This weekend, I was on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles. It had been a while since I’d flown, so I was unprepared for the new charges with which airlines have been robbing customers.
At the ticket counter, I was made to pay twenty-five dollars to check in one piece of luggage, though the airline was kind enough to let me bring my purse along for free. If I wanted to watch the crap movie shown on the flight, I’d have to purchase headphones. And should I have the need to eat during the six-hour plus flight, I would be required to pay for a meal, forcing me to consider how much a piece of cardboard flavored lasagna and stale bread roll was worth to me.
“So, what exactly do I get on this flight?” I asked the check-in gal.
Usually when you’re a smartass to counter help, you get spit in your beverage or a lot of lip. But Ms. Check In simply looked at me, gave me an apologetic smile and said, “ummm,” which I knew meant, “nothin’, doll.”
Deciding to buy dinner in the airport, I went to one of those faux healthy fast food restaurants where you pay extra for the illusion that the meat on your sandwich may have come from a real-live animal. The sweet girl behind the counter offered me tap water when I cringed at the three dollar price tag for a bottle. She also tossed in a few extra mustard packets and directed me to a kiosk down the way where the chips were cheaper. When the customer beside me forked over four bucks for a chocolate chip cookie, the three of us shared looks of recognition and pain as if we were reunited siblings who’d been separated at birth.
However, I didn’t get such kindness at Starbucks, where I bought a six dollar cup of coffee and a muffin for which I needed to take out a loan. After being told the purchase price of a banana was a dollar and eighteen cents, I joked to the cashier, “what, does it vibrate?”
He didn’t think I was funny.
But the guy in line behind me did and I made my next airport friend. The two of us bonded over fuel charges and high-priced packs of bubblegum. We talked about his family’s struggles since both he and the wife were laid off. We spent an hour commiserating and supporting one another before getting on our respective flights. Parting was such sweet sorrow.
By the time I got on the plane, I wasn’t surprised to find one of the meager meals on offer was a cheese plate available for ten dollars. I half expected the flight attendant to announce, “if you’d like a flow of oxygen during your flight, you will be charged twenty dollars. There’s a thirty-dollar fee for disembarking from the plane upon landing. And all passengers in rows ten to fifteen must fellate the pilot before takeoff.”
I quickly became friends with the two other passengers in my row. The accountant beside me gave the woman in the next seat his headphones so she wouldn’t have to buy them, and I let him have my complementary soda so he could have an extra drink.
The accountant told me he had to make the long flight from LA to Boston at least twice a month because his office had been downsized and he was taking over other accounts.
“Have you at least had a chance to discover Boston?” I asked.
“I’m in and out,” he said. “I’d take extra time but can’t afford it. Maybe one day…”
There isn’t much more to wish for right now than for the world to get out of this economic dark hole. Still, there’s something encouraging about this shared struggle and sense of solidarity as we help each other or at least lend an ear.
The only party pooper on the flight was a southerner who couldn’t find space in the overhead bin so loudly complained how New Englanders are “a bunch of liberals, but not when it comes to sharing space.”
I thought about saying, “give us a break, jerk face. We’ve already given up so much.”
Instead, I cleared space for him in the bin above my seat, smiled and wished him a safe journey.