I read recently that airline passengers’ number one desire is kid-free flights. I’ve long felt the same way, but no more than on my way to the US this year to visit my family at Christmas. The following was what I wrote a half hour before landing.
For the last seven and a half hours I’ve been bouncing and shaking and literally vibrating as the six year old behind me kicks my seat, jabs my upper buttocks with his incessant feet, and pounds his meal tray, the one attached to the back of my seat. Not only that, between him and his toddler sister, I’ve had not fifteen seconds of transatlantic quiet. Before takeoff, I generously offered a nearby open seat to a nice young man who was sitting in the center seat, and he, perceptive fellow, already feeling the beginnings of sneaker toes embedded in his back, hopped right over there. Now, I hate the center seat; I once flew transatlantically between two fellows who knew each other and talked across me the whole way, so I genuinely wanted to help him out. But I can’t pretend my motives were altogether altruistic. I was hoping for an empty seat beside me for the extra room and perceived privacy. And then. (She sighs deeply.) And then about four hours into the already miserable flight (thanks to the Ritalin-deprived hyperactive munchkin behind me), the gentleman on the other aisle seat moved over next to me and let a woman, I suppose his wife judging by the way they don’t speak to one another but seem to share space and the daughter across the other aisle (who is now sleeping soundly on two seats), move into his former seat.
That was the trip from Europe to the US. Of course, I had to return home to La Belgique.
When I arrived at RDU and was checking in, I noticed a bulkhead seat open on the long leg from Philadelphia to Brussels. A BULKHEAD seat. The holy grail of coach class. $99. Cheapskate that I am, I asked the agent if he’d comp it to me. No, he couldn’t, but if I waited until just before boarding and check at the gate, they might, if it were still available. So I did just that. Just before boarding, I asked the agent if the bulkhead seat was open, and would she change me to it. Sure, no problem! She took my other boarding pass, the one with my exit row seat (exit row=extra leg room), ripped it up, and handed me the new one. I boarded, had a nice, uneventful flight to Philly, killed time in the airport, and headed to the gate for the flight to Brussels. I found my seat, stopped dead, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked at my boarding pass. 7A. I looked up at the seat label. 7A. No way; how was this happening? 7A was a window seat. A WINDOW seat! No exit row, no bulkhead, and possibly the most crowded row on the plane. I picked my lower jaw up off the floor and closed my mouth, shook the incredulity out of my head and turned to find the flight attendant. “Um, uummm… pardon me,” I said. I managed to politely ask her to investigate, and she did…and found nothing except that my seat was indeed 7A, window seat, not a premium seat, not an exit row, not a bulkhead. “I can find you an aisle seat, though,” she offered, and I gratefully accepted.
I know, I know, stupid, right? I asked for the change at RDU; I should’ve known to ask in Philadelphia. So live and learn, as usual.
I foresee a letter to US Airways in my future. A letter which makes clear my dismay at being told one thing and then having something altogether different happen, something entirely opposed to what I wanted. A very nice letter, and carefully worded to mention Mary, the helpful flight attendant, but which also mentions that I’m a dividend miles member and fly this airline at least once a year and often twice. And which also makes the suggestion that perhaps US Air might want to consider kid-free zones on transatlantic flights. And might offer that option to us for a nominal fee…