21st Century Travel

Once upon a time, leaving on a jet plane was an excellent way to go. Flying was exciting. You got little wings to pin on your shirt. They served real food and the seats were comfy. Everyone was treated like a valued individual. All passengers were important.

And then came deregulation. Competition. Meant to lower costs and improve service. Hah! Well that backfired now didn't it.

One can never travel these days without the extra legroom they so generously offer if you'll pay the price. I will. And then so do all the clueless passengers in the back who don't. Because to give us more, they take from them. I'm sure they realize it is getting a little crammed back there in economy. They thought economy plus was probably a scam. Trust me. 5 extra inches is a slice of heaven. Makes you wonder how much the airlines spent to retrofit each plane to have that "extra legroom" up front. And how fast they recouped.

Anyhoo... Sunday I was off to Orlando. Off for a few "magical days" at a conference in Disney World. Oh boy! Yippee!

I board the plane. And because I was one of the esteemed economy PLUS passengers shelling out for the extra legroom, I was privileged enough to board last. So there was no room for my 500 pound gorilla of a laptop. Which by the way is ridiculous. Why does it weigh so much and do so little?
Hmm. Anyway I made room. Creativity is essential for today's savvy traveler. I always take the window seat, so I can see where we are below in the event of an unexpected or unusual landing. My aisle buddy this trip appeared to be a relatively quiet, sane, older gentleman with his newspaper and neat but casual attire. Middle seat conveniently empty. And since I was one of the last to board, we thought perhaps we might be in luck!

Nah, never happens that way. Right at the last minute before they close the doors, in scrambles a fairly young looking woman hauling a VERY young looking tot. Cute, but ooooh so young. And she looks over at my extra seat (as I'm beginning to think of it) and I see clearly that it's not to be. Not this time.

Turns out, miss young mother wasn''t such an experienced flier. So an hour and a half later, I'm pretty worn out from handling the 10 month old while mom suffers the acute horridness of airsickness. And frustration of preventing her daughter's ears from popping. Which it seems no one mentioned to her. It's ok. It's just what moms do for each other. And when we landed and I discovered her next flight was a 5 hour leg to Atlanta, boarding at the gate next to mine, I did what anyone would. I went to the nearest shop, about 7 miles down the concourse, to procure the necessary supplies she'd need. I was pretty pleased with myself for my little act of traveler empathy. Not as pleased as she was with the dramamine and gum. Or the trip to the restroom she got while I watched her bags.

I was feeling pretty good when I boarded my connecting flight. I got to board early this time. So I'm thinkin, yeah, Karma. And when almost all had boarded, the seat in the middle was empty, which my new traveling companion in the aisle seat and I were now just a little smug about.  It would be a good flight. Then suddenly, much to our chagrin, in rushed a late arrival. He stops in the aisle at our row. We frown. He is heaving and sweating from exertion. He reaches up to shove, and I mean shove, his bag in the overhead. His shirt becomes untucked and pulls up, revealing a fairly unattractive segment of hairy flabby belly and even more unattractive boxers. Please. I don't need to see this. And then the unthinkable. He nods his head to our treasured middle seat. The universal indicator meaning "that's my seat and you're out of luck!" Yep. Karma.

He scoots in. No, he didn't scoot. He barreled his way past my now disgusted travel mate and plops down hard. Sprawls out his legs in the extra legroom. Not just his, but ours. Elbows on both armrests. He slouches down, and wipes the sweat off his brow and flings it off the back of his hand.

By now you are thinking this is just gross and I can't read anymore. I understand. Too bad. Suffer with me. Because then it all went to hell and a handbasket. He fell asleep. Mouth open. Drooling. And leaning. First left. Then right. We spend 5 hours like this. Me crunched against the side of the plane trying not to breathe through my nose. My Aisle seat companion having to keep nudging him off his shoulder. Both of us with headphones on trying to just lose ourselves in the 21 Satellite channels of TV we gladly paid 6 bucks for, though we'd have paid $600 at this point. But not even a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives marathon could improve this flight.

The irony is as many times as you hear people complain about someone taking up too much space on a plane because they are large, which I for one do not think is justified (I think they should have doublewide seats that maybe cost more), this guy wasn't overly large. He didn't invade our personal, paid-for space because of his size. He was just a slovenly jerk. And that is much worse. There should be psychological and behavioral testing provided to all passengers. Perhaps at online check-in. Click here for instant passenger approval rating. Anyone who rates too low will have to take a train. Or if they really bottom out on their score, a bus.

My plane did eventually reach Orlando.  As they say, all good things eventually do come to an end. In this case, so do bad ones.

But then, two days later, I did it all in reverse. A story for another day.

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