Some people have traveler’s stomach. I have traveler’s luck. And by luck, I mean bad luck. Taking the New York City subway to work every day, my train inevitably gets held in the station for hours due to a sick passenger or a police investigation. Flying to Ireland, I get seated between the collicky infant and the man with the tiny bladder. Riding a Greyhound bus to Providence, Rhode Island, chances are the AC won’t work and the bus will break down. My traveler’s luck has trailed me on every trip I’ve taken … until recently.
It was on a trip to St. Kitts in the West Indies that I learned how to turn my coach seating accommodations into a comfortable and relaxing (maybe even slightly luxurious, although I may be pushing it) journey.
My flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico was departing NYC’s JFK International Airport on a rainy morning last October and as I sat in my cab, laden down with my luggage, I waited for my traveling troubles to begin.
I got to the American Airlines terminal to find a line bulging with strollers, stressed mommies, and bagged down daddies. It was moving so slowly that it appeared be going backward. That’s when I spotted a most beautiful sight: a completely vacant area of impersonal computer check-in stations.
I never think to use these as I want a live fleshy person to tell me that my plane will take me away on vacation, and that my nearly six-foot frame is assured an emergency exit seat so that way my knees are not jammed up the seat in front of me for six hours. Besides, I have enough pre-recorded customer service messages in my life between movie times and cell phone issues. The live fleshy person option seemed less appealing today (perhaps because she was obscured by many other live fleshy people).
As I tap the buttons on the screen, I realize just how easy this is. Load your frequent flier number into the system, scan your passport, give it your confirmation number, number of bags, check-in … hmmm, choose your seat. The emergency exits are taken, yet right in front of my own eyes (not those of a moody and unhelpful agent), I see the seating chart of the entire plane and the last ten rows are completely vacant. I look over my shoulders and proceed to select an empty row near the very back of the plane as if I was undertaking an illegal activity. I take my print out and pray that within the next hour, no one else has the same stroke of genius.
I scurry over to hand off my baggage only to find that, as always, I have managed to overpack, and my bags weigh more than the allotted fifty pounds. Instead of just handing over my credit card as I usually do, I decide that maybe I can catch a break.
Telling the agent that I am a frequent flier with an Advantage Card, I do my best to finagle the sourpuss woman standing before me. Flashing a winning smile never works, but I try it anyway and politely ask if the fee can be waived, being as we are only talking a few pounds over regulation here. She relaxes her prim posture and concedes with her own smile, saying it would not be problem. (I know; I can’t believe it either).
I board, and it appears that I am the only individual on the flight (and the one that will connect from San Juan to St. Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw airport) who even glanced at the aforementioned computerized seating chart. I have an entire row, four pillows, headsets, and blankets to myself. No children, no bladders, my curse has been lifted.
Four days of delicious cuisine, yummy cocktails, sightseeing, and tanning (more like sunburn-ing) in St. Kitts later, I find myself back at the airport wondering if my new luck, my new good luck, was too good to be true.
I visually scan the check-in area for another one of my impersonal, magic check-in machines and do not see one. I guess that being an island airport they don’t get the same traffic as JFK. I am freaking out and reluctantly approach the line. Once I reach the front, I put my aforementioned smile on my face and walk up to the clerk (who, mind you, has just been yelled at by another rather dissatisfied traveler). Just as she is about to print out my boarding pass, I ask her if there are any free seats available and if she can put me next to one. Yes, no problem.
Now after another comfortable flight with a whole extra seat for me to prop my legs on as I examine the sparkling crystal clear waters of the Caribbean while reading my Cosmo, I arrive in San Juan. After grabbing some Pizza Hut and perusing seatguru.com to see where I can best place myself on this last flight in order to maximize comfort, I board the plane.
Arriving at my aisle seat, I realize that I cannot view the mini television screen that is going to be showing Ocean’s 13 (Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon—all required inflight viewing). I also have a large-ish individual sitting next to me (and I am not trying to be rude, as I, myself, am of a larger persuasion), a child pounding on the back of my seat with her little legs before I even sit down and I am right next to the bathroom with its constant flushing noises and delightful odors.
My first class experience in coach was over.
The doors to the cabin close and I am prepared to meet my fate: payback.
Then I see nestled toward the back, an entire window-seat row… empty. Just for the taking. Another individual a few rows in back of me notices its beauty just as I do and makes his move. However, as he gets up after the fasten seat belt sign is flashing, the flight attendant asks him to remain seated.
I decide that in order to accomplish my goal and break my returning bad luck, I need to take a chance: I ask another more warm-looking flight attendant, who graciously offers to help my move my carry-on items to the vacant row.
Once again, bliss; but even better than the first few times because now I am not alone, I have Matt, Brad, and George to keep me company (but not take up any seat space). The onscreen action is more than enough to distract me from the searing looks that I receive from the gentleman who blew his chance at luxury in coach.
FYI, my luck has not transferred to the New York City subway system.