“Coffee? Tea?” the lanky flight attendant mouthed from above my seat. I pulled my complimentary headphones off to tell her “No thanks,” but regretted the decision a half hour later when I started feeling like I was in a fruit dehydrator and the flight attendant was way up in first class, most likely serving some businessman his second glass of champagne.
My three kids and I were halfway into a nine hour flight, on our way back to the United States after a military tour in Germany. My husband was already at our new duty station in Florida, and was planning to pick us up at the Jacksonville Airport later that evening.
The military travel agency neglected to arrange for us to be seated together, and Luftansa merely smirked when I asked to change our seat assignments. From my isle seat in 29B, I could only see the kids if I stood up on my tray table and used binoculars, and even then I could only see the tops of their heads. Lilly, age 10 was at 39D, surrounded on either side by college kids. Anna, age 13 was behind Lilly at 40D, and my 16-year-old, Hayden, was against a window at 43A.
With four hours down, and five to go, I said a little prayer that there were enough movies and snacks to keep them entertained all the way home.
From my isle seat against the bulkhead, I was just a few feet from the only restrooms in economy class. Not only did I see just about every passenger on my side of the plane pull when they should have pushed the bathroom doors, I heard scores of those characteristic sucking flushes that makes one wonder where it all goes. A line started building up past my seat (it was about 45 minutes after the coffee service after all,) requiring me to sit facing forward for fear that if I turned my head, the tip of my nose might brush against someone’s hip.
A little while later I heard the clank of the lunch cart, and started getting excited. No, I wasn’t hungry. I’m never hungry during airline travel, perhaps because my intestines sense that I will be sitting for hours on end, and go completely dormant. So every peanut, pretzel, stale roll with butter pat, mushy noodle, and fruit gelatin square I consume lays in my stomach for the entire flight, completely undigested.
The back up of undigested material actually makes the flight even more physically uncomfortable, if that is possible, yet I get eagerly accept the lousy morsels offered out of sheer boredom.
“Would you like the Asian chicken or vegetarian pasta?” the voice from above asked. I chose the former, envisioning something similar to the Szechuan dish I like to order from King’s Palace when I’m feeling hormonal. A tiny rectangular tray is placed before me with a roll, butter, cheese wedge, a square dish with a gelatinous fruit dessert, and a foil covered container.
Peeling back the foil, I discovered that the “Asian chicken” looked nothing like my beloved Szechuan dish. I ate it anyway, savoring every mediocre bite, just for the entertainment value.
As I hunched over the sections of my little rectangular tray, I wondered how the airline chefs sleep at night.
The Indian businessman beside me was also hunched over his vegetarian pasta. His elbows were tucked compactly at his sides, his hands hovered over his tray while his fingers tore at the little packages, shoving tiny bits into his mouth while his eyes darted. It occurred to me that just about everyone in economy class ate in this manner. It was as if we were all a bunch of squirrels nibbling at our acorns.
After the trays had been taken away, I went back to find the kids happily engrossed in their seat back televisions. I decided to use the opportunity to take a little catnap.
I always envision myself cradled comfortably against my travel pillow’s C-shaped contour, but I inevitably awaken with my head fallen forward so I look half dead, or worse, cocked back with my mouth wide open. No matter which way my head falls, my spine is always compressed into temporary scoliosis and my rear end goes completely numb. I can feel new spider veins bursting forth on my thighs.
For the next two hours, I dozed uncomfortably, contorting my body into every imaginable position, every one seemingly more painful than the next.
I finally gave up on rest, just when the snack cart appeared. This time I chose the vegetarian pizza, which was a rectangular slab of dough upon which was smeared some kind of cheeseless orange sauce, and embedded with tiny fragments of vegetable material, to include a German pizza topping favorite – corn.
Soon after snack service, the airplane began its gradual descent and we hit turbulence. It felt like the corn, Asian Chicken and fruit gelatin were playing lawn darts in my stomach. I closed my eyes and reached for the armrests, awkwardly caressing the Indian businessman’s hand which had beat me to it.
I heard a commotion and opened my eyes to see the flight attendant grabbing paper towels out of the restroom. My brain quickly calculated probabilities and reasonable inferences, coming to the surefire conclusion that my daughter Lilly must’ve thrown up.
I craned to look back to her seat, and saw a college girl pinching her nose shut. Everyone was looking into Lilly’s row with a grimace. I waved to the flight attendant and pointed at myself as if to say, “Hi! Remember me? I’m the one who asked to be seated with my kids and was refused!”
It all worked out in the end. The college boy who was seated right next to Lilly and who got hit by “friendly fire” was quite understanding. We were able to get Lilly some fresh clothes after retrieving our luggage. And, best of all, Daddy was there waiting at the Jacksonville Airport as promised. Our family is finally on solid ground again.