I thought I knew the antidote to the agony of air travel: avoid stops in the US and the collateral tyranny of the TSA; and snub its airlines, whose operators often confuse people with cattle, or chickens, and now charge for everything except the toilet.
However, on my last long flight, via Avianca, from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Heathrow, in the UK, I realized that, on a long haul, one cannot possibly avoid the agony while flying economy.
This might very well be a first world problem, but there’s an analogy here in the way money equals comfort. Why should the skies be different from the earth, where the folks with the money seem to need to make the rest of us miserable to really enjoy themselves? How else would they know they were well off, except by comparison to the rest of us?
Back to torture extraordinaire. I knew as soon as I sat down and strapped myself in that I just didn’t fit into the seat– and I’m not a large person. Although I’ve read the horror stories about ever shrinking and less comfortable seats, I hadn’t yet experienced the true meaning of the airplane cattle-car.
Personal space seems to have disappeared. If you happen to need something from the bag under your seat while everyone is eating, you’ll almost certainly knock your wine over, spilling it on your blanket, which you’ll need, because it’s cold in that plane.
The tray that folds down in front of you will be tilted towards your lap, and the tray with your food on it will slide right off, into said lap, unless you cleverly place the tray on top of your napkin. Lucky for you, they still wrap your plastic silverware in a napkin, so you’ll have an extra in case you have to wipe your mouth.
Along with my glass of red wine, I ordered a glass of water, and after the meal, I had one more opportunity to get water. After that, the staff mysteriously disappeared, and we were left to die of thirst during the long, dark, dehydrating flight.
On the flight back, I resolved to bring my water on board, but I was afraid to drink it, because of the problem of getting back and forth from the toilets. There were four toilets to accommodate over 200 people. I’ve never loved the toilets on planes, though I’m one of those passengers who hardly ever gets up fewer than a half-dozen times to use them. And that’s on domestic flights.
Between Bogota and Heathrow, I risked breaking my neck in the dark, tripping over the legs of the poor bastards who measured anything over five feet tall. Sorry, if you’re reading this, and you were one of the ones whose legs I crushed inadvertently.
Oh, and the airline fairies forgot to appear to replenish towels, soap and tissues, and to take away the debris. So the rooms began overflowing with discarded paper products, of the malodorous type.
Have I mentioned the seats? The extreme discomfort of the seats is almost impossible to endure over eight hours, and for people with neck and shoulder issues– may I suggest you try mind-altering drugs? The backs rise straight up out of the seats, then jut out in a semi-circle. Have you ever met anyone whose neck sticks out like that? I thought not. Neither have I.
We were served breakfast on the way into London. Jack lost his appetite when he discovered a hair on his eggs. I just wanted the food taken away so I could join the long line to the loo. I can call it that in British air space, right?
Somehow I managed to be strapped back into my seat in time for the landing. That’s when airline personnel made an announcement I couldn’t comprehend, then began a two-fisted spraying of our overhead compartments and us — I’m talking about our bodies— with some chemical agent or other.
I avoid chemicals to the point where some people might think I’m a fanatic, so you can imagine what I thought of being doused with a fumigant before being allowed to land at Heathrow.
When I expressed my opinion about being fumigated without permission, the flight attendant replied that the UK required the spraying, but only, it turns out, on flights from Central and South America. (I couldn’t find out for sure, but I’d suspect all non European Union folks get the same treatment.)
So there goes my theory about how it’s better to travel from Central America. On the other hand…