Flying internationally is a prime example of the continued separation of the classes. As the majority of us are herded to our seats, we pass the luxurious business and first class seats, opulent recliners and couches mocking the stock car seating in the rear of the plane. And somewhere, deep down inside, a small glimmer of hope begins to burn. A fleeting and simple desire for that one benevolent gift from the airport gods–an upgrade. Facing nearly twenty hours of flight time can cause one to become irritable and antisocial, clinging to that hidden hope, or even the small chance that the seat next to one’s own remains empty.
As I boarded my flight in Chicago, my hopes were dashed. A small and withered man was sitting in the seat next to mine, his legs neatly folded and baggage carefully stowed. We exchanged no words as I took my seat, and exhaustion overwhelmed as I drifted into a restless slumber. At some point near the middle of our flight, a flight attendant woke my elder companion and beckoned him into the elusive business class cabin. My jealousy gave way to some small sense of satisfaction in knowing that I could stretch out into the adjoining seat for the remainder of the flight.
To think that I was that close to getting the ever-elusive upgrade, that the gentleman in the seat next to mine had been chosen. Of course, it was only right that he, being older, be given priority, but still I was a bit envious. I attempted to console myself in sleep, and awkwardly leaned over the armrest for a few more minutes before once again rearranging myself in a vain struggle for comfort.
Immediately prior to beginning our descent into Zurich, the man returned, holding a neat bag of Swiss chocolate. To my surprise, he offered the chocolates to me in well-wishes for my assumed holidays in Europe. When I explained that I was actually returning from holidays in the U.S. to resume teaching in Tanzania, a small friendship was formed that kept us chatting cordially until landing in Zurich.
It may not be every day that the hope of an upgrade passes so closely, but it is also not every day that a kind old gentleman gives a bag of Swiss chocolates to a stranger. I say, count your blessings…and your chocolate!