a young woman with a shiny new Master’s Degree who is going to miss her very own graduation because of delayed flights. I re-gift the whiskey, telling her she needs it more than I do.
Sometimes these things happen.
We are the people of economy.
We are gray hairs, green hairs, pink hairs and purple hairs. And bald heads. We are single moms who sometimes smell like throw up and business people who just need to close a deal. We are retired folks and families on vacation.
We are sometimes well-behaved and sometimes we are an unruly sort.
Sometimes we are rewarded with whiskey and sometimes we need a good tasing.
Sometimes we listen to the flight attendant as she, for the one-millionth time in her career, patiently demonstrates how if there is a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop from the overhead panels. Sometimes we are rude and ignore her completely. (To my friends who are flight attendants, please accept our collective apologies. We are without excuse. You are way too kind to us).
In the end, it all boils down to this.
We are a thankful people. Or at least we will be once we make it OFF THE STINKIN’ PLANE.
Yep, we are the people of economy.
And sometimes we wear “howdy” hats.