The plane: an Air Bus 340-600.
The Airline: Lufthansa.
The flight: Munich to Chicago. The final leg of my River Cruise holiday.
My seat: 53G. How can there be that many rows? All told, there are 58 rows of seats on this aircraft. I need an aisle seat because my fake knee is unstable, and I need to lead with my right, unreplaced knee. I had seat 32C, but Steve inadvertently forfeited it by trying to check me in from afar. The seat I was diverted to is flagged as undesirable on Seat Guru, but all airplane seats are challenging these days. I made it across the pond without a problem, the return was just more of the same, right?
This back section of seats is claustrophobic because the plane tapers, yet the airline maintains its 8 seat across configuration. Until the row behind me. This particular seat is compromised because the gear box for the entertainment system is in the kick space. Still, I was not worried about the constriction because I had every intention of sleeping my way back to Chicago.
This was not to be.
A family of four made its way to the seats in front of me. In fact, Mom sat in front of me and Dad slid into the window bench with his two kids. They had not purchased a seat for their daughter, who was clearly 3. Mom tried to stuff her overflow into the area beneath her seat, (my legroom) where my unused blanket and headset were already residing. (This was my only option besides holding them in my lap. The Airbus does not have a seat pocket on the back of the chair- it has a mesh holder for the Duty Free magazine.) Mom craned her neck around her seat to express her displeasure to me. Since the entertainment box took 50% of my foot space, I was not feeling generous. I gave her my coldest look. I was so shoehorned in, I could not retrieve these items if I wanted to. And I did not want to.
I had a bad feeling about the 10 hours ahead. I was right.
I have empathy for parents flying with young people. Been there, done that. I had recently travelled 4 hours with two grandchildren. We all pitched in to ensure that peace would reign. The parents were uber prepared and vigilant. They knew they would not be relaxing: they would be on duty. I was there as a safety net, thought they managed perfectly without me. Traveling as a family requires preparation, dedication and consideration. A flight of 9 hours 38 minutes may even call for Benadryl. It certainly calls for vigilance. Parents cannot count on seeing a movie or sleeping. It is a big undertaking. Sometimes earaches make a child erupt. I get that. All a fellow traveler asks is a good faith effort.
Alas, Annoying Family did not bring any tools to their in flight project. They boarded the plane with no books, toys, blankets or healthy treats. Definitely no Benadryl for the 3 year old girl posing as a 2 year old to get a free seat.
"Popi, Popi Popi" was her battle cry. Or shall I say scream? For almost 10 hours. Mom was able to recline her seat into my lap because "Popi Popi Popi" was the chosen parent. Mom plugged in her head set and checked out.
This is what she missed as she watched movies and slept:
Her daughter shed her shoes and socks and walked those feet up the chairback. Dangled them into the aisle for all to enjoy. Kicked the TV monitor on the seat back over and over. She screeched if her father talked to his son. She exploded if Popi went to the washroom and tried to follow in her bare feet. She stood on Popi's legs and faced the German traveler who was trying to ignore her in the seat behind. She reached over the seat back and stirred his wine, in the cup holder, with her fingers. (I admired the notion of the cup holder before this transgression). She snapped her own cup holder repeatedly after she noticed it was spring loaded.
She attempted to control what she perceived was a touch screen with her bare feet. Dad managed to recline as far back as possible and sleep for a time, snoring with zeal. Annoying Girl escaped, crawling into the aisle. When corralled, she thrashed her head into the seat in front of her, screaming at full volume. She demanded that her dad leave her row, and he complied, taking a position on the floor in the aisle. Laying down. She raised and lowered the shade despite the fact that most of the cabin was trying to sleep. Her brother played a video game at full volume without a headset. (Though he was a champ, by and large.) She demanded his I Pad by screaming and wailing, and Dad acquiesced. Sonny then was given a phone to play on and she was free to scream at her Dad to tune in something she liked. Fail. There was nothing loaded for her. Though she had no seat assignment, she wailed until she received meals. Demanded that Dad let her drink from a cup with a straw, then spilled her water all over her dad and the seat. This 3 year old dominated Dad and a flight crew, with deft control of pitch and volume. She made a long flight in a crowded cabin a Ring of Hell for all.
Because of my kitty corner vantage point, I saw this tyranny unfolding. The others in the cabin united in a desperate prisoner of war mentality. Whiskey became the order of the day. This flight was an amalgam of international travelers, mostly Germans. Germans like their shots and beers. I thought about it, but arriving home at 7 liquored up did not seem to be a good game plan. Only those with noise canceling headsets were spared. (Note to self: get some) The Annoying Family spoke Portuguese- I happened to see their Brazilian passports. They were in a communication bubble. The common language in the cabin was incredulous eye rolling and deep sighing. The flight crew was unsuccessful in their employment of the evil eye, and was stymied by the language barrier. And the cluelessness of these travelers. They stepped over Annoying Girl repeatedly to bring shots to my co-travelers. Whiskey is free on Lufthansa, and they were slinging it generously.
I am the sort of person who would adopt a crabby kid, and try to coax good moments from them. The language barrier prevented this, as did my raw nerve endings. I worked to create a backstory that would encourage forgiveness: perhaps she had special needs, or this was a new stepmom. As the hours wore on, I realized she was a brat, spoiled by Popi. I wanted to scold Mom and Dad. Or tell them they were raising a tyrannical brat. Again- No hablo Portuguese. Probably a good thing.
Mom had one last affront to civility as we hit the 7 hour mark in our flight. She gathered her waist length hair and dropped it over the seat back, so it could decorate my monitor. Her husband tenderly reached across the aisle and stroked her cheek. I swear, I wanted to throttle them both.
When the flight mercifully ended, all of us hostages trailed out. Little Annoying Girl insisted Popi carry her, using her well maintained screech. One tantrum for the road.
I contented myself with the notion that they would miss their connection, since customs was backed up beyond belief since it was the Friday evening ending Easter vacation. It really isn't like me to wish hardship upon another. But really, Popi and Company did not even try to civilize their behavior. What goes around comes around, Popi.
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