(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on June 21, 2012, in my “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)
Farewell, my lightly scratched and slightly fogged friend. Parting is such sweet sorrow. We’ll always have Paris. And Heathrow. And Chicago O’Hare.
It’s not you—it’s me. Like cigarettes and unlimited data plans, I can no longer afford you. Still, we had our moments, didn’t we? Remember when I could stuff my laptop under you? (That was when I could afford the extra bag.) Remember when I’d fall asleep on your plexi-glass shoulder? (That was before they charged fees for extra legroom.)
Remember when there was only one set of footprints? That was when I carried you—actually, your entire airline—out of bankruptcy in 2001.
Three weeks after the attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act. It provided grants, loan guarantees and tax waivers valued at $15 billion to save the airlines’ bacon. Your parent airline never liked me, though, and now they’ve figured out yet another way to keep us apart: extra fees for window seats. Parents can be cruel like that.
In retrospect, ours was a relationship doomed from the start. It started as a fling, a one-flight stand on the red-eye from Orlando. I was just coming off a long-term relationship with the aisle seat, where my legs dangled carelessly in the delicious open spaces only flight attendants dared to tread. After an ugly breakup caused by overbooking, we were thrown together amid the chaos of coach. Accustomed to being shoehorned like crayons in a box on every flight, the comfort of your concave embrace was a revelation.
How could I resist you? From the protection of the window seat, there were no more glares as passengers tripped over my feet in the aisle. I no longer worried about falling asleep on a stranger’s arm on long flights; instead, I rested my pillow against your vibrating hull. There were no more bruised knees from the beverage cart; no bonks on the head each time someone opened the overhead bin; no getting up every time passengers with teacup bladders needed to use the bathroom.
Alas, your parents (like the Capulets and Montagues before them) conspired to keep us apart. They started by charging for my second bag, then charging for the first. Soon they were weighing my bags and measuring my carry-ons. Upset we were still seeing each other, they took away my in-flight meal and hid the blankets and pillows. I had to pay extra for using my frequent flier points, then had to pay fees for using my phone to book those frequent flier points. I had pay for the lousy movies after purchasing the lousy headphones. On top of all this, I had to pay extra for the fuel. The fuel! That’s like renting a tuxedo and being charged a fee for using the fabric.
Let’s face it: your parents were always looking for a better match and a larger dowry. It’s become common practice to overbook flights and leave the poor souls at the reservations desk to explain that a “reservation” is a tenuous promise at best (just ask the Native Americans). Quite frankly, at this point you’re too high-maintenance. The reality is I settled for you because I couldn’t afford dating your sisters in business or first class. Besides, I can’t handle the pressure of whether to leave the window shade up or down, and other passengers hate me for my indecision. My wife is jealous of our relationship and resents being relegated to the pinched purgatory that is the middle seat.
If anything, it should be less expensive to sit at the window. We’re the ones who alert the rest of the plane to the weird creature out on the wing in mid-flight. (Or do you have to pay extra for the wing seat?) My biggest fear is that you’ll get over our breakup too quickly. According to a recent forecast from trade group Airlines for America, flights will be packed this summer. Your parents should be very happy—they’ll probably add a fee on oxygen by then.