Flying Economy Across the Atlantic

I landed in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday of last week. My older brother picked me up at the airport. I was borderline delirious from lack of sleep. My master plan to pass out on the ten-and-a-half-hour overnight flight from DC had failed, due in large part to a large man in the window seat next to me who couldn’t help but take up a chunk of what little precious space was allotted to me in Economy class, and in no small part to a snot-nosed teenage kid in front of me who dared commit the cardinal sin of air travel by leaning his seat back entirely.

The most a person can acceptably lean the seat back on an airplane during an international flight is exactly 3/4 of an inch. If you didn’t know this, now you do. Anyone who knows this and goes for the full recline anyway is an asshole. Period. If this is you — sorry — I don’t make the rules. And also, not sorry, because you are the absolute worst.

For the duration of the flight, the full length of my neighbor’s thigh perpetually mashed against mine, and my nose was no more than four inches from my stowed meal tray.

I spent the better part of the plane ride desperately searching for a way of contorting my leg that would remedy the first cause of my discomfort, and failing miserably. I also spent a substantial amount of time considering the potential ramifications of confronting the kid about his inconsiderate seatback position.

I felt I had every right. This kid needed to be put in his place, literally and figuratively. Not only had he flagrantly disregarded this well known standard of airline etiquette, he’d had the gall to go for the full recline the second we reached altitude. I mean, if you’re going to assume your role as the airplane asshole and try that shit, at least wait about an hour into the flight, when the offended party might be asleep and not notice the unjust usurpation of that precious real estate right away.

Obviously this kid needed to be knocked off his pedestal of entitlement and force-fed a lesson in empathy and humanity and common decency, dammit!

But then I saw his mother seated three rows up. I noticed she was traveling with her six — count ’em, six — sons, all under the age of fifteen. She looked a level of worn out that can only be achieved after enduring a decade and a half of incessant demands pointed in your direction, and a knowing in the very depths of the soul that they will never, ever stop.

She also looked like she would go full mama bear on me if I were to dare mess with one of her towheaded brood. I definitely did not want to be on the receiving end of whatever deep-seated rage she was likely harboring, so I suffered in silence. Well. Near silence. If we’re being honest, some pouty sighs were involved. But they went wholly unnoticed, so it was a “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to here it, did it really fall” sort of situation, and didn’t count against my mature adulthood points. At least by my tally, which is handy, because I’m the one who’s keeping score.

The continual leaning, stretching, and angling of myself toward the right and backward took its toll on my spine and my circulation. I got up to use the restroom a few times just to stretch my aching limbs in the stall — to remember what the feeling of space was like again. The ceilings in the airplane bathrooms are actually quite high in comparison to the rest of the cabin. No baggage compartments bearing down you. Try it some time.

I experienced one tiny moment of satisfaction during the whole flight, which happened early on and which I replayed to myself over and over again over the course of the restless hours that passed, milking it for every bit of mirth that it was worth.

Here’s what went down: The flight attendants came around to offer us our dinners. The guy next to me ordered the pasta, which looked nearly inedible. Watery tomato sauce, overcooked pasta shells, mystery meatballs — everything that could possibly be botched in the making of a simple pasta dish had been. I could tell he agreed by the face he made while he snapped his Instagram photo of it.

But his horrible meal choice wasn’t the source of my mirth. Oh no. I harbored next to no resentment for the man with the misfortune of being seated next to me, truly. That was the luck of the draw — the risk you take when you fly solo and can’t ensure a buffer to your inevitable discomfort by reserving a seated next to someone you know. It wasn’t his fault they design these seats for emaciated miniature people who lack not only an ounce of extra poundage but also elbows, shoulders, knees, and, it would seem, limbs in general. At the sight of his substandard fare, I primarily felt pity — pity laced with guilt-ridden gratitude that he’d given me the insight I needed to avoid a similar fate.

When she asked me what I’d like to order, I said quickly, “I’ll have the chicken curry, please.”

She set it down. I’d braced myself for the worst, but was amazed to see it didn’t look half bad. (And later, to discover it actually wasn’t!)

That’s when it happened. The beautiful thing.

Our flight attendant turned her attention to the boy in front of me and said with a hard edge in her voice, “Pull your seat up while she eats her meal.”

Glorious victory was mine! Airline justice had been served! He did as he was told, and then placed his own order with her for the chicken curry.

As if by some sort of airline justice miracle, my great luck held. The flight attendant searched and searched her cart, and then said, “Sorry, all out of the chicken,” and delivered that little cretin a steaming helping of humble pie in the form of overcooked, watery, well-worth-wasting pasta.

Muahahahahahahahahahahaha! Take that, sucker! For a moment in time, all was right in the world. My belly was full and my heart was gladdened, made drunk by the delusion that sometimes the universe rights itself.

But alas, after our trays were removed, the kid leaned his seat right back again.

Word to the wise: If you can afford to fly business class internationally, do. (And if you can afford to fly first class, take me with you.)

Though it seemed as if the flight would never end, mercifully, it did. I made it off the plane and through customs and into the country and there I was, 8 a.m. local time. Incoherent. Babbling. But in one piece.

When Eric got us back to the house, I was convinced that I would stick to the original plan: Stay awake all day (never mind the 18 hours I’d already gone without sleep), go to bed at a normal time that night, and wake up fresh as a daisy in the morning, kicking that killjoy jetlag right in the teeth and getting onto a regular schedule from day one! Presto! Like a world traveler! Nothing to it but to do it! Power through!

Yes. That was the plan. Until I found my bed and then somehow found my way beneath the sheets and found myself sound asleep.

What’s it they say? The best laid plans of mice and men are often shot to hell? Something like that.

Anyway, here we are a little over a week later and I’m still fighting this jet lag thing. But I’m loving it over here so far — I have like three blog posts drafts I’m working on simultaneously, I’m so inspired it’s cray! The next one will be about a trip to Cape Coast we took three days after I got into the country. So stay tuned for tales of beautiful beaches, malaria med mishaps, and rainforest mystery wine. :)


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6 thoughts on “Flying Economy Across the Atlantic

  1. Sounds like my flight to Israel a few years back…..the airports were the worse experience I’ve ever had….long story. Glad U made it there & enjoy ur time with Eric & family..

    1. Thanks, Jena! Would love to hear about that flight to Israel — sounds like quite the story, and I’m a big fan of those. :) Sometimes they’re the silver lining to an otherwise unpleasant event. If you can dine out on the story, at least there’s that! I’ll tell the family hi for you. :D

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