I must apologize for not getting back to this sooner. Alas, productivity around here has been in decline of late. (Click for a larger view of my excuse.)
Marked decline. (sigh)
And while this trend has allowed me ample opportunity to create a series of often blurry (Impressionistic) digital images which could be construed if the viewer felt generous as perfectly adequate homages to Mary Cassatt, it has interfered most seriously with my resolve to clean my studio and continue blogging my travel notes. Well, I shall attempt to get on with both pursuits now.
When last I visited this topic, I spoke of the thing that scared me most about traveling for the first time in twelve years, the experience of going through the new airport security wearing a transfemoral prosthesis. The next thing I worried about was the experience of actually flying in said prosthesis. (Obviously, I mean flying as a passenger, not a pilot or an individual projectile.)
My worries over this were better founded than my worries about security. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. I've had better rides on RTD buses from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. No, really, I have.
You must understand that I actually enjoy flying, that is, the act of going up into the sky in an airplane. I have never piloted one, but I have friends who are pilots, and I used to travel a lot for pleasure among other reasons. I have ridden aloft in tiny little Cessnas and gigantic Boeings with equal joy.
I did not really enjoy any of my flights on this last trip. They just weren't fun, you know? Not even slightly fun. They weren't awful, but there was just nothing joyful or adventurous or glamourous or even delightful about them. They were as dull, matter-of-fact, and uncomfortable as the Red Line during rush hour. And it wasn't just because I was stuck steaming in a Tupperware-like plastic suction socket for five hours, though honestly that didn't help.
Since I am not wealthy, nor is my true love, it was clear that I would have to fly coach. My sister recommended flying Jet Blue airlines because they are supposed to have such a lot of legroom. My sister is 5'2" tall and of trim, athletic physique. I am 5'7" tall and weigh 200 lbs. My hips, even with one buttcheek visibly atrophied (though not for lack of sitting on it), measure 46" around (49" if you measure around my suction socket). Standing up, they are about 14" across (18" if you include my suction socket poinking out away from my flesh at an odd angle, as it does when I stand still with my feet together). No, I don't understand how this can be; I can measure and count, but my geometrical figuring skills are weak at best. Anyway, more to the point for seating measurements, or for anyone who has to sit next to me, when seated I measure just about 23" across the widest part of my spread, including all poinking out bits.
Most industrial seating does not seem to be two feet wide per seat.
I didn't measure, but I have to say that the leather seating on Jet Blue, measured between armrests in the "down" position, does not seem to be two feet wide per seat. I believe at least one of my seatmates on the flight from Long Beach to JFK and from JFK to Logan, the one who couldn't actually put his armrest all the way down because my thigh flesh was in the way, would back me up on this.
Now, it's true that the last time I got on a plane, I did not measure 23" across the widest part of my spread, nor was I wearing an artificial limb. But the last time I got on a plane I also sat in the middle all the way, on a red-eye from California to Chicago and then on to Boston. And you know what? That was more fun -- and more comfortable -- than this. For one thing, it was quiet. For another, the seat was soft and not sticky.
The leather seats on my most recent flights did not flex or breathe or cushion. They are probably stronger and more sanitary than upholstered seating and easier and cheaper for the airline to maintain, but they were not particularly comfortable for this plump, transfemoral prosthetic-wearing passenger. This is ironic since they are sold to every potential customer, and then remarketed over and over again during the flight with overt in-cabin messaging, as being quite luxurious.
The cabin on each flight I took twelve years ago was insulated so that I was not constantly sanded through the ears with the whine of the engines, nor was I forced to listen to overflow from other people's headsets. On each Jet Blue flight I took this month, not only did I have to wear earplugs against the engine sound alone, there was tremendous sound spillage from other people's headphones. It was loud and constant. The headphones the flight attendants hand out are painful to wear and not very sophisticated acoustically, so people who haven't brought their own posh sets turn the volume on their personal in-flight TVs up very loud to be able to hear at all. And all there is to watch is freakin' commercial television, or you can pay extra to watch one of two recent movies without ads. This opportunity, the opportunity to watch commercial television or a movie really, really loud and/or listen unrelievedly to other people doing so over the noise of the plane itself is also sold to the passenger as a luxury experience. A luxury experience does not include commercials, IMO. Or horrible, unabating noise.
I did not use the TV or the headset going to California, but I tried to do so on the way back because I'd finished my Frida Kahlo book and also had accidentally packed all my others in the checked luggage (stupid stupid stupid). There was nothing on, though, not for the whole five or six hours going from one coast to another. I had almost nothing but commercials blasting in my ears, oh, and 45 unintelligible minutes of a BBC America rerun, an episode of Wild At Heart that I had not ever wanted to watch, but at least it wasn't Fox News, movie star chat, or sports.
The flight attendants were decent between Logan and Long Beach and between Long Beach and JFK; the flight attendants between JFK and Logan were snide and silly, but I think they were also very, very tired. As promised, there were free snacks, upper quality vending machine type stuff carried around in a big basket.
