FLYING HIGH Elizabeth Willis Barrett Written March 10, 1991—Revised May 1, 2011
Sitting here in the Nashville airport waiting for my flight to leave, I am reminded of my many years of air travel—an opportunity connected with my dad working for Frontier Airlines nearly all my life. When I was little we rode on prop jets that bounced and tossed and generally stunk due in most part to the smoking that was allowed on all flights. The smokers were supposed to sit in the back, but that only allowed all the smoke to come forward, engulfing us with a strong urge to throw up. I always made sure the burp bag was directly in front of me where it belonged in the pouch of the seat ahead. I learned to grab it first thing and be ready from an incident I’m not proud of. I felt a heave coming on and instead of reaching for my own burp bag, unaccountably I reached across the aisle for the burp bag in front of my mom. Before I could grab it, I spewed all over the aisle. It was not a welcomed occurrence for the poor stewardess. My little sister, Maxine, had her own unique method of keeping the smell away so she wouldn’t throw up. She’d carry a handkerchief doused in perfume and keep it over her nose. It wasn’t always successful.
After locating the burp bag, I’d next grab a pillow and blanket. Sleeping would make the flight go a lot faster and it got awfully cold up there. There seemed to be a lot more room on airplanes then. The seats were in twos instead of threes and there was space for your knees. And if no one was sitting next to me I could take out the middle arm rest and actually lie down. When we’d finally get to our destination, I was a crumpled mess, but it was worth it.
When the flight got airborne, the stewardess would pass out gum to chew so our ears wouldn’t pop. Then would come the 7-up and peanuts and always a meal, which, if I remember correctly, was pretty tasty air fare.
Whenever I would fly alone, I would be encouraged by loving parents to get out of my shell and try to converse with the stewardesses. I’d try, but it was very awkward, since as a youth I couldn’t think of anything at all to say that an adult would want to hear. On one occasion, I asked the nearby stewardess if that was the Great Salt Lake I could see from the window. “No, that’s just the sky,” she answered. I figured from then on I had every right to remain silent if I chose. I’m still not good at small talk.
Usually we’d get to sit in the first class section but sometimes we’d have to give up those seats to those who had rightfully paid for them. It was very humiliating to be bumped down to coach. There’s a scripture about that somewhere, I think.
Because we were non-paying customers, we always had to be the very last ones on and, to be polite, the very last ones off. The most dreaded words we could hear were “Sorry, but the plane is full.” Lots of times we got bumped off in Farmington, New Mexico or Grand Junction, Colorado which is odd when we were headed for Salt Lake City, but that was the route Frontier took.
Flying “non-rev” was nerve-racking, but it allowed our family to go places we never could have gone like the New York World’s Fair, Washington D.C. and Hawaii. It got me up and back from BYU many times, too.
Well, it’s time to board. Now that I’m forced to be a paying customer, I’ll go straight to coach and sit squished between two other impatient passengers. There’ll be barely enough room to breathe, much less lie down. I’m too embarrassed to wrap up with a pillow and blanket and they don’t give out gum anymore. Just for old times’ sake, though, I’m going to grab a burp bag just in case.