Defining Personal Space at 40,000 Ft
We recently travelled from NYC to Rome via a 7.5 hr. layover in London’s Gatwick Airport aboard Norwegian Airlines…the transportation equivalent of a mixed metaphor. We chose that ridiculous itinerary because it offered a more economical option with a savings of more than $800 per round trip ticket over the direct route options.
As is typical these days, the plane was packed, resembling a flying sardine can. Every seat in Coach was occupied – the days of finding an unoccupied seat to allow you to stretch out and catch some zzzs are long gone.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years though is that flying continues to be very much a class-conscious experience. The airlines have made sure that the private turf of the elite passengers is well protected. Don’t even think about trying to use a toilet in the rarefied air in the front of the cabin and don’t get caught peering through the curtain to sneak a peek at the one percenters.
Defining public vs. private space in communal environs is particularly challenging on planes where there is so little real estate to go around. Being cooped up in such a small, crowded space cruising 40,000 ft above the earth with nowhere to go except up and down the aisles tends to accentuate the distinctions defining our space.
On this particular flight, we were relatively “fortunate” to be seated in the rear mid-section bulkhead located right behind the Gang of Four public restrooms which entitled us to the very enviable perquisite of being able to fully extend our legs.
As we took a stroll down the aisle to get the blood circulating in our extremities I was reminded just how little room all of the other poor schlubs had. And each tried valiantly to occupy their turf as comfortably as a 2′ x 2′ cubicle would allow – the wider and taller adults not as successfully as the pre-schoolers.
So I’m enjoying my good fortune and special leg room status when at 2 in the morning, as I had finally drifted off into some much-needed sleep, I was rudely awakened by a woman tripping over my feet.. “Excuse me,” she says as she awkwardly attempted to clear multiple hurdles and cut across from one side of the plane to the other in order to access an empty toilet. By virtue of the fact that we had rented this space for the duration of the flight, her action was a clear violation of my personal zone as she disregarded the unmarked delineation between public and private space.
The blame for this infraction is not all hers however – the engineers and executives at Boeing who designed and built the new Model 787 Dreamliner should have provided a public egress across the plane to allow for such maneuvers (as many large planes do) without making the passengers into space invaders. Norwegian Air which recently bought a bunch of these hundred million dollar babies, should have paid better attention to detail and requested an aisle to provide such access but that would have cost them the revenue for 3 tickets on every flight that plane will fly for the next 30 years and that’s some serious cash.
We probably should have gotten a hint of what was in store when the flight attendant informed me they had no pillows on board but they would be happy to sell me a blanket after they opened the General Store/Snack Bar.
Over the years I’ve managed to fly Business Class a handful of times and never cease to be amazed how different an experience it is. Clearly, the more comfortable seats, improved quality of the food and drink and better, more personal service have a lot to do with it… But the preservation of personal space as a contribution to the feeling of well-being can’t be dismissed.
And as luck would have it, our trip was extended several days due to a huge snow storm that hit the Eastern seaboard so we were “stranded” in Copenhagen (our connecting flight city on the return) for a few days. When we showed up for the re-booked return flight we were told that the flight was oversold and we’d been bumped to Premium Class! So the Tale of Two Cabins comes full circle as we were unexpectedly pampered with cocktails, comfortable seats and most importantly just enough personal space for a relaxing, hassle-free journey home.