It’s never not humiliating: You’re boarding an airplane wearing all of your luggage (because you didn’t want to pay for a checked bag), banging your knee on armrests and knocking your roller board against seats as you pass the beautiful people with impeccable hair in first-class who are calmly sipping hot toddies as if sitting by a fireplace. Not to mention all the 4-year-olds with extra legroom they do not need staring at their iPads while you file into the communal corset otherwise known as coach. Ugh.
This is “airleetism.” Airplane + elitism. It’s the phenomenon of having an entire class war bubble up in your throat between your departure city and your destination. You may have a healthy self-worth in the real world. Maybe you’re even respected among your peers. But enter a fuselage and you’re instantly garbage. Accolades, triumphs, degrees—all of it goes out the window. (Except you can’t see the window unless you crane your neck, because you have a middle seat.)
Airleetism starts well before you board. It begins the moment you step into the airport. Are you a Platinum Gold Air Superior Best Comfort Traveler? No? Then stand in line for 30 extra minutes to check your bags. Did you pay for Special Security Keep-Your-Shoes-On Clearance? No? Then stand in line for an extra 45 minutes and take off your shoes so the agents don’t yell at you (as much). You said you weren’t Platinum Gold Air Superior Best Comfort, right? Well, do you want to pay $600 to board not last? No? OK, then you’re gonna board at the absolute last second before the plane takes off because you decided that $250 for a round trip on a glorified Greyhound was the max you’d spend. Oh, and BTW, there’s no more room for your carry-on and it’s too late to check it. You’re gonna have to tape it to the side of the plane and see what happens.
What don’t we have to check when we fly commercial without all the fancy upgrades? For those of us who aren’t flying in first-class Luxury Elite, Royalty Plus or whatever, we’re checking our integrity and our pride at the curb. We’re treated like livestock for something we actually paid for (but apparently not enough to be treated like an actual human).
Why do so many weird, headline-making outbursts happen on airplanes? Because people who are made to feel small—waiting in line after line only to be stuck in a middle seat with five Frozen snow globes on their lap—are already at their wits’ end when they lose their sh*t over a snotty flight attendant telling them they can’t use that bathroom because it’s reserved for the ten passengers (all sound asleep) in the front of the plane, so you’re gonna have to wait for the man who just ate two Happy Meals.
What makes airleetism even worse? You’re sharing such close quarters with the rest of humanity and you can’t help but hate every last one of them. Everyone becomes the enemy—people who unbuckle and stand up before the people in front of them? Jerks! People who ask other people to grab their bags? Entitled! People who TAKE THEIR TIME GETTING THEIR STUFF BEFORE DEPLANING?! Blasphemy!
While we can’t solve airleetism today (without giving up and paying to sit in first class), we can collectively make traveling in steerage coach a little better simply by treating each other a little more kindly—myself included. If I’m being honest, I’m rude to absolutely everyone I come into contact with on an airplane. I hate everyone. If you say hi to me on a plane, I will vow vengeance on your entire family for wasting my time. But if I could just drop the “woe is me” attitude and adopt the “woe is us” mentality, I’d remember that we’re all in this terrible thing together. None of us get free alcohol. None of us get to use the first-class bathroom. When the snack cart runs out of cookies early, we all suffer, not just me.
It’s really easy to get angry while flying. There are so many things to be mad about. But when smoke comes out my nostrils because an elderly man needed an extra minute to grab his cane from the overhead bin, that’s not airleetism, that’s just me losing my patience. Don’t lose more than you’ve already lost flying commercial.
Instead, pack some extra cookies, pay for the extra checked bag and wear slip-ons. Your dignity will be patiently waiting for you at your destination, along with your baggage.