In principle, I am on board with American Airlines’ new fly-nice exhortation.
Thoughtfulness and consideration are excellent qualities to bring on board a cramped flight. I try to bring them myself. I don’t recline my seat; I keep to my tiny space; I don’t bring stinky food on board. I am friendly to flight attendants and my seat mates; I don’t chat unless chatted to.
The campaign praises a Platonic ideal of “the world’s greatest fliers” — they fly American — and then describes what makes them great.
“It’s a skill and an attitude, a philosophy and a behavior,” the airline wrote approvingly when it launched the campaign recently. “It’s the ability to sleep anywhere, their head against a pillow or a much-loved, wadded up jacket. Always upbeat, great fliers make the best of their situation no matter where they’re sitting.”
A less-upbeat flier might take exception to defining “great fliers” by cheerfulness despite unpleasant flying conditions. If airlines provided more pleasant situations, passengers wouldn’t have to be the world’s greatest fliers to put up with them.
But I digress. It’s one of the practices the campaign lauds as air travel civility that has me opting out:
“They love the view, but they always ask before opening or closing the window shade.”
Here we must part ways.
I fly with that shade wide open. Every time.
I am an airplane sightseer, a cloud-gazer besotted by the view on a clear day. My in-flight entertainment is looking out the window.
I love looking out at the world I’m flying over. I choose a window seat expressly for that purpose. I check SeatGuru to make sure it isn’t over a wing that would block my view. If I can’t get a window seat, I will choose another flight.
And that shade must be up, because — well, just look.
At the farms below, a patchwork quilt of squares interspersed with the green circles created by center-pivot irrigation; at rivers cutting through the landscape like glittering snakes; at towering mountains expert climbers might reach on death-defying expeditions, but that you get to gaze at while sitting with your shoes off and sipping an aperitif.
And the clouds — fluffy pillows that look so close you think you could lay your head on them, billowing white towers threatening thunderstorms — I lose myself.
I sit there at 36,000 feet, wine in my glass and Stephen Sondheim on my headphones, look out at the limitless beauty of the Earth and sky and let my mind wander. I stare down at the vast empty spaces of the American West, bisected by an occasional narrow road, and wonder who lives there and what it would be like if I did.
What movie could compare?
It’s the last remaining pleasure of flying. One that’s free — and that the airlines can’t take away unless they start flying passengers in windowless cargo jets.
It mystifies me that other people don’t press their noses to the window. People pay big bucks for helicopter tours over New York City, but on many an ordinary flight into La Guardia, all you have to do for the picture-postcard tour of Manhattan is look down.
Still, to each his or her own way of dealing with air travel. If on-screen entertainment or working on your laptop is your preference, enjoy.
But do the rules of air travel civility oblige me to close my window shade if my seat mate wants to cut the glare on a screen or to darken the space for a nap?
I think not.
The window shade position is essential to me, but only tangential to my neighbors. Nappers can wear eye shades; laptop users can survive with a little glare.
But I can’t project my eyeballs outside the aircraft. The only way I get that Grand Tour of Planet Earth is if that shade is open.
I offer my seat mates an apology if my open window shade causes annoyance, and an invitation. If I see you eyeing the view from that middle or aisle seat, I will be glad to scooch back in my seat to give you a better look.
Barbara Brotman lives in Oak Park, Ill.