Sunday, August 15, 2010

Balancing on the Throne at 20,000 feet

I fly coach. Those three words say a lot about my financial means and/or my willingness to spend those means. However, if a hierarchy of economic power is visible anywhere, it is on a commercial airline. There is first class (or “royalty”) and there is everybody else. Everybody else is technically called “business class,” which is a humorous effort to give those of us crammed into the small seats at the back of the plane a nod of respect. Nonetheless, the thin blue curtain that is pulled to divide the first class passengers and the “business class” sends a clear message – “we are better than you.”

Over the years, I have learned to accept this position in life. I will always be the guy folded into the medium size seat with the XL frame. However, sometimes, miracles happen. Sometimes a commoner marries a prince and sometimes a factory worker wins the lottery. I recently experienced just such divine intervention.

As I was checking in at my gate for my first flight of the day, I learned that our plane had experienced some mechanical issues (always a concerning statement to give to someone who is soon to be a passenger on said plane at 20,000+ feet) and we were going to be delayed an hour. When you are trying to make connections, this is the type of thing that can throw off your entire schedule, as was the case for me on this occasion. I was trying to make a meeting in Washington D.C. and was already on a tight schedule. This delay made certain I would miss it. I shared my disappointment with the man working my gate as he was arranging for me to catch the next available flight. He seemed to understand my plight, but offered no solutions to my dilemma.

When I asked him if I could at least get an aisle seat, he told me it was a full flight and he only had a window seat. I accepted his offer for the last remaining seat as it was the next fastest way to my destination. I thanked him and began the wait for my delayed, mechanically challenged aircraft.

It wasn’t until I was boarding my connector flight that I realized he had given me seat 1A. Now for those of you who fly, you know what that meant. Yes, I was on the other side of the curtain, I was in first class! This unnamed man at the gate had bumped me up to rub elbows with “royalty”. For the first time, as I took my seat, I wished my flight was longer as I wanted more time to bask in the glory of first class.

I learned you can get as much as you want to drink of anything you’d like for free. I don’t indulge, however, my seat mate, drank enough for the both of us. I simply enjoyed my Diet Coke out of a real glass. At one point, I felt the urge to visit the men’s room. As I moved to the front of the cabin, I was stopped by one of the flight attendants. She said, “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to use the one on the other side of the curtain.” Her co-worker, recognizing that I was royalty, interrupted her and said, “It’s okay, he’s up front,” (code for royalty). This flight attendant, immediately apologized for her misstep, apparently she had mistaken me for one of “them”. I accepted her apology overlooking this enormous insult as I excitedly stepped into the men’s room. I knew this would be a true “throne” as only “royalty” were allowed to use this space. To my great disappointment, this room looked just like the one I had visited so many times previously on the other side of the curtain. It was at that moment that I realized, no matter where you sit, the “throne” has a way of balancing out the world.

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