Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For those of you at the back of the plane

These are some of the things I was reminded of this weekend. There's a difference between how friendly people are in New York and Canada, and there's differences between being at the back of the plane and the middle.

Having missed our connection because United couldn't fly into Newark because of a bit of weather, we were hoping for a decent dose of compensation when we did arrive in New York.

Not so.

United do the minimum they're required to by Federal regulations, which means they gave us two $10 meal vouchers each. That's wonderful in a city as cheap as New York, where a five star hotel room costs a dollar for a month and - oh, hold on. I grew more enraged as I considered how mean that was, especially as we'd paid the equivalent of a secondhand car for our tickets.

Still, my fury was dissipated by the natural friendliness and charm of everyone in Newark. Like the gloomy man at the travel assistance desk, who didn't want to speak more than a standoffish murmur to us when we asked where a telephone might be, or the dead-faced shop assistant who wouldn't give change for a dollar for the telephone, or the kindly genius who decided that it wasn't worth providing free wi-fi at the airport.

All little things, but when you've come from Canada, where people are cheery and helpful, and don't seem to regard every person in the airport as an impediment to their daily life, it doesn't count as a very good welcome to the country. And don't forget, to get my E-STA, I had to pay the US Government $14, of which $8 was for a fund to promote tourism. I just wish they could have spent the $8 on a few bits of paper with "Don't act like a prick" written on them and handed them out to people working with the public in Newark Arrivals. Or at least ask them to behave a bit less like standardised cliches of New Yorkers. New Jerseyers? Newarkers?

Still, we got a taxi over to Hoboken fine, into a land of gradually decaying old brick buildings, seemingly almost as old as the ancient taxi we rode in, piloted by a Red Bull sipping, monosyllabic woman. We ate and ate and ate, played with some French bulldogs (the chien du jour of New York) and then rolled over to Manhattan to sleep.

At Newark, we found we were in a new plane rather than the clapped out old 747 we flew into America ten days ago, and the second thing I noticed was the terrific amount of legroom we had. The first thing I noticed was the rabble of people carrying luggage almost as big as themselves onto the plane, and stuffing it in every crevice and overhead bin that they could.

This is something that people always seem to do when I'm flying out of the US. It's strange, because everywhere at check-in there are signs admonishing you not to bring any luggage on that doesn't fit their tiny dimensions. Perhaps it would infringe on the thirty-ninth amendment or somesuch: the right to bear enormous amounts of luggage because you're trying to avoid paying for hold baggage.

You don't have the awareness of those sorts of rights in Canada, so my wife gave a good blast of rage at a woman trying to take up all the luggage space above our seats with two enormous wheeled cases, and sent her packing. It can be convenient to have a five-foot tall disciplinarian to make people make room.

In a moment of dread and social awkwardness, I thought the woman with the enormous cases was going to be in our row, or the row behind, but having staked our territorial claim, she fled a long way back - what was going on at the back of the plane? Had somebody filled all the luggage space with souvenir Statues of Liberty? How many bags did everyone have?

Still, as I said, the second thing I noticed was that we had lots of legroom - my knees actually didn't touch the back of the seat in front of me. I found this remarkable, and then saw that we were in Economy Plus seating: it turns out that either to compensate us for our delay, or because they were the only available seats, we'd been upgraded. So that was nice: comfortable enough that although we always choose the cheapest airline, it would have been worthwhile to pay the extra few hundred dollars.

Also, the first time we hit turbulence, we heard this announcement:

An interesting fact about this aircraft is that in turbulence the rear of the plane moves around a lot and so we've discontinued service in economy at this time.

I was waiting for the flight attendant to sign off by yelling "because you losers should have paid more for your tickets!" but they refrained. Still, it's nice to know that the further towards the front you sit, the more chance you have of receiving your TV-tray dinner while there's a bit of rough air.


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