Right before the pandemic, I read an airline news story about a woman seated in coach who leaned back to relax and the man behind who punched her reclining seat during the entire flight.
Whatever happened to the friendly skies?
Pre-pandemic travel was mostly by air even between islands where you’d think watercraft would prevail. By the 1950s, most of us in Hawaii were flying instead of sailing, but I remember the older generation talking about traveling interisland by ship in “steerage.” My juvenile brain understood that this was the cheapest ticket and that they traveled with steers, which is to say, cattle.
I now know that steerage has nothing to do with cows and refers to the lowest part of the vessel where the steering apparatus is located. It was a relief to realize that my dear relatives didn’t boat to Oahu with bovines on their way to slaughter. But, animals or not, I can imagine all the below-deck puking by the time they cleared the Hilo breakwater.
Let’s turn to modern air travel, which is a royal pain in the butt, so I feel lucky that I did most of my traveling in younger days. We gussied up to board a plane back then, men in their best suit and tie, women in ancient accoutrements such as girdles, pantyhose and heels, to read, dine and nap as we traversed oceans and continents. The only entertainment was an energetic flight attendant performing a riveting rendition of ways to exit the aircraft in the event of a crash.
Nowadays, we’re herded like cattle into jets jammed with too many seats. As a small person, even I am uncomfortable in coach with cramped legroom and tiny ‘okole space. How do taller and wider passengers cope?
Not very well, as we return to the saga of a man punching the seat back of a woman just trying to relax.
Many of us have been squished in airline cabins, so two adults getting into a scuffle because of a reclining seat doesn’t surprise me, especially when those behind have to watch a movie inches away from their eyeballs. What about passengers overflowing their allotted space? Or taking off slippahs and hanging-ten between the seats? Or reeking with too much perfume or body odor?
Traveling by air these days may be faster but still provides us with puke-worthy opportunities.
I get accused of offering suggestions that nobody asked for, but never mind because I’m full of them. So here’s my proposal to airlines.
During the pandemic, you figured out ways to keep passengers safe by allowing more spacing between seats and rows. Please continue to do so as travel resumes. Ask your aircraft manufacturer to make seats reasonably roomy, comfortable, far enough apart and nonreclining so that we don’t have to fight each other for sacred space. You can’t fly so many at a time but air travel might return to a more civilized experience as they still are on international flights. Passengers might even sing praises and behave properly!
Until that happens, we can expect more altercations like the one described at the beginning of this column, with two customers trying to deal with a speedy but unnatural way to get from here to there.
Nowadays, if you want to be comfortable on a flight, you have to cough up more kala to fly first or business class. But most of us can’t, so coach has become the 21st century steerage.
How about giving us a break. It’s been a rough year.
Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears every other Monday.