Flying in the Cheap Seats

Orlando, FL is a hotspot for business conferences. Floridians love to torture conference goers by letting us just look out sealed windows while we freeze in 64-degree air conditioning and admire palm trees from a distance.

This strategy is particularly effective for those of us from New England. We have vampire-like skin in the spring and have to avoid direct sunlight for at least another few months or we turn into Maine lobsters.

Thankfully, airlines are trying to make travel less painful and more efficient (they haven’t gotten their bailouts yet so they are exploring every angle to keep us flying).

My airline actually called me the day before I traveled—to ask if I wanted to check in over the phone. They promised me a quicker process if I’d just answer a few short questions. What a concept!

A warm but inauthentic electronic voice said, “Are you Kellie Wardman? Are you traveling at 10:10 am on May 6 to Orlando from Manchester?”

I said, “Yes!” and “Yes!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your last answer.”

“Yes!” I said again.

“Thank you. Was that a Yes?”

“Yes!”

“Will you be traveling with an infant in your lap?”

Well, that was a bizarre question. I would have been less surprised if it asked me for my social security number and a credit card. Friends were standing next to me, shaking their heads, saying, “Don’t tell them anything!”

“No.”

“Thank you. Was that a No?”

“Yes!”

“Thank you, you are all checked in.” That was it—the computer abruptly disconnected.

I went online the next morning to see if it worked. Miraculous! The airline site said I was already checked in.

The plane I boarded to Newark was a tiny one with a single row on one side and double row on the other. This layout never seems right. There had to be mountains of 12 gram pretzel stick packets heaped in the luggage compartment to make sure we wouldn’t end up at a vertigo tilt.

The flight attendant didn’t even ask any of us to move to balance the weight out—she didn’t seem to care. Maybe they put all the big-boned people in the single row.

But when we were buckled up, ready for takeoff, the sole flight attendant came up to my seat.

“Are you Kellie Wardman?”

I sat straighter in my seat. Wasn’t my seat in the perfect takeoff position? My Blackberry was off, my bag was stowed—my lip gloss was in a quart-sized bag. What more could they want?

“Yes?”

She peered at a computer printout in her hand, and looked back at me. “I don’t see an infant in your lap. You don’t have a baby with you?”

The guy sitting next to me and I both looked in my lap. No baby.

“Nope,” I said.

“Hmph!” She shrugged her shoulders, crossed something out on her paper, and turned away.

“Actually, I called after her, “she’s a bit fussy, so she’s in the overhead compartment.”

But the attendant didn’t hear me. She had already taken off at a clip down the aisle.

She was going to look for a baby in 13A.