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Way Out
this way to the fabulous egress
reminiscences of flights gone by
I don't like flying commercial very much. I did the vast bulk of what airline flying I've done before 2001, and I wasn't a fan of the procedures and delays even then, but mainly what I don't like about it is that it makes me ill. Not "eew, recycled air, gerrrms" ill (although that has happened), but ill as a consequence of the experience itself. My eustachian tubes don't work very well - some days the right one doesn't work at all - so the pressurized cabin experience (band name!) is always a bit of an ordeal. I generally land mostly-deaf (not Mos Def) in one ear and feeling like someone hit me in that side of the face with a shovel, a condition which persists for the rest of the day.

However! That said, I was having a conversation the other day about air travel, and in the course of the chat it occurred to me that, in fairness, I have had a few good times on airliners. Flying home first-class from ReRob's wedding, for instance, that was pretty boss. The air pressure is the same in first class, but the seats are much nicer and the steak was lovely.

Or there was the time I flew from Boston to Washington, DC for Katsucon, and because of the strange vagaries of cheapass-airfare websites circa 2000 I ended up flying this tiny, weirdass airline where every flight had to go through Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, like FedEx sending everything to Memphis. I don't remember what kind of airplane it was; it was at least a jet, but it was so small that it couldn't use the jetways. I remember that flight mostly because the woman sitting in the emergency exit row on the lefthand side of the plane chickened out and the flight attendant (there was only one) put me there instead. I guess she figured I looked like the kind of cat who would accept the awesome responsibility of my fellow passengers' lives in exchange for another 45 millimeters of leg room. (This was before you had to be a Navy SEAL with a Ph.D in astrophysics to sit in the emergency exit row.) The flight attendant didn't need a volunteer for the other side, because that was where she was sitting - the plane was so small she didn't even have her own little seat up front.

(The flight home wasn't as much fun, mainly because the plane gave me typhoid fever.1)

That wasn't the wackiest routing I ever had, admittedly. Once when I lived in Oakland, I spent a weekend in Orange County (CA), and the flight down ended up going from San Francisco to OC... with stops in Oakland and LA. Flying from SFO to Oakland or LAX to Orange County is a bit like calling a cab to visit the people in the apartment down the hall.

(My mother has that one beaten by a mile. She flew out to visit me in California once and ended up, thanks to the strange miracle of Delta frequent-flyer miles, being routed from Bangor to Boston to Newark to Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth to Denver to Seattle to LAX to SFO. It was cheap, I'll give it that, but it took an entire day and then some; she left Bangor early one morning and arrived in San Francisco around noon the next day. And after all that faff they couldn't even get her to Oakland.)

Most of my aerial experience happened in the '90s, during that brief but eventful sojourn in California, because I semi-regularly flew back East for various things, about every three months during the two years I was out there. Some of those flights were OK. Some of them sucked mightily. I particularly remember once having to change planes in Chicago and having about ten minutes to get from Gate A1 of Terminal 1 to Gate ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha in Terminal 500, approximately 4,292 nautical parsecs away.

The best one, though, was an American Airlines night flight, direct BOS to SFO, leaving Logan at around 9 PM Eastern time. I don't remember what kind of airplane that flight was on either, except that it wasn't an MD-80 because I hate MD-80s with such an abiding passion that I would remember if it had been. Boeing 757, maybe, but don't hold me to it. Something with the engines on the wings and only one aisle.

Anyway, the point is, this was the best flight ever, because apart from me, the crew, and a high school lacrosse team who sat all the way at the back, there was no one on it. I had not just the overwing exit row on the right but basically the whole forward three-quarters of the plane to myself. The lacrosse team was so far away it wouldn't have mattered if they weren't quiet (and I think they were anyway). I had my own private bathroom. I had my own private flight attendant.2 And she was bored out of her skull for most of the flight and kept coming by to see if there was anything I could possibly need so that she would have something to do, so I had an effectively unlimited supply of Coke, peanuts, and little butter cookies (and a lovely chicken dinner somewhere over the Midwest). She brought me all the blankets and tiny pillows the lacrosse team wasn't using, and I basically made a pillow fort in the exit row. It was awesome. I shudder to even imagine how much money American lost on that particular run, using a whole giant airplane and however many thousand gallons of Jet-A and six hours out of the lives of a half-dozen trained professionals to get me, 20 teenagers, a couple of coaches, and some suitcases to San Francisco in the middle of the night. I only hope they were hauling some mail or something too.

Even if I were still flying regularly, it would be awfully hard to top that experience. Maybe not even possible, in this day and age. Last time I flew anywhere commercial (and the first time since 2000) was a couple of years ago, when I flew Jetblue to Orlando for zonereyrie's wedding. Apart from the fun game of Overhead Bin Tetris a flight attendant and I got to play because the airline had tried to trick me into missing the flight and failed,3 that wasn't much of anything to write home about. Well, the little security theater when the captain had to come out to take a piss was amusing, I'll grant them that (they barricade the aisle with the beverage cart! That'll flummox your garden-variety crazy, I guess), and there was a nice sunset view of Manhattan out the left-side windows as we passed by on the way back to Boston. Still, it was no private pillow fort experience.

1 Or a cold. And to be fair, I probably got that at the con.
2 Not in that way. She wasn't that bored.
3 Silly me, I went to the gate printed on my boarding pass expecting it to be where my flight home was going to leave from! Ha ha! I know, right? Almost got onto a flight to Santo Domingo instead. I don't want to go to the Dominican Republic. Does it really need mentioning at this point that the new gate was approximately as far away as it was possible to go and still be in Orlando, and that the departure time itself hadn't changed? Of course it doesn't.

Current Mood: reminiscin'

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solipsistnation From: solipsistnation Date: May 20th, 2014 05:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I had one particularly good flight from Chicago to Boston when coming home from Oregon back in the 90's. It was on one of those planes with about 50 seats and an aisle, and I was the only passenger. The flight attendant pretty much said "Here are a couple of Cokes and a bunch of bags of pretzels. I'll be up front. Ring if you need anything." I read and ate pretzels, and she slept or read or whatever, and everyone had a pretty relaxing time.

I'd say that's actually a close second to flying with Annie and the boy (2 years old at the time) to and from Zoner's wedding, sharing a massive box of snacks (2-year-old snacks! The best of snacks!) and ordering bottles of wine and juice and stuff from the seatback console thingy.

Also I once ran from one end of the Chicago airport to the other, just in time to catch my flight with about 30 seconds to spare. That was significantly less fun. I think I was still feeling nauseous by the time the flight was over (3 or 4 hours).
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