In my writing class this semester, our teacher gives us a set of weekly prompts to respond to. A recent one was “The moment you realized your class.”
I believe she was referring realizing our place in the world in the larger sense, but it is also true that nothing makes you know your class (or lack thereof) like traveling in a plane. I think it’s also true that the longer your flight, the more you know your class.
A favorite story of Paul’s is how, arriving after a fourteen hour flight to Los Angeles from Melbourne, his plane sat on the runway for over an hour. just as he was feeling he could not bear to be on the plane for a minute more, the plane pulled up to the gate—ah the taste of freedom! Then, as he heard the plane doors open, the curtains separating the forward and the aft cabins were subtly closed. The first and business class passengers were allowed to disembark and board the commuter shuttle, while those in the main cabin were kept waiting. He usually ends his anecdote with, “Now I know what the Titanic passengers felt like on the lower decks with the ship was sinking and the metal gate came crashing down! It’s so unfair!”
The last time I made a trans-Pacific flight, I, too, was reminded of the Titanic. When we received our safety instructions for the flight:
In the unlikely event of a water landing, the “main cabin” was advised to use our seat cushions as flotation aids. This phraseology made my ears prick up. Is it just me, or is there a subtle difference between something that aids you in floating, and something that insures that you float? I know I’d be nervous if someone replaced the brakes in my car with something referred to as a stopping aid.
The flight attendant continued to talk us through our unlikely water scenario by, pointing out that the “forward cabins” were equipped with flotation devices. Interestingly these devices resmbled not so much seat cushions as LIFE JACKETS!
My imaginary scenario: As the Boeing 777 comes hurtling down into the ocean, every main cabin passenger makes it out of the exit door, down the inflatable slide, with our flotation aid / seat cushion hugged tightly to our chests, our arms wrapped through the straps as directed. After about 5 seconds in the icy Pacific, our limbs become too numb to flail, leaving us able to devote our full attention to the water as it steadily soaks through the tweed upholstery, then saturates every pore of the foam filling. As we watch, the seat cushions transform from flotation aids into heavy sodden masses that we don’t even have the strength to jettison as they pull us down beneath the waves.
Only minutes later, the rescue team arrives, snatching the most visible bodies from near death. Who are these most visible bodies? Why that would be the First and Business Class passengers, floating buoyantly on the water’ surface, wearing brightly colored life jackets. These are the people who will live to fly again—in First of Business Class of course. And who can fault the airlines for protecting their investments? The world is full of people trying to by $99 tickets from Seattle to Indianapolis…but those willing and able to spend ten times as much—those are assets worth keeping afloat!