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Flights of Fancy

Dear Front-of-the-Planers,

Let us introduce ourselves. We are those less-fortunate passengers who shuffle humbly past you toward the back of the plane, trying not to bump your proud shoulders with our awkward-sized carry-ons. Ultimately, we have the same destinations as you: Des Moines. O’ahu. Düsseldorf. But for now, we’re headed toward seats bolted so close together they might as well be spooning. Seats designed for people the size of Mary-Kate Olsen.

You go out of your way to avoid eye contact with us as we pass you, and we can’t blame you, really. Having been invited to board early, you’re deep, and I mean deep, into your SkyMall catalog and can’t tear your eyes from that Solar-Powered Mole Repeller. Sure. We get it.

Just so you know, though, we are looking at you. Checking you out from your smug face down to your exorbitant leg room. And we have something to tell you.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the captain has just turned off the no-bitching light, so get your eminent damned ears in their full upright position. We want to explain why we coach castaways are bitter about this whole two-caste seating arrangement. We want you to know why our resentment is at an altitude of 10,000 feet — and climbing.

Summer is travel time for Americans of all class distinctions, from those who’ve saved all year for the privilege of staying in some thin-walled motel room near a brat-teeming theme park to those who’ll be genuinely affronted when the bath towels in their Paris penthouse are faux Frette.

But airplanes don’t allow all types of vacationers to mingle. We airfare-scroungers are sequestered from you by a symbolic mesh curtain the flight attendants fling open and closed with extraordinary dramatic flair.

What on earth is going on up there? Medical exams? Bikini waxes? Lap dances?

Financially, maybe even socially, our two “cabins” are worlds apart. But actually, we’re sitting quite near you. We hear your real silverware clinking on your real china plates as we use our flaccid plastic knives to pry the Saran-wrapped dinner rolls out of our plastic Snak Paks.

We hear the stewardess — the same woman who just rolled her eyes when we asked for extra peanuts — offer you a bread basket with your meal. We hear her offer you a pillow. And a refill of shiraz. Now it’s coffee. Good god, does the woman ever shut up? We’re glad she doesn’t bug us all the time like that.

In truth, we know you’re not any happier than we are. Linen napkins and elbow room notwithstanding, time spent in first class is still wasted time. When we hit turbulence, is your ride less bumpy than ours? When we are late taking off, are you not late, too? When first-class toddlers kick the back of your seat, are you not just as inclined to send them outside to play?

And though our coach-class keisters are not allowed to touch your hoity-toity … um … toity, we know your lavatory is no less a poorly lit, germ-slick torture chamber than ours.

But it’s attitudes, not amenities, that make commercial air travel tolerable. And while we can see how VIP treatment would make you feel better about being stuck in an aluminum tube, we should warn you that staring at your elitist curtain hour after hour makes us cramped commoners cranky.

And as you exit the plane — ahead of us, naturally — remember that we are right behind you. And we are now united in our hostility toward you. And there are far more of us.

In other words, watch your pampered posteriors as you exit the aircraft, folks, as the balance of power may have shifted during flight.

Published inColumns

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