In the process of booking flights on Delta recently for Michigan and Colorado, a little message popped up asking if I wanted to upgrade to an Economy Comfort Seat on one leg of the flight. Not having a clue what that was, and being a naturally curious person, I clicked on the icon and learned for $19-$39 I could be seated just behind First Class and have 3-4 more inches of leg room. I had already found an amazing deal on the Colorado flight, which I booked first, so I said, “Why sure – sign me up!”
When I found the same offering on the Michigan trip, I signed up there also. And thus I was transported into the world of more space (I could almost stretch my legs out straight in front of me) and Priority Seating (Zone 1 means you get on just after First Class and can stow your carry-on while there is still plenty of room, and people aren’t elbowing you out of the way so they can get the spot you had your eye on).
Just mentioning this for those who haven’t flown for a while and who are old and crotchety like me. It sure made a difference!
Oh, the People We Meet
It’s hard for me to sit right up next to someone (Economy Comfort Seating offered more legroom, NOT more arm room) and not speak or carry on a conversation. I’m savvy enough to know that someone who sits down next to me on a plane and immediately puts his/her head back and closes his/her eyes . . . wants to be left alone. Same for someone who sits down and, faster than a speedy bullet, opens a book.
Most people though either open themselves up to conversation by speaking first or, when seated next to someone who is willing to break the ice themselves, will carry on conversation that makes the air miles fly (pun) by. Of course sometimes that backfires, and you’re stuck with a person who bores you to death with tales of how wonderful he is and how the world is a better place simply because he’s in it. But that doesn’t happen often – thank you, Lord.
It didn’t happen to me at all on my recent travels, and I had great conversations with three interesting folks I’ll never (probably) see again.
The first was on the 30-minute hop from Albany to Atlanta on the trip to Michigan. No Economy Comfort Seating offered on the little jet, and I was almost in the last row, seated next to the window – my preferred spot. The plane was packed, and down the aisle came a young man in his early 20’s, covered in tattoos and with multiple ear piercings. I thought, “Oh dear, if he sits down next to me, I hope he’s sleepy.” (I’m bad about making those kinds of instant judgements, and nearly always they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Help me, Lord, to get over pre-conceived notions about people.)
He did indeed have the seat next to me and was obviously traveling with the two young men sitting in front of us. He didn’t have a book and didn’t seem inclined to sleep, so I used my same old boring opening line, “Where are you going?”
“Dallas!” he said excitedly.
Over the next 30 minutes, I learned this young man (27 years old) had graduated from high school, entered a tech school and earned certification as a welder. He’d worked in a factory in Cordele for a while, gaining experience, and then – with the two buddies on board with him – had gotten a civilian job in Kuwait, using his trade to work overseas. Their compound had been bombed his last day there – thankfully with no injuries incurred. Upon his return to the U.S., all three had gotten jobs in Dallas, as welders for a new company opening there.
One more time it hit home to me how wrong it is to judge based on appearances alone. He was a true southern gentleman (helping me get my overhead bag at the end of the flight), yes Ma’aming and no Ma’aming me throughout the conversation, quietly humble in the telling of his story.
As we walked up the sky-way into the Atlanta airport, I wished them all well in their new jobs, and they all grinned and said, “Thank you, Ma’am.”
I pray they are all doing well.
The flight from Atlanta to Flint, MI was my first experience with the Comfort Seating. I was in the first row behind First Class, with nothing in front of me but the thin partition separating us from the folks already being served cocktails before we even taxied from the gate.
A beautiful woman, maybe 10 years my junior, was my seatmate, and conversation started when I reached into my purse to turn off my flip-phone and said, “I must be the only person left on the planet who doesn’t have a smart phone.”
“I have a flip-phone also!” she said.
The two hours to Flint zoomed by as we chatted about family (she was traveling to Flint to visit relatives), books, and her immediate family’s commitment to remain unchained to the technology of today’s world. She and her husband owned a TV, but it almost never was turned on. They had a computer, but no Facebook or other social media accounts.
“Our grandchildren think we’re old fuddy-duddies,” she laughed. “But when they come, we do fun things together instead of them sitting on the couch, eyes glued to some device in their hands. It works for us because that’s the way we’ve always done it, and that’s what they expect from us.”
I loved that and thought about how in the future, when those grandchildren looked back on their visits with their grandparents, they’d remember playing board games, reading together, going to the park or the zoo – NOT just which seat they’d occupied to play games on their electronic toys.
I shared with her about our family, our dogs, our two homes and the writing of the blogs. She loved Mackinac Island, so I told her how to access that site. Maybe I’ll hear from her one day in a comment.
On the flight from Flint back to Atlanta I was in a regular seat – smashed between two gentlemen who I think would rather have stopped breathing than smile. No conversation there, so I sat with my knees practically under my chin and read my own book. The next week the flight from Atlanta to Denver was uneventful – in fact, I slept through part of it, so maybe someone somewhere is blogging about ME tonight :)!
That brings us to my flight home from Denver to Atlanta.
I was lucky enough to be in Economy Seating again, but in the middle of three seats (everyone’s least favorite seat, I’m sure). The gentleman in the aisle seat couldn’t decide if he wanted to read or sleep, so he did a little of both. That was ok though because the lady sitting next to me by the window had enough conversation for all of us!
I had walked up the beltway behind her – as a Delta employee pushed her in a wheelchair. She was on oxygen and had a portable oxygen container in her lap. The Delta employee got her seated and comfortable, and I slipped in beside her. Her oxygen container was a neat little portable gizmo that looked like a snazzy carry-on with wheels . . . and tubes!
I introduced myself as soon as I sat down, she told me her name and said she was going to Florida to visit her sister, and that started three hours of non-stop conversation. What an interesting woman she was!
At 83-years-old she hardly seemed bothered at all with the contraption health had forced her to attach herself to 24 hours a day. She told me of growing up in Colorado on her family’s dairy farm (I swear to you, after that conversation, I could milk a cow myself if I had to). I learned the life stories of all 9 of her siblings and all 5 of her children. She spoke with sadness of her husband’s passing two years ago, and with dignity about her refusal to be a little old lady her children had to take care of . . . well, until they had to! I maybe said 10 sentences the entire trip, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When we landed she said she had to wait on the plane for someone to come for her with a wheelchair, and I leaned over and gave her a hug and told her how much I’d enjoyed our chat. She waved goodbye with a beautiful smile.
Oh, I know most flights are long and boring and uncomfortable. But maybe they could at least be a little more interesting if we all reached out and tried to make a connection.
And hey, if you get stuck with Mr. or Mrs. Perfect for a seatmate? Whip out your sleep mask and tilt that seat back an inch or two. They’ll get the message!