Monday, June 21, 2010

Now Boarding - All passengers big and small

My job requires me to travel. In fact, there have been times when I have felt like the George Clooney character (I had hoped that I may also resemble the megastar, but my wife laughed at that idea) in the movie, Up in the Air, spending more than my fair share of time in airports and hotels. While I have developed a system that has made travel as painless as possible, loading onto an airplane still poses challenges.

The first and most obvious challenge is that these trips create time and space away from my family. Now I could joke around and tell you that the traveling is a welcome reprieve from the challenges of family life, but the truth is I need a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be at home.” Every time I pack my luggage for another trip, it creates sadness in my heart. Although we have bought webcams and downloaded Skype (software that allows you to speak to a person over your computer, much like a telephone call, but with video) and I can see my family every day while I am traveling, it simply cannot replace the touch of a hug or a kiss on the cheek. I always miss my family when I am gone.

However, a less obvious challenge is simply dealing with my travel comfort. Let’s ignore the delays, the flight changes, the cancellations, and the hustling through terminals to reach my gate in time and let’s start with me. For those of you whom I have never met and may not be aware, I am not a small man. I am over 6 feet tall, I am over 200 pounds, and I have fairly broad shoulders. Now I have no idea who designed the seats in most airplanes, but I can tell you this, they did not have me in mind when they did. Finding my seat is always an exercise full of anxiety as I hope for the 98 lb. Olsen twin wannabe that will allow me some space and the ability to stretch my cramped legs. Unfortunately, in what I believe is a conspiracy by the airlines against those of us in the “plus size” category; I typically find a mirror image of me in the seat immediately adjacent to mine (big, bulky, and uncomfortably jammed into a seat too small for his XL frame). That moment when we lock eyes and we realize we are seat mates and we will be invading each other’s personal space for the next couple hours, you can literally feel the disappointment. To add salt to the wound, that 98 lb. Olsen twin wannabe I had hoped would be assigned to the seat next to me, will almost always sit in the seat directly in front of me, teasing me with what could have been.

Ultimately, we wiggle, squeeze and jam ourselves into the seats designed for someone half our size and use every means of technology and print media (magazines, newspapers, iPods, and even Sky-Mall Magazine) to help distract us from the fact that our elbows have declared war in an effort to gain control of the coveted, high-value real estate called the armrest. Despite my discomfort (and the ongoing elbow battle), the flight eventually takes off and my thoughts wander forward to my return home and time passes more quickly. When my flight lands on the return trip, nearly all of the challenges of travel disappear as I will soon be reconnected with my family. All I need now is for my luggage to arrive with me.

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