Are you old enough to remember when flying was fun? When people used to dress elegantly, when the flight attendants were nice to everyone most of the time, when there was enough room in a plane to be comfortable sitting but also to get up and walk around? When the captain would interrupt the flight to point out neat things to look at out of the window or have a geeky little quiz or something?
Now it's just transport, just really boring transport slightly more comfortable than a metropolitan bus and less comfortable than a commuter train, packed full of cramped, pressed, and just generally inconvenienced people, sometimes including the staff. Everyone is just So Hassled, and it isn't just the security thing. It's everything. The glamour is gone. The pleasure is gone. The windows are so small now that you can't see out of them unless you sit next to them. The constant marketing assuring us that we are in fact having A Great Time! has more than doubled, as have the number of brands to assault us in flight. DirecTV. Dunkin' Donuts. Nabisco. Argh.
I guess it's different in First Class or what is now called Business Class, but I have never been able to afford to fly that way, and anyway, it seems like those are now just about as good as flying coach used to be when I was seven years old -- at three or four times the price of flying coach now.
Okay, I realize I'm just whining at this point. Or wailing. Justifiably or not, you can't be interested unless you want to get some whining in, too. (Feel free; that's what comments are for.) There was some useful stuff I learned about the new flying, though, you know, for next time -- though next time I think I'll seriously consider taking a train or a boat, at the very least a different airline.
First of all, never never never never never get a stopover at JFK, especially not in the middle of the night. You do not want one. No. You do not. Pay extra or get up earlier, but for the love of yourself and anyone who's agreed to meet you at the airport when you finally get to your destination, go a different way.
When I was checking my luggage in Long Beach, I mentioned my stopover to the airline employee and asked if the gate for the connecting flight would be far away. "It shouldn't be. It should just be the next one over," she told me.
When I arrived at JFK at 10:00 p.m., we were told our flight had been redirected to a different terminal. Now this was an inconvenience for everyone, of course. But not everyone had been sitting in a rigid, Tupperware-like, plastic suction socket getting progressively more and more cramped, chafed, and swollen the entire first leg of the journey, as I had. This had not happened to me on the way to California, possibly because the person who had reserved the window seat never showed up, so my seatmate and I got to share three seats between the two of us, giving us both plenty of room to stretch out in a kind of sharply angled way. However, everybody showed up for both my return flights, which meant there was not a spare inch for stretching in any direction, and the cabin got very warm, and the seats got very warm, and before I knew it I was very, very uncomfortable in ways that would not be improved by a long walk through an airport in the middle of the night, in ways that would only be improved by me getting out of my leg and lying naked in a cool bath or an air conditioned room for a few hours.
I walked and walked and walked. I walked as directed to a shuttle stop. I was loaded along with way too many other people into a standing-room-only transport and driven to another wing of the airport. I got off the transport and walked. And walked. And walked and walked and walked. All the way at the opposite end of this wing from where we had been dropped off was the gate. And what did I get to do when I got to this crowded, hot, dirty place? Sit in a plastic chair for another half hour and swell and chafe some more.
Ugh. Don't do it. Don't set yourself up for more of the same if you can at all help it.
Another thing I learned is that I never ever want to use another bathroom on a Jet Blue airplane, and perhaps not any airplane. I learned this within a half hour of taking off on the first flight, the one from Logan to Long Beach. See, the flight attendants had put ice in the sink of the restroom. When the plane took off, the melting ice and a lot of water went all over the floor of the restroom, enough to pool there. No one cleaned it up. When I went to use the restroom, I had to take off my leg, keep my shorts, suspension belt, and underwear off the wet floor, and also toilet myself in a space smaller than my pantry. I put paper towels on the floor to be helpful to others, but one stuck to the bottom of the shoe on my fake foot, so I was like a walking junior high joke as I tried to get it off while explaining about the water to the guy next in line to use the restroom. I tried to tell the flight attendant about the problem, but he couldn't hear me, so I had to shout it really loudly so that everyone in five rows could hear our conversation. I pled with him to mop up the mess, but he seemed to feel that just explaining to me what had happened to cause the mess should be good enough, and then I ended up saying, "But where am I supposed to put my pants while I'm using the toilet?" really, really loud. I think everyone else enjoyed that nearly as much as I did.
I didn't drink another drop of liquid until twenty minutes before landing, and I didn't drink anything or use the restroom even once on the flight between Long Beach and Logan, which left me both having to pee desperately when we landed at JFK and desperately thirsty. (I'm sure I smelled good, too.)
Really, flying just isn't as fun as it used to be. In the future, I will avoid stopovers, airplane restrooms, and leather seating, and I would advise you to as well, especially if you are also a transfemoral amputee wearing a suction socket.
I will also avoid expectations of joy while aboard any commercial flight. It will just be better that way.
Okay, I'm going back to cleaning my studio. Stay tuned for part three another day, hopefully soon. It's the revelatory part, and the most personal part, complete with third act transformation, possibly ill-advised.
And as usual, if you wish to add something, contradict something, pat me on the head (verbally) and say "poor baby," or slap me around (again strictly verbally) and tell me to "buck up" (though I really don't recommend that one), feel free to let 'er rip in comments.