I have a pretty well-documented spirit for adventure. I’ve climbed 14,000 foot mountains, negotiated Class V whitewater, swum with sharks, and eaten bacon-wrapped hot dogs outside of Mexican night clubs. Every risk is calculated, but brings about a mild case of nerves. Generally, it’s not more than a bit of butterflies in the tummy and a healthy respect for whatever I’m doing. Perhaps fatherhood has made me a total pansy, but I was genuinely fearful of our first flight with Autumn.
A bit of background: I find commercial air travel to be one of the most un-dignified experiences to which we subject ourselves. And to be clear, I separate air travel from the simple act of flying, which I love. Without divulging any proprietary details, my billion-dollar idea looks something like [air travel] + [general anesthesia]. In my eyes, the average coach seat was designed for a smallish Pygmy with a penchant for self-abuse. They simply do not design airplanes for someone who is 6′ 4″ and somewhere north of twenty stone. I dream a little dream about the airlines someday offering a Husky Class seat. Until then, I’ll just have to suck it up (literally). Usually, I try to reach a quasi-meditative state where I transform the discomfort of my trappings into a soul-cleansing experience.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I approached our first flight with Autumn, a simple two-hopper to Montana for our friends’ wedding. Our little girl has a lot of energy, not to mention a set of lungs that would make the Four Tenors blush. Lately she’s taken to ear-piercing screams as a way of saying, “You’re boring me!”. How was this possibly going to work? Jody booked our flights using the GGMG-patented aisle-window technique, which bets the farm on an empty middle seat. Worst case scenario: the seat gets booked, and as your cellmate approaches you pinch the kid’s leg, get a good holler going and scare the other passenger into taking the window. It isn’t a tough sell, convincing someone to take a window seat when the alternative is having a crying baby passed back and forth across your lap like a bottle of Beam at a Skynyrd concert.
We three boarded our 7 a.m. flight from SFO with blankets, boppies and bottles in tow. I had a pocketful of cash to buy our neighbors as many Bloody Marys as they could handle. In the event that our row was fully booked, I had hopeful visions of a diminuitive Mexican grandma who wanted nothing more than to make googly eyes at Autumn throughout the flight. No such luck was necessary, because Jody’s scam plan worked; an empty seat and sleepy baby. Autumn was tired enough to sleep in Jody’s arms for the better part of both flights. Despite a very tight connection in Denver, we arrived in Billings intact, if a bit tired from our 4 a.m. waking.
Our return five days later was a bit less pleasant. We opted for an early afternoon departure to make our morning a bit less rushed. Unfortunately, Autumn didn’t nap well that morning and was in a sour mood by the time we boarded our first flight. The flight was fully booked so we squeezed three Pritchards into two seats, an ill-advised move at best. Autumn suffered like a champ, thanks in no small part to an accomodating flight crew and Jody’s immutable spirit.
As a parent, I guess you find the right time to tell your kids about some of the inequities of life: goldfish die, friends move away, and pain—in all its forms—is an inescapable part of the human condition. So at eight months we revealed to Autumn one universal truth: coach sucks.