According to pictures and parents, I flew for the first time when I was nine months old. The second time was 21 years later. I was in college and in a sorority. I had just been elected, in a process more complicated than the Presidential Electoral College, as Vice President of Administration, which meant that I got to represent the chapter whenever the President was unable to. Or didn't want to. Which was the case my junior year of college, when we had a big national event in Memphis, TN. The chapter (meaning dues from myself and my sisters) would pay for my flight and my hotel room, which I would share with a complete stranger/sister from another chapter. I was nervous about flying for the first time (that I would remember). But I was also living with college seniors and a handful of them had spent the year flying around the country to interview at various companies. So they had tips and insights into the flight itself. Carry-on suggestions. Indianapolis airport recommendations. My first (memorable) flight!
I remember literally nothing about it. I don't remember the airport - since then, Indianapolis has built a brand spanking new airport. That airport has become a second home but the first one is only a fuzzy memory of a memory. I kind of remember poorly designed terminals and a sad pop up Starbucks. I had a connecting flight (that's right, no directs from Indianapolis to Memphis, I'm fairly certain I could have driven in a quicker time than those two flights took) and somehow all four flights, the two to get there and the two to get back, were fairly empty. At one point, I had a whole row to myself, stretching out over three seats. How luxurious! Since then, I've flown first class domestic. I've been in the upper deck of an international business class Lufthansa flight. But 21 year old me was impressed with the whole row in Coach.
For the next few years, I tracked my flights. I would write them down in my agenda book. Including the layovers. There was the flight to Memphis. A few more flights that year to interview for internships. The next year, I flew around the country for job interviews. I spend half a year living in South Carolina, another year and a half in Oregon. Then I was back in Indianapolis. Flights home were no longer necessary but I started traveling a lot for work - San Francisco and D.C. and Boston and Las Vegas, then Frankfurt. And then I was living in Germany, flying around Europe. Landing in Frankfurt Airport will always be a little bit comforting, a little bit exciting.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped recording my flights. They became too frequent (here is where my friends in marketing roll their eyes - I've got no idea about frequent flying). But for me it's been a significant change. No more special notes in my agenda book, listing all the flights I've taken in my life. I don't save the plane ticket boarding passes any more. I'm making my way through the ranks of the various frequent flyer programs. But yet there's still something exciting about it. My little body traveling across the country and sometimes beyond, shuttling through space. The importance of me getting from one point to another. I let myself be impressed with my traveler skills - the deft and speed with which I traverse the check in and security process. My cute and well-packed luggage. My comfortable yet reasonable Clark sandals. I let myself be momentarily smug over my fellow novice travelers, helping them when I can. Because I'm still the little girl from the small Midwestern town, who didn't really fly until she was 21. Who didn't leave the country until she was 27 and then it was to live in Germany. So okay, be a smug traveler for a second. Enjoy your first class bump thanks to those frequent flyer programs. I'll allow it.
But travelers, in frequent and not, let's talk. A few years ago, I read a Slate article that basically said reclining in Coach is bullshit (domestic flights only, obviously). The article described how the recline does not give the recliner any real advantage but it does significantly fuck over the person whose space is being reclined into. Since then, I have studiously not reclined. I thought that we, as a society, had agreed. The recline isn't worth it. It's rude to the unlucky bastard behind you. Don't do it. Don't recline. Don't be that asshole.
And yet apparently not everyone read that Slate article. When did we get so selfish? Is this Trump's America?
As I type this, the asshole in front of me keeps pushing his seat back, forcing my laptop to cram a little further into my lap, as he's trying to squeeze in an extra millimeter of personal space. No one else in my vicinity is reclining. Everyone else has agreed - hey, let's be decent human beings. Jesus Christ, dude, give it a rest. Everyone else is making do with their allotted space!
Then we land and things get worse. As always, getting off the plane is the biggest chore. As I mentioned, I genuinely like flying. The time to yourself, both at the airport, post security, and on the plane. To nap. To watch movies (via the plane, if it's fancy, or via Netflix or Amazon on your phone/tablet - thank you to the gods for downloads). To read a book. To get a few things done. On this flight, I actually missed work. I pulled out my work laptop but couldn't think of anything that was either safe to display to my neighbors or didn't require WiFi, so I reorganized my document folders. I rarely feel this way while I'm in the office but I temporarily want to be a serious career woman, a workaholic, who can't go a day of PTO without checking her email or a plane ride without updating a PowerPoint.
Man I really wish the WiFi was working here so I could check my email.
But we're trying to get off the plane. It's taking forever, because it always takes forever. The woman next to me is seriously stressed out. She's huffing and puffing and picking at her nails. Every few minutes, the husband tells her to calm down. As soon as we landed, someone from the rear of the plane ran to the head of the newly formed lined, passing at least a dozen rows. Because when you're at the airport, your time is always more important than anyone else's.
This morning, at 4 AM when I was in line at security, I got a Twitter news notification. The President of the United States called a pregnant widow, whose husband had just died, killed in action while serving this country. And he told her, hey, your husband knew what he was signing up for. I guess it's still sad. Another resource on Twitter - 1 in 5,000 troops die today. This is not something they sign up for.
Trump's America. Reclining the goddamn seat in every way imaginable. Also Trump's America - dating your entries by shitty thing he tweeted that day.
Editor's Note - this was sarcasm. I honestly love flying. I love going to the airport. There's so much potential - all these people, going exciting places, places they absolutely have to be. Sure, most of the time it's for business. I just did a quick mental calculation - in the past few years, I've flown an average of 8 times a year. And probably 5 or 6 of those have been for work. So mostly the airport is full of overworked business people who are shuffling from one meeting to another, whose trip will be comprised of similar-looking conference rooms and impersonal hotel rooms, trips where the only sight seeing or souvenir buying will be done at the airport. But hey, someone is probably going home to meet a newborn grandchild or attend a wedding. Someone is going to rendezvous with a lover and propose. And I’m going to go hang out with friends and drink that Rhode Island wine I've got stuffed in my checked bag, as long as those new wine skins hold and I don't open up a bag full of wine-soaked clothes in a couple of hours.
Fifteen minutes later. I'm in the airport, drinking a mimosa and eating breakfast food. Only breakfast food for another two hours. I thought time didn't exist in airports? I'm not hungry and it's 8:30 AM. But what the hell else are you supposed to do in an airport? It's Charlotte and I've already seen vague 'freedom' and religious references and two Chik Fil A's, so I think I'll skip shopping. Fox News is on most televisions. Side note - the airport is honestly nice. Newish and big and open and easy to get from one gate to another. There's a restaurant with a bar within a few gates of every place, so A+ there Charlotte! We may have literally nothing in common culturally, but I like your style.
I am honestly bummed my flight is coming up so soon. I like airport bars. Time stands still as people hang out. No rush, just waiting for a flight. No one is going to judge what you're drinking or what you're eating, because who the hell knows where you're coming from or where you're going. There's a level of anonymity that only exists in airports. A game I like to play anytime, anywhere is 'no one knows where I’m coming from'. There's no bigger level than the friggin' airport.
A woman just came in next to me and gave very specific instructions for a glass of Prosecco. I would like to be this woman's friend. Another woman sat down on the other side of her and ordered rose. These are my people. I'm eating breakfast food even though I've been up for 5.5 hours at this point but it's 8:30 in the morning and that's the only option. My actual breakfast a few hours ago - Combos and a Smart Water at the gate of my first flight Excuse me while I drink my over-priced mimosa and my breakfast food that I don't really want. Because I'm an American in a goddamn airport.
I wasn't hungry but I ate every bite of those friggin' french toast.