When neighbours can’t get along they build fences. When airplane passengers can’t get along they hastily install a device that prevents the passenger in the seat in front from reclining. That passenger then throws a cup of water on the installer’s head, the plane is diverted, they’re both thrown off the flight, end of story.
In all the enraged commentary on this comedy skit aboard a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, none of the solutions offered — hammering spikes into the seat back, killing people who recline, self-injection with a 12-hour general anesthetic — included the obvious one.
Recline your own seat, sir, so that all seats the length of the plane look like falling dominoes in a suspended state. Everyone reclines, everyone shutters their personalities, hunkers down and endures. It’s a retro World War II attitude — we fight the Nazis until we’ve won and no sooner, we restrain ourselves until the plane lands — yet Americans seem to think it’s communism.
Passengers have briefly joined a team, a sweatpanted, line-sneaking, oversized-bag-stowing team. People, there is no “I” in “team.” There is no “I” in “airplane,” oh wait, yes there is, sorry.
When you fly, you can’t have everything you want because you’re already getting so much more, sitting in a chair that will get you to Barcelona in 10 hours at relatively minimal cost. Staff are paid to politely attend to you, and you have access to a washroom marginally better than a bucket. Life is good.
Not so long ago, an aspirational Atlantic-crosser would have had to sail on a craft made of balsa wood and a dream fed by nothing more than a scurvy preventative and a salt lick. When seasickness put up its pale trembling hand, passengers didn’t have a wax-lined bag with a twist-tie to seal the mess for eternity, they had a cloth cap that was ruined, just ruined. They shared a berth with thieves and buffalo hunters. The captain had a whip for emergencies.
And now we complain that the airline charges extra to check a bag. No it doesn’t. It charges a variety of sums for small services because Canadians worship the God of Cheap and if you give the number in one whack, we faint. So we are made to add up smaller numbers and sit in ever smaller harder seats.
Reclining the seat slightly is the one act of agency passengers have left, thanks to their own reluctance to pay a reasonable sum to cross the ocean lickety-split. I’m not saying that we should compare all modern problems to those of the 19th century but it does clear the mind.
I keep thinking of the Arizona shooting range owner defending handing an Uzi to a 9-year-old girl from New Jersey. She shot her instructor in the head with it. “This was a very mature young lady,” Sam Scarmardo told a reporter. “It was something high on her bucket list to do.”
Since when do 9-year-olds have “bucket lists” — things to do before you die—particularly ones that include submachine guns? Since when do grown men think they should have the only seat in a row of 40 that doesn’t recline? Who travels with a “Knee Defender”? It’s a Stand Your Ground law for legs.
In the U.S., little children do adult things — watch the online video of that child in grey T-shirt, pink shorts and running shoes with a fawn’s skinny legs trying to brace against the recoil — and adults dressed like children throw hissy fits on a plane.
When I was a child, my list of things to do before I died was to eat big marzipan, win the spelling bee, not be carsick, and grow up and get the hell out of Sioux Lookout. I did this. I note that as an adult, I have not greatly altered my list.
But American adult-children have different dreams. On TripAdvisor, 893 visitors, some Canadian, rated Bullets and Burgers, site of the Arizona killing, as “Excellent,” while 38 had quibbles. “Skip the grenade launcher, it’s really lame,” one man said. “This experience will forever be remembered as one of my manliest in my life,” said another.
I would describe these people as childish, especially the ones on their honeymoon. (Sorry, that is sexually weird.) You will be on my plane to Barcelona. I am dreading meeting you.
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