Many weeks out of the year, I fly twice a week to/from my client site where I do consulting work. When I tell people what I do for work, where I work, and how I get there, many people strike the “oooooh … aaaaaaah” look of wonderment. And then this is followed by a statement along the lines of: “Oh, you’re quite the jet setter!”
I don’t even know what a jet setter looks like, but I’m certain I’m not one. Dragging my carcass out of bed at oh-dark thirty to stagger my way through airport security, desperately hoping I have packed everything I need for the week and hoping I’m am fully clothed, I don’t think I strike an image of glamour to any other passenger in the airport. Maybe it’s the shoestring-like bit of drool hanging from my sleep deprived face that kills the perception, but I’m not sure.
There is nothing glamorous about flying twice a week. So let’s make sure that is clear.
The general public, which airports are infested with them, are virus and germ infested themselves. I affectionately call airplanes a Petri dish with wings. Remember in high school the disc shaped thingies where you poured a broth mix that later turned to a snot-like mixture that grew clumps of bacteria? That’s a Petri dish. Put wings on it and you now have an airplane. It’s like magic. Those clumps of bacteria, those are the passengers. There are days on the plane when I want to bathe in Purel after flying. When the person on the plane behind me is about to cough up a lung over my head and into my lap, I wish I’d worn a bio hazard suit instead of dressier work clothes. I carry a mask in my backpack and Purel in my pocket on every flight. Even then there are days I wish I could shower in Lysol.
Remember, these planes are cramped quarters. TV and movies love to show people sitting in spacious seats that look more like a Lazy Boy recliner. This is fiction unless you are in first class on a massive plane that has the fold out sleeper sofas. I have yet to see one of these sleeper sofa cabins, so I refuse to believe that they even exist. The Loch Ness Monster is real. Sleeper sofa seats on an airplane are not. Most of the planes are commuters, because, well, that’s what I am and that’s what I fly on. Commuters are small planes that may or may not have a wee first class section. Often I feel like I need a shoe horn to get into the seat and a crowbar to get out. If you have broad shoulders like me, you will sit twisted at an angle since it is impossible to get two broad shouldered people sitting next to each other on a plane.
The passengers, well that is certainly a grab bag of possibilities where I might get a great seat neighbor or I end up with the seat neighbor from hell. Keep in mind I have the neighbor beside me (God help me if I am stuck in a middle seat and have one on each side of me), the ones in front of me, the ones behind me, and the invariably noisy as hell pair somewhere else on the plane that is screaming their conversation to each other so loudly there isn’t a pair of noise cancellation headphones that can block them out. So my neighbor to the side might opt for a nap, but the one behind me incessantly kicks my seat. Or the one in front of me drops their seat so far back their head is in my lap. If I am dying for a nap, just when I close my eyes, the Chatty Cathies get going. Both men and women fall into the Cathies category too. Regardless of the gender of the chatterboxes, I can kiss my nap goodbye. My, yes, flying is some glamorous stuff.
As a frequent air traveler, if you are not already in a codependent relationship, you will develop one with your bags. If you are already in a codependent relationship, you will develop another one. Dragging my bags everywhere with me is a lovely bonding experience. They go with me on the plane, off the plane, to go find something to eat, to find a place to sit, and yep, they will even go with me to the toilet. As long as I drag them where I go, they remain more loyal than a dog. If I happen to leave my bags with a friend while I visit the toilet, I have to fight to keep the anxiety at bay of leaving them alone. Will they be OK without me? Will the person looking after them be nice to them while I’m gone? When I get home, I have to re-train my brain to understand, yes, I really can go potty by myself and not need to panic that I do not have my bags with me in the bathroom.
Jet setter? No. I sit for hours on planes and share a toilet with a hundred thousand other airport travelers during my connections, that is assuming that I have enough time to pee and not miss my next flight. Traveling so often, I have developed ninja-like balance. I travel with a backpack, and I have learned how to pee while wearing this pack. It becomes part of the balancing act. When darting from gate to gate, and I find I have a spare 30 seconds to pee, this is a glorious treat! Men have it easier, but for women, when the bathroom stall looks more like an overused outhouse, the balancing act begins. When there isn’t enough Lysol on the planet to cure what is probably living on the toilet seat, I am not about to let my skin touch the throne. But remember, I only have 30 seconds to spare and I have already lost 10 seconds recovering from the shock of the toilet’s condition. (Keep in mind when you first start traveling you lose the entire 30 seconds plus some extra trying to recover your senses. As you become more seasoned at traveling the shock is less overwhelming and you can bounce back to reality more quickly to still get your pee in) The pack becomes instrumental in my balance as I drop trou and get my keester suspended in the air. I recite in my mind, “Wax on, wax off, sand the floor,” over and over, perfecting my balance and preventing dribble from going into my shoe. This is an art form. Other travelers suck at this balancing act. It’s easy to discern this information when there is urine covering every possible surface of the floor and toilet, yet somehow not a drop managed to land in the bowl.
