I recently got on a plane, and then got off. Unlike some people, it was voluntary. There were no dramatic events, no viral video opportunities; a passenger was not jabbed with a cattle prod because he didn't raise the tray.
There was one guy who almost asked a flight attendant to remove another passenger, though. That guy was me. But we'll get to that.
Getting through security was easy, because I'd been given TSA PreCheck for no apparent reason.
"Hello, random sir. Come this way to have all those supposedly important security procedures ignored."
"But I have liquids."
"Well, who among us doesn't at one time or the other? Now, you just put on this chain-mail vest as you go through the metal detector. Oh-oh, you've set it off. Must be the chain-mail vest. Well, take it off and be on your way then."
The plane I'd be boarding arrived on time. Everyone from that flight got off, and the crew vacuumed up all their disgusting mess so we could have a clean plane to pollute with our own disgusting mess. I swear there are people who look forward to flights so they can get some good, serious, toenail clipping time in.
The flight attendant went through her drill. It is the loneliest solo performance in the history of theater. Usually I'm wearing headphones, but this time I listened to what the recording was saying:
"While the plane is preparing for takeoff, please pretend to pay attention to the flight attendant with the game smile, going through the safety instructions. It's humiliating for her, standing in the aisle showing you how to put on a seat belt like it's 1962. She could put this around her neck and pull the strap until she's blue and you wouldn't notice.
"Whoever makes eye contact with her gets a free drink. Anyone? No? Well, thank you for choosing to fly with us today, even though we know it had everything to do with price and nothing to do with the brand we spend millions promoting. Do you even know which airline you're on? No.
"When we've reached cruising altitude we will be coming by with small pieces of shellac painted to look like pretzels."
Then there was cross-check and all-call, so the crew checked the crosses and called everything, and we were off and up into the soup.
I used to hate to fly, mostly because of the flying part. Every strange tortured whine made me wince, every patch of turbulence made me think the plane would break apart like a wet cookie in a toddler's hands, every bird that went into the engine made me think that might be trouble. I know. Silly. Flying is that most modern of events, a boring miracle.
If there's any thrill left, it's choosing your seat when you check in.
You can always upgrade to Platinum Preferred or Silver Privilege or Gold Reward or some such title that's supposed to make you feel better than the people in the back who spend the whole flight thinking, "I paid $327 to sit by a bathroom in constant use." These prestige levels come with early boarding, for those who want to spend as much time on the plane as possible.
I pass on the upgrade offers and say I'd just like to select my seat. But, hold on a minute ...
It seems I was one of the last people out of 180 to choose a seat. According to the chart, the only seats available were middle seats in the back 12 rows. Hell is the middle seat in the back. In ancient literature you were ferried to Hell across a river, and every seat was a middle seat in the back. Even the ones on the aisle. Don't ask, it's symbolic. Anyway, I'm not taking a middle seat in the back. So I agree to pay for something farther up.
Ah, but how much farther? Row 20, $19 more. Row 19, $24 more. Row 17, $42 more. Behold, the naked truth of arbitrary pricing revealed without shame! I chose Row 20, cursing the airline for making me feel like I wasn't the kind of guy who could afford Row 17.
When I got on the airplane, all those seats that weren't available for purchase, all those miserable seats in the back? They were empty. Even the aisle seats. It's almost as if I'd been subtly manipulated to pay more.
OK, lesson learned. But here's the thing: A guy from the wasteland of middle seats in the back saw there were open seats up front and he moved. "As long as they're empty," he grinned as he took Row 17's $42 seat for nothing. I was gripped with the sudden sense of unfairness, and my inner scold wanted to rat him out to the flight attendant.
But really. How pathetic, I thought. How small. What skin from my nose was taken? What harm was done? I was better than that. I would not let the pressures of air travel reduce me to the selfish beast we sometimes become. I'm on a plane — I can literally take the high road. I hate the way these pricing structures have made us see each other as commodities to be juggled and judged.
Besides, the flight attendant had already sent him back.