Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Big girl, small plane

I am never more aware of the size of my body as I am when I fly. Especially now that I live in a small city and often have to travel on smaller planes. From the minute I step aboard, ducking my head just to make it through the door, hunched as I walk to my seat, I feel every eye on me. The flight attendants generally give me the sad-sorry eyes first, then the true awkwardness begins.

My head rubs the ceiling as I squish myself down the aisle. I pull my arms across my body, hugging my backpack for comfort, and feel the hairs on my head standing up from the static. Or maybe my hair stands up from sensing the anxiety of every person I pass? "You've got to be kidding. Don't you dare sit next to me!" their eyes shout. Some look right in my face, as if willing me away psychically. Others look down or fiddle with the seatback pocket; if they ignore me, don't face their fear of having to share with the giant, then I won't possibly take over their armrest. Usually there's some idiot with a comment, too. Something exceedingly unwitty like "Watch your head!" or "Hey, shorty!"

This is actually a SPACIOUS JetBlue seat. There was a good
quarter inch of space between my knee and that seatback bar.
The window seat means I'm crammed into a coffin-like space, but at least I have a place to lean my shoulder. Sitting in the aisle means my shoulder gets smacked by the drink cart at every pass and every hip of every person who has to use the bathroom.

Once I squoosh myself into my seat, there's my timid smile at the person next to me, my unspoken apology for my broad shoulders, long legs, and wide hips. And then my inward small prayer -- "Please, God, let this seatbelt fit" as I expand the little strap all the way to its limit, then exhale as it clicks. Whew.

I doesn't matter how big or small the person next to me is. My shoulders are wide enough that I have to pinch my arms into my lap to avoid spilling into my seatmate's personal space. One of the funniest things I've ever attempted was typing on my laptop in a tiny plane. Picture a t-rex on a laptop and you've got the gist. And I swear, even the smallest seatmate will have no qualms about usurping that armrest. In fact, usually the smaller seatmates take up the most space. I see it as a deliberate passive-aggressive attempt to show me that just because I can reach the tall shelf at the grocery store doesn't mean I get everything my way. On my last trip I sat next to a round little woman whose feet didn't even touch the floor, but her forearms were all over my space. I did not help her pull her luggage down from the overhead bin, either.

Believe it or not, the most enjoyable flights I've had were spent sitting next to an equally large person, someone with super long legs or a really broad chest. This means a whole lot of awkward jockeying for position in our first few moments together, then a lot of stiffness and awkward movements throughout the flight. But most of the time we realize we're in it together, and we can laugh a little. In these cases I usually offer to share snacks. Care for some jelly beans? Trail mix? Now it's okay if our arms touch throughout this entire cross country trip, right? Once a large seat-mate stiff-armed the seat in front of me through the entire hour-long flight to keep it off my knees. He was one of the most gallant men I've ever met!

Which brings me to the source of the most pain: the reclining seat in front of me. I don't need to go into detail on this because you get it by now. Just imagine that rigid wire that frames the seatback pocket pushing against your patella for 3+ hours. It's as painful as it sounds. Yet the real fun comes when the occupant of that seat can't get comfy because of the fat wallet in his back pocket, and he keeps jamming his seat into my knees so he can get settled. My shrieks of pain go unheard because his music is too loud in his ears.

The real irony is that I'm often spending $500 or so on a ticket. And I can't enjoy the fruity water and snacks I packed because they're under my feet, thanks to every available overhead space being filled by an oversized carry-on bag, and there's no way possible for me to bend enough to reach my own stuff. You know how they tell you to fold over your knees in case of emergency landing? No stinking way. I'm a goner.