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My story of 'plane' misery

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Date published: 9/2/2001

THERE'S NOTHING like flying across the country and back to give you a seat-of-the-pants feel for the state of the U.S. airline industry.

I guess I'm not what you'd call a seasoned airline passenger. I've flown nine or 10 times in my life, mostly before the kids came along. I've discovered that it's not until you travel with children that you learn just how friendly or unfriendly the deregulated skies can be.

For those of us accustomed to vacationing in the not-so-far-off places that traveling by automobile affords, air travel is at once great fun and a major ordeal.

Having flown only once before a few years ago, our kids are now old enough to grasp the concept. Six-year-old Michael's eyes open wide as the huge Boeing 757 leaves the ground behind. He's fascinated that the clouds are soon below us, and asks if this means we're in heaven. It's a good question, I tell him, but while we might be pleased to get to heaven eventually, as far as I know we're not there yet.

Four-year-old Megan is equally excited in an adjacent window seat next to my wife. She remarks very confidently that she really likes this--"this," as best as we can figure, is the entire experience of flying.

Part of the reason our children enjoyed the flight is that they are small--the preferred size for anyone occupying a coach seat aboard an airliner. In an effort to pack the most possible paying passengers aboard an airplane, the airlines put the seats close together--far too close together.

As I had gotten seated with my son beside me, it occurred to me that anyone larger than another child would certainly leave me uncomfortably sandwiched for the next five hours. Soon my fear became flesh when down the aisle, ducking the overhead television screens, came the World's Largest Living Human.

Though I have assigned to him this unofficial title arbitrarily, I am certain that if anyone else actually holds the distinction, either this gentleman was overlooked or the contest was rigged.

As he sat down in the now-miniature seat next to me, I remained prepared to greet my fellow passenger, knowing that we would be living in intimate proximity for the duration of the flight. Having had all of the air squeezed out of my lungs, however, I was unable to speak.

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