So I’ve done a fair amount of traveling alone, and I have to say I enjoy it for the most part. Sometimes it’s lonely. But getting on a plane alone is never a bad thing. Especially if your alternative to “alone” would be “with children.” I’ve only traveled “with children” when I essentially was one, and there has never been more than, say, 9 years, between me and the youngest child traveler, maybe even 7 if we’re not counting minivan trips across the Arizona-New Mexico desert. For the most part, I would probably have to say that my experience with child travelers would have to be as a child traveler.
You know how when they start boarding a plane they ask for people with small children to board first? There’s a reason for that. People who are traveling with children and miss this little time window should have to wait until the very end to board. I almost wrote that maybe I’ll have more sympathy when I have children of my own (“if” might be the better word there), but no — any other way spells ineluctable disaster. (How do you like my new word? I think I’ve never seen it before last week, but have seen it about 11 times since then…)
Case in point: My flight out to Philadelphia last week was at 7 a.m., which meant getting up very, very early on very little sleep, etc. I was a little cranky. I was glad, at 6:45 or so, to be in my window seat, book open, settling in. I was kind of hoping the two seats to my right had remained unbooked so I could leave the armrests up and nap across seats A, B, and C, like that one time on the London-Denver flight a couple weeks after we declared war on Afghanistan. But no — of course not!
A woman came up, one child on her hip, one toddling to her side, and a car seat somewhere in the mix (blocking traffic, you can be certain), and asked if I would mind giving up the window seat. Well into J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year, I was a little annoyed, unsympathetic, etc., but I begrudgingly agreed. She (after much effort, for which I eventually felt bad for not helping (maybe she was leaving her husband, and here I was making things more difficult!, etc.)) slid her toddler into the window seat and herself into the middle (note; the toddler was placed in a car seat in the window seat so she’d “know when to stay still”). I took the aisle, figuring it was a good escape route from the wailing that was sure to entail.
But no! A man followed closely after, saying 13C was his assigned seat, treating me like the unscrupulous hoodlum who’d stolen it! “I just traded this poor, motherly woman for my seat!” I exclaimed! To which he replied, “Well, I just paid $15 for that seat!” That was the end of the argument. He won. Apparently $15 (and the supposed legroom it buys) trumps good will lately…
I asked the mother, who was already pulling up her shirt to nurse the little one, where her toddling daughter was initially assigned to sit. “Oh! They split us up! She was supposed to be in 13E, can you believe that??” Of course I could. So I promptly moved to the toddler’s 13E assignment.
My new neighbor, Mr. 13D, laughed, obviously glad not to be sitting by a two-year-old girl. “How’s your day so far?” It was fine. It would have been worse if I’d been traveling with children. Etc. I sat down. I opened my book again. We took off. We got to the appropriate elevation for moving around.
And then we saw Mr. I-Paid-$15-For-This-Seat (13C) get up. He was very obviously retrieving Ms. Mom’s diaper bag from the overhead compartment, a task he continued to perform again. And again. And again, in between infant and toddler wailing, until we finally landed in Philadelphia. I hope he felt good about his $15, and glad he’d moved me across the aisle to a middle seat between two moderately weird adults (Mr. 13D was quitting his job to “camp in Silverthorne” soon, while Mr. 13F kept muttering “fuck” and shaking his head mysteriously, paying no attention whatsoever to the view outside his coveted window seat).
Eventually we landed, without major incident, and went our separate ways, probably mostly smugly: “At least I have two gorgeous kids, a ring, and my good looks (Ms. 13B),” or “At least I’m going to Italy and my shoes are great (Mr. 13C),” or “After a few more flights I’m quitting my job to camp and I didn’t go completely insane on that flight even though I’m obviously teetering on the verge! (Mr. 13D),” or “Dude… Fuck… (Mr. 13F). Then there was me: “Wait, our bags are at which carousel? I wonder if my sister will be up for a drink yet…”