I dare to brave the foul bathroom stall because having to pee on the plane is enough of a traumatizing event to cause many hours of needed therapy. Airplane bathrooms are designed for twig people. They are the only people that can effectively stand, turn, sit, etc in the twig bathroom. I am cringing when I turn as my body parts touch the sides of the twig bathroom walls that is incomprehensibly smaller than a port-o-potty. An elbow touching the twig bathroom wall invariably causes a shiver which makes the other elbow touch the other side. By the time I get done with my business in the twig bathroom, I’m a shivering mess. To flush one of these toilets mid-flight, I instinctively hold onto something before doing so because I just know some little valve in that crap system is bound to fail and suck me into the toilet and out of the plane at thirty thousand feet.
Being a frequent flyer, you start to gain the almighty “status” with the airline you fly. If you have to bounce between airlines, your status is basically useless unless you are able to gain the super sparkly uber platinum status by flying every day you take a breath. Airlines have status ranks that delineate their passengers into groups for culling. You feel like you are in a herd because, well, you are in one. The bottom rank is zero status at all which means the only reason you do not qualify with the likes of luggage is because you are human. Yes, I know the line that separates human from luggage can be thin in certain instances, but for the sake of this writing, I will be generous and classify all people as human. The next rank up is tarnished silver which means by title you have status but in reality you still suck. Your chances are better that you will win the lottery rather than get a first class upgrade as a lowly silver.
Gold is the next rank up, but don’t get too frisky. The color is actually brown, but the airlines call it gold to make you think it’s better than it is. This rank is still crap. Sure, it’s better crap than silver, but you still don’t get many bennies out of this rank. It’s quite depressing. You might land a first class upgrade, and certainly you’ll score one over a peon silver, but you can’t go counting your faux gold chickens yet, because you really don’t gain a whole lot with this status except a card to put on your bags that declares you are fancy dancy gold. What does this tag do? It means your bags get to be kicked down the conveyor belt before a silver’s bags. This is great because you get to have your brutalized luggage first instead of waiting like a silver and being dead last.
Super sparkly amazing platinum is where you really hit pay dirt with status and often score a first class upgrade and a free cookie. I mean who gives a rip about first class if you can’t get a cookie too? You get a free sip of water thrown in there too. Another bennie of reaching platinum is that you sparkle so much that you fart glitter. Or so I’m told. I’m not there yet. Heck I’m not even funky brown color that is called gold just to get your hopes up and make you think you’re important.
The next status after uber sparkly platinum is God. No really, that’s the name of that status category. God. With God status you always get a first class seat even if there isn’t a first class cabin on the plane. With the pilots looking more like 12 year olds than adults, often they will ask God status passengers about best flying practices. Since God status passengers have been on more planes than the total number of days the pilots have existed on this planet, God passengers know more about flying planes than the pilots do. If your flight cancels, with God status you call the owner of the airline to rebook you. And if there isn’t another available flight, the airline will build a new plane just for you to fly you home. I certainly don’t have God status, so I might be assuming a few things here, but I still think I’m close to accurate on how God status works.
So these are the realities of frequent air travel. Do I still sound like a jet setter, whatever that is? Still sound like a glamorous life? One might counter with “Oh, but look at all of the frequent flyer miles you get with that?” Why, yes, I do get a truck load of frequent flyer miles, but believe me, the LAST thing I want to do when I have a vacation day is get on another bloody plane.
P.S. I know this post has nothing to do with the Burnt Mountain series, but based on a conversation the other day with a friend (thanks, Jen!), our chat turned into this post. I had such a great time with this topic, that I will do more. Hotels, taxis, shuttles, … tons of travel fodder to write about. 🙂
Photo by sxc.hu