I just returned from a river cruise. My third, in fact. The trip spanned ten days and began in Amsterdam. It ended in Basel, Switzerland. I will take it day by day and will try to touch on the many different aspects of the journey. Before we begin though let’s examine the harsh realities of air travel. Is it just me, or do people seem to lose all class and sensitivity upon boarding an aircraft?

From the basic passive-aggressive behaviors to the downright disgusting overtures, it is as if the act of embarking an airplane strips fine upstanding citizens of their human likeness and replaces it with traits that might be useful in a cockfighting arena. A rather fascinating nuance of this mid-flight phenomenon is the tendency for these animalistic tendencies to increase as one approaches the rear of the cabin.

The brass ring in air travel is, of course, the upgrade. Most of the time, those painstakingly accumulated miles rescue me from the hell that is economy class. If all else fails, I can usually pay for an upgrade at the airport. No such luck on this trek.

The outgoing trip had two legs, both on United Airlines. The first was a brief two and a half hour jaunt to Newark. This took place on a 737 where I nearly lost the use of my fingers when the passenger in front of me fully reclined his seat at mach speed. The seatbelt light had just gone dark as we were but a few minutes into the flight. I was engrossed in a book on my tablet when the seat in front of me came roaring back to collide with my hands. This led me to a lively debate with my travel companion.

Is it ever okay to fully recline one’s seat when traveling in economy? I know there are no hard and fast rules against it, technically speaking. However, doesn’t human decency trump the recline? I am one to avoid it at all costs because I feel that I am stealing the already stifled space that the fellow budget-conscious person behind me inhabits. How could I possibly justify making another’s experience worse for a fractional amount of quasi-comfort? Am I insane? Should I just go for it? Do these greedy recliners even consider the comfort of their fellow passengers? This was the meat of our debate. I am not sure we fully exhausted the topic, but we did make it to Newark on time.

We had three hours until our connecting flight to Amsterdam. This layover began with a trip to the duty free shop to load up on chocolate for the impending nine hour flight. Next, it was off to a restaurant called Saison. This was an interesting place. The hostess attempted to seat us but seemingly became distracted by something and disappeared. Not to be deterred, we bellied up to the bar. Each seat had a tablet for placing orders and several electrical outlets for charging devices. We placed our order as follows: one glass of French Rose for $11.25, one Stella Artois for $8.75, a shrimp cocktail for $20.00, a Prime dry-aged burger with swiss cheese for $20.55 and potato puree for $9.00. Once the order is placed, diners swipe their credit cards to pay and the order is sent on. A few moments later, a server brought the beverages. Thankfully, they were chilled because it was stiflingly hot in Saison. May in New Jersey is fairly mild, but without fans, ventilation or air conditioning it was a bit steamy. The food was delivered after about fifteen minutes in accordance with speedy airport culture. To be honest, it was pretty tasty…for airport food. The shrimp were very large and served on ice with fresh lemon and a wee bit of cocktail sauce. The potato puree (mashed potatoes) was smooth and creamy although lacking a bit in seasoning for my taste. The burger was juicy and cooked as ordered, medium rare. With gratuity this experience totaled $93.19.

With a solid measure of satisfaction, 100% battery power on all of our tech tools and full bellies, we moved on to Caps Beer Garden. This is an open air bar in the middle of the terminal. Again, we were greeted not by a server, but by a tablet. We placed our order of one glass of Australian Shiraz ($15) and one microbrew beer flight ($12) and swiped to pay. The drinks arrived a few moments later and we polished them off with a few minutes to spare before boarding.

This leg of the itinerary placed us rather happily in bulkhead seats with fingers intact. Even though we were delayed on the tarmac for an hour, the Ambien kicked in quickly and before we knew it we were in the land of tulips, red lights and coffee houses. The moral of the story might be that medicating oneself (with valid prescription only) is a viable means of avoiding inflight incivility.

Image of airplane view
Mid-flight to Amsterdam

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