There are few air travel woes that rival getting the middle seat. For a long haul flight, it’s a brutal beginning or a crushing end to a trip. Very much like dealing with any tragedy, you’ll go through various stages of what is called, “Middle Seat Grief”.
Oh no. The bold letter B shines out, mocking you from your boarding pass next to an ominously large number. Do planes even have that many rows?! But it’s ok, because you’re positive; it’s not the middle seat. It can’t be. It’s probably one of those two seat jumbo jets. That would make sense. Bad things don’t happen to good people.
You scour your brain, rifling through memories trying to remember what karmapocalypse has led to this gigantic punishment. Perhaps this is the universe’s reprisal for laughing at that old lady falling down the stairs. No. That was her error; you were right to laugh. This is just a mistake.
You’ll just go and politely but sternly talk to the airline staff and make the case that forcing a soft shelled crab like you to be crammed between two random rocks for 25 hours is tantamount to human misery. This is fine; this is fixable.
Your polite but stern talk hasn’t gone well. The robotically attractive check-in woman taps away on her computer, creases her brow at the screen, taps some more, then turns to you and tells you that the plane is full.
Sickly smile. You’re positive she’s been typing to a colleague saying, “Just pretending to find this poor sap a seat. LOL!”
You want to grab them by their lovely mechanically pressed collar and tell them you know their little secret!! Oh that’ll be satisfying. Your anger boils up as you strop through security.
With s look that could kill, you almost dare the security guard to search you. It’s the same robotic employee who welcomes you aboard with a mocking smile. Then, all at once, your steely resolve breaks and like a child realising for the first time that everything dies, life seems meaningless.
You try once more, begging for any other seat – steerage even! I’ll protect the bags! – all dignity lost as you drop to your knees weeping. You can feel the judgemental eyes from the other passengers, but you don’t care. You give the attendant a sob story, throwing around lies like kidney disease and family tragedy. It’s Oscar winning, but the flight attendant sees through you like glass.
You sigh and begin the arduous journey back to the rear of the aircraft. The plane seems to be getting gloomier as you walk towards its darkened bowels. The other peasants begin unpacking for the long journey ahead. Head pillows, iPads, books…despair. You think about asking them to switch with you. You want to offer them all your money, all your belongings. My kingdom for an aisle seat!
When you arrive at your seat – it’s worse than you thought. Your flight companions are a grotesquely sweaty man in what appears to be a matching bright blue lycra Velcro tracksuit that both burns the retinas and takes a few years off your life, and what can only be described as an obese lady with in her forties with a distorted face and skin that protrudes over your armrest like cheese melted in the sun.
They both look up at you, a glob of contempt in their eyes. Clearly they were hoping for an empty middle seat and you’ve dashed their hopes.
You make it known that you want to sit down and they make no attempt to accommodate you. The walking lycra endorsement sucks in his gut in and you squeeze in between the two primordial life forms.
Dropping down into the seat, your elbow touches the flappy skin of the grotesque caricature on your left. It feels like a raw chicken breast, all squidgy and cold and rubbery. You swear that it’s hours before the plane finally takes off.
Velcro has already made his intentions clear by farting audibly. The smell will later be described to a therapist as she begins to unravel exactly where it all went downhill for you.
The plane takes off and things take a turn for the worse. The woman on your left adjusts in her seat and this seems to actually turn the plane. You fall into her and it’s like quicksand, your arm disappearing into the twilight zone that is her orbital largeness.
You apologise and she smiles coyly at you and returns to her stories. You’re thousands of feet in the air, but you’ve never felt so low. The meal trolley begins soon after and your two companions inhale their food with such gusto you’d have thought it was their last meal. Elbows are flying everywhere as their gigantic paws struggle with the tiny plastic cutlery. Lycra knocks over your micro-cup of orange juice. He issues a weak apology that is blanched further by the food that flies from his mouth as he says it.
Flight time remaining: 23hr 12 minutes.
Like a cow to slaughter, you’ve accepted your fate.
You rolled the dice and you paid the price. A calm has washed over you in the last eight hours or so.
Your personal bubble has long since popped. Once the fat lady’s snoring eclipsed the sound of the jet engine and the guy in lycra plugged in his headphones and began blasting hectic electronic dance music you could hear eight rows away, you hit a Zen moment.
You’ve accepted your fate. You’re a middle seat casualty now, and for that reason you’ll always the mental scars. You’ve accepted the things you can’t change. Ironically, even though you’re packed in tighter than tuna you’ve felt like you’ve really grown.