Thursday, August 4, 2011

View From The Cheap Seats

It started benignly enough.  We had just landed at the Cleveland airport, awaiting our connection back to Los Angeles. I have now been to Cleveland twice in my life, the other time being last year when we were returning to LA from the very same annual family trip in upstate NY from which we were again returning. Last time, my recollection is that the weather was a perfect 72 degrees on both ends of our destination, but 400 degrees in the Cleveland Airport. We seemed on track for a similar experience this time.  Is there no AC in Ohio? Hey, Midwest, if you dont want to be dismissed as "flyover country" by the coastal folks, give us some ventilation! 

To add insult to injury (the injury being my discomfort from profuse sweating and slight nausea from the dank smell in the terminal), my son--ever the baseball fan--insisted that his 45-minute visit to Cleveland could not be a success without the purchase of at least one Cleveland Indian memento from the terminal giftshop. I was too preoccupied with finding an intact electrical outlet to charge my phone to object, so during a men's trip to the restroom, he and my husband came back with a baseball adorned with a doltishly grinning Native American man on it. Well, I thought, at least it can be buried in his backpack and is not something wearable like a cap or shirt, which might imply to others in the airport that we are actually from Cleveland. Dodged that bullet. But glad to help the Cleveland economy in any way we can. Maybe now they can afford some air conditioning for the airport. 

I  thanked my lucky stars for not having to suffer numerous hours of humiliation at 30,000 feet  as our fellow passengers asked us where in Cleveland we live, or, worse, having to walk through LAX with a child inexplicably identifying himself as a Cleveland fan. But my joy proved to be short-lived. At my suggestion, my globetrotting husband went up to the gate and showed his ticket, in hopes of his frequent flyer status letting us preboard so I could start exploring the bag of snacks prepared for us at the resort we had just left. My husband returned from the counter with a smile on his face. "Good news," he said. "They gave me a free upgrade to First Class." And the rest of us? "Well, I am the one with Elite status," he reminded me. True enough.  Once one has been through childbirth, there is not much that can humiliate a person, not even falling victim to the airlines' caste system. So we trudged on to the plane after my husband, and slithered down the aisle past the flimsy blue "First Class" curtain, rivaled only by the former Berlin Wall in terms of separating the riff from the raff.

While my husband can rely on a sweet disposition and decades' worth of internationally accumulated frequent flyer miles, I have to be a little more wily in my pursuit of prime airline seating.  I tend to obsess over trip planning, and after weeks of logging on to competing travel sites, I often do not end up booking flights until most of the seats are already spoken for. This would not be much of an issue if I were booking for myself and didn't really care what flights or seats were avaiable. But, as it were, I have to ensure that I get at least three adjoining seats (for me and my children). This is more complicated than one would think, because savvy travelers snag the bargain aisle seats quickly, and by the time I mosey into the picture, there are usually only a handful of center seats, and the pricey "extra leg room" seats, with a surcharge as much as the original tickets themselves. Well, with my fidgeting and neuroses, and for the sake of air travelers everywhere, I really should not be wedged into a center seat. And peppering my children throughout the plane is just asking for trouble. But I am way too thrifty to cough up the hefty surcharge for three of those bulkhead seats, so I play a little game with the airlines. I reserve the window and aisle of the "extra leg room" seats for my 4-foot-tall, stubby legged children, and leave my seat unselected. I dare the airlines to seat me away from my precious children. When we board the flight, I look at my ticket, mystified as to why the computer reservation system didn't seat me with my obviously fragile and needy children, for whom I paid full-priced tickets.  Turns out this flight's attendants--one who resembled that JetBlue flight attendant who jumped out of the airplane, and the other, Omarosa--couldn't care less about inflicting emotional scars on my children by sitting them with a stranger for 6 hours. So I had to spring into action, channeling my high school calculus to reconfigure rows 5-12 of flight Continental flight 1504.  And in the end, the score was: Aggressive, sarcastic lady and her two mortified kids,  3 abutting bulkhead seats; Cleveland lady who sort of wanted to sit with her grown daughter, window seat 15 rows back. Score! Oh yeah, and during this tense stand-off, my husband was enjoying his complimentary wine and blanket in First Class. 


  1. I've taken notes, but since it's usually just me it's not too much of a hassle. . but I have taken notes . . .
    josie x

  2. Hi, Josie! Those of us who are not shrinking wallflowers always have to be ready for our airplane behavior to end up on the front page of the NY Post, or some other Murdochesque rag! But sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. :) Take care! K

  3. Gee now I see how I could have avoided being shoved into the armpit of a 400 pound gentleman flying for the first time and sweating like a pig. I'll never forget that flight, or my lack of air.

    I am SO glad to see you back Karen...I grieved thinking you'd flown the blogging coop!


  4. Hi, Cath! Glad to be back! Was in the midst of a creative drought... It is usually my sweaty armpit that offends travelers, so glad it wasn't me that time :) Take care! Karen :)