I’m an avid scrounge of American Airlines AAdvantage miles. I earn miles in myriad ways — Citibank AAdvantage purchases, AAdvantage E-Shopping, AAdvantage Dining and paying to fly when I don’t want to cash in miles for short flights.
I became an enthusiastic user in 1994 when I was creative supervisor on the American Airlines AAdvantage program, overseeing 12 versions of the AAdvantage newsletter, mailed worldwide to almost five million people. When you sell the benefits of a frequent flyer program to customers for a number of years, you become a believer in what you sell.
Since that time, I’ve used miles to fly free many, many times, although “flying free” costs a whole lot more than it used to, both in miles and fees. American Airlines now greatly limits the number of low-mileage seats on each flight. However, you can find seats easily if you spend double the miles.
That’s why I sometimes wind up in Business/First seats because those tickets, if available, require the same amount of “double” miles as the more available coach seats.
Business/First seats were available for a recent trip to Portland to visit my son. I had an enjoyable flight inbound, but coming home I found myself next to a man from Alaska whom I had seen before we boarded. He had wandered about the gate lobby, seemingly delirious, perhaps on drugs, maybe schizophrenic. He made all kinds of loud arghhhhhhs and talked loudly to no one, although some women in the lobby thought he was funny.
You can imagine my surprise when he presented himself as my seatmate in row five of First Class. My face fell, and I asked him if this was indeed his seat. Unfortunately for me it was. I was suddenly quite frightened.
Once seated, the guy made all sorts of noises that I cannot duplicate in print. He also kept asking if someone in my family had died. Maybe that was a joke about the frown on my face, but I think he was sincere. He rambled about his son, said the young man had died from a drug overdose because, “nobody was there to show him the way,” he said.
“Nobody, nobody cared!” the man shouted. Then he yanked the back of the seat of the lady in front of him. She leaned over and told her husband, “Someone keeps pulling my seat.”
When the attendant served my seatmate nuts, he threw them on the floor. When she gave him a drink, he threw that on the floor. Problem was, he didn’t do this while she was watching. I asked him to pick up the glass and ice that were rolling beneath his feet. I should have left the mess there for the attendant to see, but I was afraid the liquid would head toward my computer bag.
The man acquiesced and picked up his glass, then he passed out for a time. He fell into a deep stupor and leaned over on me. Suddenly, his snoring head was on my breast. I pushed him off. He again asked, “Tell me! Tell me. Just tell me if someone died.” Then he told me again, his son had died, but no one, no one, no one cared. And then he moaned an anguished cry that made me feel sorry for him, but sorrier for myself having to sit beside him.
So much for the first class experience I had looked forward to. The man’s disruptive behavior continued until I could take no more. We were still in “seat belt fastened mode,” so I could not get up and talk to the attendant privately. I pushed the button. When the attendant came, I asked her please to ask this guy not to disturb me or the other passengers.
She looked at me like I was the crazy one. I became distressed. I adamantly told her about the nuts. I told her about the drink. I told her about the mumbling, the shouting, that he had passed out on me. I told her he yanked the lady’s seat in front of us. I told her I thought he was on drugs. She did not seem to believe me. That’s because the guy had a very gamey way of playing asleep whenever she was around. He clearly knew how to hide his aberrant behaviors.
She leaned over and asked the guy if he wanted a meal. He played like he was asleep.
I told the attendant, “Don’t give him a meal. He’ll throw it on the floor.”
She said, “Do you know this person?” I said a firm no. She asked the guy, “Sir, what happened to your nuts? Why are they on the floor?” He didn’t answer. She went back to the galley.
I felt stuck. I poked at the soba noodles and teriyaki she had plopped on my tray. I couldn’t eat, but I needed to eat. This was to be my only meal over nine hours, but I was afraid this man might suddenly go bonkers. Attack me. Who knew? Nobody seemed to care. Should I demand to speak to the captain? What are you supposed to do in a situation like this?
To the Rescue
Suddenly I noticed a tall female attendant and a male attendant come forward to the galley. Aha! The tall female came to my seat and whispered there was a seat in coach that was available. Aisle seat; no one in the middle. I took it.
The attendant helped me transfer, but what teed me off was that I was the one who had to make the move. This trip had cost me 50,000 miles.
“Oh, poor Pat,” you might say, but I had looked forward to this experience. I don’t always get to fly first class, and I hate the cattle car.
So back I went to seat 18D. The attendant came by to give me first-class service, a.k.a., free drinks, and she chatted about the guy up in row five. She wanted me to know that they now believed me. The first class attendant had engaged him in conversation and there were a quite few wires misfiring. “Absolutely no connection with reality,” the attendant said.
I felt vindicated. My bet is the man was on drugs. When he awoke one time, he shouted, “Wheeeeehew, that was some shit!” And then he yanked the lady’s seat in front of him.
That is the problem with addicts or schizophrenics. They do not have a grip on the world around them or any respect or care for the others who populate it. You can excuse that as mental illness, but when you have to put up with those behaviors, your patience runs thin.
When I headed off the flight, I tried to catch the eye of the first-class attendant but she was talking to the captain in a very animated tone. I overheard her say, “He absolutely refused to put on his seat belt!” I got a kick out of that. Now he was her problem.
I called the AAdvantage program after I got home and they returned 10,000 miles to my account for my bad experience. Not enough, exponentially, but at least something.
In the process, I learned that flying first class does not guarantee a pleasant travel experience. Too much depends on the person next to you, who may well be an addict or a nut. If he is, you are the one who will have to move. We cannot disturb the nuts, can we?