If you are a parent who chooses to travel with their young children, flying becomes something you dread, knowing the trip will become of blur of some mixture of the following…
- dragging equipment (and children) through the airport, sweating from the exertion of it all
- explaining that your stroller bag isn’t some oversized suitcase you’re trying to sneak through security, but the FAA approved bag to protect your stroller from all the other bags under the plane
- inventing endless songs like “weeeee have a creeeeeping delay, a creeeeping delay, a creeeeeping delay….weeeee have a creeping delay, and if we don’t board soon mommy’s going to screeeeeeeeam” sung in your best perky pre-K teacher voice
- nonstop elmo on YOUR laptop/iPhone/whatever it takes to keep the child happy
- diaper changes in rooms so small that someone is going to smack their head on something before it’s over (and it’s a 50/50 chance as to who that will be)
- cursing when your child drops their toy for the millionth time and the person in front of you has reclined their seat
- convincing your child that airplane food is edible when you don’t actually believe it yourself
- a thousand other things I’ve repressed
So it’s truly difficult to convey in words what it is like to not only fly without a toddler, but to do so in an international first class seat that you didn’t even have to pay for (thank you, frequent flier miles).
Ironically, the flight that would take us to Hong Kong is the first leg of the same flight we use to go back to the US. So even though it was that time of day I like to refer to as “fuck-all o’clock in the morning,” it was immediately apparent and odd that Elanor was not with us. Perhaps the best analogy is phantom limb syndrome…as if some vital thing were missing. It was also incredibly liberating to know that I was free to zone out into a zombie-like state of exhaustion, given our all-nighter…packing had been finished at 1:30, just two hours before the taxi was due to arrive, and too late to bother with trying to get sleep (yes, you’d think frequent travelers like R and I would have our act together regarding packing, but no…).
Check-in, security, and immigration were all a breeze, not just because having a first class ticket cuts through a lot of bullshit and gets you into much shorter lines, but because I was wheelchair bound, we got to skip those shorter lines and cut through lines usually reserved for flight crew. Once we had done our usual circuit of that part of Changi (which involves glaring at the subpar Dunkin’ Donuts and their not-so-glazed donuts) we settled into the lounge. With Elanor, I generally prefer to skip the lounge (unless we have a longer layover) because she just wants to run around, and she’s not exactly quiet.
To be fair, these are things we always have available to us thanks to our frequent flier status. We just generally choose to not partake because of the toddler.
I had flown first class exactly once prior to this trip…on our honeymoon (which we also paid for out of Ravi’s stash of frequent flier miles). However, that trip had a slight damper placed upon it by my herniating a disk in my back just several weeks prior to the wedding and excruciating sciatica. Come to think of it, there was a wheelchair involved in that trip as well. Sigh. When we booked this flight we didn’t know if I would still be in a cast, if I’d need to have my foot elevated, or if I’d be walking at all. We did try to book business class, but those seats were all gone, so we went with first. I was lucky in that I was out of the cast, and while my leg is weak and the muscles sore, I could easily manage the small distance from the entrance of the plane to my seat with a crutch, and I’m not actively in pain, so I could enjoy my surroundings much more than I did five years ago.
The surroundings were worth enjoying….
Pretty close to heaven, at least in terms of travel…
Each seat is best described as an individual “pod” with a leather seat. The seat is capable of laying completely flat. You have two pillows and a soft microfiber/down-like blanket. There is a table that unfolds from the side and creates a real table. There is in-unit entertainment with something like 50+ movies and such to pick from, plus video games. There is an overhead light and a dedicated reading light positioned to be ideal when laying flat. There are the overhead compartments, but also 3 additional compartments build into the seat to store things you might need during the flight.
There is also free booze and free food. Scratch that…there’s a MENU of free food to pick from, even though the Singapore-Hong Kong leg is only 3-ish hours and barely merits beverage service back in coach (I know, I’ve been on that flight in coach).
On the way home, we were invited to the First Class Lounge, a lounge we don’t usually have access to. Some airports have only one lounge for high status fliers, business and first class passengers, and others (like Hong Kong) have two separate lounges; one for the high status fliers and business and one for First Class exclusively.
What does a first class lounge look like?
Two thoughts constantly chased each other around in my head on both of our flights…
1-It’s so weird/awesome/strange/quiet/bizzare to fly without Elanor
While I deeply enjoyed the experience of flying without a toddler to wrangle, it was weird to not have her along. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a flight where I could eat when I wanted to, sleeping was a viable option, I could have both headphones over my ears instead of keeping one ear constantly trained for noise from E (even when she’s sleeping), and where I could read for more than a few minutes without interruption.
2-This is so far from how I grew up/how I pictured my life that it’s like I’m living in an alternate universe
When I was a little girl I read stories about distant lands and dreamt of seeing them, but we didn’t have the money to go on vacations beyond visiting family in Maine. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 20, and I did a summer term abroad in France when I was 20. Before France, the farthest away I’d been was Washington DC, when I competed in a national Public Speaking event as the rep from Masssachusetts. The one vacation I’d managed to take on my own before meeting Ravi was to New Orleans, and involved a budget airline and a youth hostel.
At no point did I ever expect to have a life where I would get to live in a foreign country for real. Where I would travel enough to have frequent flier status. Where I’d ever see the inside of a first class cabin. It might sound cheesy, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have ended up where I have.
I couldn’t stop smiling on either flight.
I’m sure it will be many years before I get this sort of treat again, so I savored it.
However, I hope it won’t be another year plus before I get to enjoy flying without a child. Even in cramped coach, I’d be happy to be left to the solitude of my books and my music. On the other hand, on the 15-16 hours between Hong Kong and Chicago, at least E provides some distraction…because no matter how nice your seat is, 16 hours is a mind-numbingly long flight.
More about our trip in the days to come.