May 1, 2010

So over cattle class already.

I'm going to sound like a snob. I realize this. But the reality is that I hate flying economy class. 

Blame it on a lavish expat lifestyle or an overpaid job in my earlier years. Though neither are really to blame: my parents were too stingy to buy us business class seats, as was the company I worked for. As a child, I literally spent days flying in as an unaccompanied minor - my brother and I had a system worked out in which one of us would sleep on the floor and the other across the three seats assigned to the two of us. And then switch a few hours later. We weren't even allowed off the plan back then, even though there were at least four stop overs: from Seoul to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mumbai, Dubai to Zurich. 

As an adult, my company's policy was to issue business class tickets to flights over 6 hours. Except, they decided, for the popularly travelled London-New York route, or anywhere in Asia once they figured out that virtually all flights in Asia would be over 6 hours. Only once did I manage to bully my boss into letting me fly business when I balked at an insane flying-and-working schedule he'd planned for me. Since the price between economy and business was hardly different, he acquiesced.

So I should be used to flying cattle class. I call it that because "economy" hardly describes the flying experience. I read once that people in economy have less space and rights than animals being transported in western nations. Not to mention things like lack of food (and I heard recently, bathrooms!) without paying an extra fee. 

The entire experience is just horrendous. I'm hardly a big person, but even my knees hit the seat in front of me. The seats never recline enough to alleviate a multitude of neck and back aches, my butt and coccyx lose any sensation after the first 15 minutes because the seat is not cushioned enough, the air is too dry, the bathrooms are disgusting, the water isn't distributed often enough, and I'm always hungry. Then there are the other passengers: sniffling, burping, farting, snorting, snoring, coughing, climbing over you, hitting the back of your seat, dropping their luggage on you, spilling their drink/food into your lap, babies (oh, don't get me started on babies and toddlers, I'll spare you) ... you name it, it's happened to me. (Clearly, I fly too much).

Each time I fly, I'm left wondering how anyone ever gets from A to B. People are clueless about how to find their seat, how to fasten their belts, how to get off the plane, where to go when they get off, and always, always stop the moment they get off the plane in the middle of the jetway right in front of me, to ask the stewardess or the people with the wheelchairs where they're going. 

It all leaves me rather frustrated. I try, as much as possible, to minimize that frustration. I bring water, earplugs, music, books, a neck pillow. I even insist on an aisle seat so that I can pace up and down the plane without having to climb over anyone, since I know I need to do this at least every 30 minutes. But it's never enough. And when I have to fly for 24 hours to get to the other side of the world, and then come back, I'm just about done with it all. I am left feeling I want to hit something and beat it to a pulp. 

I wish that airline designers would talk to passengers like me, who fly a lot, about their experience. What would it take to make this more comfortable? In my MANY hours on flights, I've come up with more than a hundred good ideas about how to improve air travel.

But ultimately, it's about space and quiet. If you can lay down, like you can these days in many business class seats, and if you don't have a screaming kid within the vicinity, and you can get to (a clean) bathroom when you need it, the flying experience improves ten fold.

So perhaps it's time to start saving up, and realize that I just don't belong in cattle class. With all those people who never fly and don't know what they're doing and don't know how to behave in a considerate manner. So I'll admit it. I'm a snob.


  1. I'm right there with ya. If I could afford it, I would fly business class exclusively - especially on anyflight longer than 3 hours. I'm not sure how we ever flew when people smoked on planes. As if the curtain between smoking and non-smoking seating accomplished anything.

  2. Curtain? I don't recall there ever being a curtain on any international flights - maybe that was a North American thing?

    I'm so grateful that they finally realized about recycled air, and second-hand smoke.

  3. The worst is not listening to a baby, the worst is being that baby's parent. I have never transpired as much as I did on our two flights home from Korea with our kids. When we got off the plane in Frankfurt, I was very close to fainting. Last fall, when I planned to go to Montreal to see you, I actually looked forward to the flight - just sitting ALONE in a chair for some ten hours...

    (There is one thing that's even worse though, and that's NOT having that baby that you wished for. You know I know that better than most people.)

    Big hugs and fond thoughts from Stockholm - I WILL make it to Canada eventually!