Monday, April 11, 2011

Flight 1619

Air travel sucks. Everyone knows that. But it doesn't suck when you get bumped up to First Class!

That didn't happen on this flight. But I did manage to move myself and my son up to the front of Coach which is almost like First Class.

Continental Airlines' online pre-check-in service has taken some cues from the Amazon shopping cart. As you download your boarding pass, several other offers now pop up trying to gain some extra shares of your wallet.

Do I want a rental car? No. A hotel? No. Travel insurance? No. Pre-paid meals? No. More legroom? Huh?

Are you telling me that the seat I bought sucks? And now you're giving me the opportunity to pay a little extra and get better accommodations?

Why not? For another $49 each we can get front row seating. Our feet can actually slip under the partition and touch First Class. Most importantly, we can get off the plane faster.

Flying is either all about getting on the plane or getting off of it. If you have elite status you can line up with the other 95% of passengers, board first, and try and get an overhead compartment.

It's great when getting on the plane, but if you're anywhere near the back it still sucks to get off the plane. That's why I, who no longer has any elite status, was glad to pay a little extra for the ease of leaving the plane.

In fact, I happily boarded the plane last. Sure, I had to pass by the smug First Class customers but I didn't have squeeze through the fat-ass losers who block the aisle trying to stuff their cheap, bloated luggage in the cramped overhead cabins. Why the fuck is it so hard to get your bag in there?

Arriving jostle-free at our seats in row 7, I found the extra $49 even bought us the privilege of an empty middle seat. This was going to be an easy flight and no one was going to recline into my face.

Also from my seat, I could see the DirectTV programs running in First Class. We had it too, but ours ran for only 10-minutes before asking for payment and then cutting out. That was okay. Someone had a basketball game on and since my seat was strategically situated I could see it clearly.

"Dad, give me your credit card," my son demanded.

"For what?"

"I want to watch South Park."

"Don't you want to watch the game?" He shook his head.

"I don't want to pay $6 dollars just to watch TV."

"Then give me $10 dollars for peanuts and a slice of cheese."

I gave him my credit card for the TV instead.

I was feeling good about everything until I looked across the aisle.

What was she doing there? There's no way she paid for the upgrade.

The other thing the front row of Coach is reserved for is special needs customers - the old and the slow.  And this lady was both.

She was small, frail and wrapped on some billowy garment that floated over her frame. I couldn't tell how much there was to her. She had grey hair tied back in a pony tail, thick coke-bottle glasses and a steel cane - the kind with the four-pronged footing meaning she was really going to be slow.

There was no way I was going to let her get off the plane before me. Once First Class departed she would bottleneck the whole works.

Maybe she would die during the flight. Just put the blanket all the way over her and leave her there until the cleaning crew arrived. Harsh, I know, but I paid $49 to exit fast, not to be a nice guy.

I nudged my son and told him to look across the aisle.

"What?" he asked.

"We need to exit before her no matter what happens."

He shrugged his shoulders and put his earplugs back in. It was clear I was going to have to guide him through the whole exit process.

Throughout the flight I kept looking over at her, glaring. Occasionally, she would turn her head and cough. It was one of this sick, mucous-laden coughs. She didn't even cover her mouth. Death was surely knocking on her door, but would she let him on Flight 1619?

My plan was simple. It would be a block and run. And when the plane landed, I prepped my son to have his bag ready so he could walk from his window seat straight into the aisle. Keep going, I told him, no matter what happens. He shrugged his shoulders.

As soon as the all clear bell rang, I unbuckled and stood up. I backed out of my row into the aisle essentially sticking my ass into her cough hole. She couldn't stand even if she were able to.

Then the person in the row behind her offered to get her cane down. What the fuck was that about? No one needs chivalry at this point. I had to think quick. I grabbed my son's shoulder.

"Go, go, go," I hushed as loud as I could and pushed him into the First Class cabin aisle. The plane had not begun to exit yet but he was queued up perfectly. Maybe a bit too close to some of the passengers but no one was going to tell a kid to move. And I, as his father, was situated right behind him as I should.

"Excuse me," I heard a passenger say behind me. "Could you reach this woman's cane?" I pretended to ignore the request. Maybe they weren't speaking to me?

But when the old lady poked her bony pointer finger into my thigh, I instinctively looked in her direction. Our eyes met, or at least something that was behind her aquarium-thick glasses met. She then pointed her finger up. I looked and saw the steely shaft of slowness resting in the overhead. I had no choice but to give it to her.

And I did. I took it out and rested it flat on the ground in her row. Hah! That'll slow her down, I thought. Try and pick it up now.

And she did. A black shoe crept out from under her tent-like dress and flicked the cane up into a standing position. She rested her hand on its handle and popped up ever so quickly. She grabbed her small tote back and flung it effortlessly over her shoulder. She was sprite, and I was sure she used the whole cane thing as a prop to gain sympathy and easy flight access. Very clever, old lady. Very clever. But I'm still ahead of you.

"Dad, come on," my son called. He was already at the doorway. The front had cleared out and the only thing between me and the exit was stale airplane air. I moved forward and never looked back.

Striding along in the terminal ahead of all the other suckers I looked over at my son. "That's how it's done, kid," I said. He just looked at me not caring or understanding what the big deal was. He's just a rookie, I thought. One day he'll remember how it all came down.

Just then a golf cart passed by. Sitting on the back of the vehicle facing us was the old woman. She looked at me through her thick lenses as she raced by, and I was sure a smirk managed to creep across those dry, cracked lips.

My son looked over and asked, "Why couldn't you get us a ride like that?" Sure I felt a bit defeated but I was not going to let on to it.

"One day, son. One day," I said.