India: Up in the Air

There was a time when I made fun of frequent fliers, and therefore consultants - the most frequent of those fliers.  The obsessive tallying of miles, the selection of certain hotel and car rental chains to maximize loyalty points, the totally obvious annoyance with the general flying public.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the movie Up in the Air and in the scene where George Clooney and Vera Farminga discuss the merits of miles and compare loyalty cards.  My flight from Chicago to Frankfurt was very much of the same ilk.

Let's start with pre-boarding.  I raced to get to O'Hare three hours before departure so I could get settled in the United Club.  There was a time when I used the lounge to, um, lounge.  This time I had to set up shop and have a few conference calls before departure.  So there I am, on my phone, sitting in front of my iPad to watch a join.me session, while typing emails on the laptop.  Three screens and no shame for it.  What happened to Vanity Fair magazines and a nice plate of individual slices of cheese and crackers by the two-pack?

Now it's time to board.  I settle into my very deliberately-selected seat, 19E.  Bulkhead row, middle seat of the middle section.  Middle middle?  The horrors of it all, especially according to Mr. 19D.  Why would I pick middle middle at a bulkhead where you have no storage under the seat in front of you?  Because this is a solid seat in the coach cabin, people.  You get extra leg room and no one is walking over you to get out to the toilet.  Bundle in a blanket and you're nicely insulated from the constant aisle activity.  But this seemingly amateur mistake caused Mr. 19D to strike up conversation while boarding continued.  I'll spare you the details other than to say we spent 35 minutes discussing the pros and cons of different seats on planes and when to use your upgrades.  Answer?  Bulkheads are good but not the ones by the toilets, upgrades are meant for flights only over 10 hours, and socks are a must in achieving comfort for both you and your seat mates.

The plane takes off and I have since shifted to the vacant 19F.  You'd think the distance between Mr. 19D and me would shut down the conversation but no, it apparently opened the communication channels further.  I don't know what it is about middle-aged men on the Chicago-Frankfurt 2:20 flight but lord, are they chatty.  (My sample size is 2, so don't bet on my stats, but still.)  The last time I did this flight I sat next to a guy that talked my ear off for 5 of our 8 hours in the air.  We covered music preferences, his daughters applying to college, and how his wife gets to take advantage of his frequent flier status.  Well, press "repeat" on this soundtrack because that's basically what happened this time, too.

Over the course of 5 hours (again!), Mr. 19D proceeds to share the following with me:

  1. He's a professional sailboat racer and there's a much bigger presence for that in Europe, thus all the flying.
  2. Despite his loyalty to United and the many miles he logs annually, he's disgruntled with how many people now have "premier" status, which makes it increasingly difficult to get free upgrades.  Word.  But, he advises that I continue with the Lufthansa flights because their in-flight perks are usually more free-flowing.  I take note.
  3. He's friends with Helmut Jahn the architect, which only came up after he asked my what I did.  Two hours into the conversation.
  4. He has a son named Trevor and Trevor recently came in second place in the state geography bee.  Trevor lost to an Indian kid.  Upon learning I was en route to India, Mr. 19D asks why Indians are so good at fill-in-the-blank bees.  (See also: 2013 Spelling Bee)  I'm no expert on Indian education but we did have an interesting discussion about how learning behaviors and the overall approach to higher education varies wildly among cultures.
  5. He's married to Connie and Connie gets to take advantage of all his business class upgrades when they fly.  Lest you think chivalry is dead, strike up a conversation with a man on the Chicago-Frankfurt flight and you will likely hear how they take care of their wives - at least while airborne.
  6. Connie, Trevor, and Mr. 19D are building a home in Annapolis and it will be craftsmen style.  Their architect is kooky and 19D doesn't understand why they spend so much time discussing how soffits can be detailed.  You can be sure I took one for the architect team and spent a moment educating him on the importance of ceiling planes.
  7. Mr. 19D is a member of the Million Miler Club and actually showed me his member card.  He also knew exactly how many miles he needed to reach his lifetime flight goal.  Seriously, y'all, I practically had this conversation word for word.  But, the United Million Miler Club card is not carbon fibre or graphite; it's plastic.
Alex Goran: What is that, carbon fibre?
Ryan Bingham: Graphite.
Alex Goran: Oh, I love the weight.
Ryan Bingham: I was pretty excited the day that bad boy came in.
Alex Goran: I'll say. I put up pretty pedestrian numbers. 60 thousand a year, domestic.
Ryan Bingham: That's not bad.
Alex Goran: Don't patronize me. What's your total?
Ryan Bingham: It's a personal question.
Alex Goran: Please.
Ryan Bingham: And we hardly know each other.
Alex Goran: Come on, show some hubris. Come on, impress me. I bet it's huge.
Ryan Bingham: You have no idea.
Alex Goran: How big? What is it, this big? This big?
Ryan Bingham: I don't want to brag.
Alex Goran: Oh, come on! Come on.
Ryan Bingham: Let's just say I have a number in mind and I haven't hit it yet.

Ok, anyway, conversation goes on for the majority of the flight and while it passes the time, it sure doesn't help me in the sleep department.  I manage to step away to use the restroom and upon returning I seize the opportunity to don an eye mask and ear plugs to grab a nap.  We eventually land, depart, and bid each other safe travels.  Despite how much I now know about this guy, I never learned his name.  What I did learn, though, is that he's right about Lufthansa and its perks.  While boarding for Frankfurt-Mumbai, the automatic boarding pass scanner at the gate read my pass and paused, then spit out a little ticket telling me I had been upgraded to business class.  After having traveled through three cities in 24 hours and sleeping no more than 4 hours all the while, I swear, it felt like I just won big in Vegas.  

Airline loyalty is a slippery slope, indeed.  All it takes is one well-timed perk to suck you in for another year of indentured servitude.


Meigan said...

To combat the chatty seat mate, may I suggest investing (and it is an investment) in a pair of Bose Noise-cancelling headphones. They are truly amazing. I bought some for my husband for Christmas (gulping at the price tag) and he loves them. He and a woman next to him on a plane had a 30 second conversation praising how great they were. Then they each put their sets on and didn't speak a word for the rest of the trip. :)

Enjoy your trip.

Kate said...

Oh lady. I know how you feel!
I have perfected looking like a total bitch on an airplane, though, so no one talks to me. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails