Lacking status, I was unable to choose a seat assignment at booking. At check-in, my seat assignment was 36C, an aisle seat in the next-to-last row for the first long leg of the flight, on an A320 operated by United with 138 seats — 90 in basic economy, where the seats had a paltry 31 inches of legroom.
Boarding with a coach ticket, bereft of status, is an exercise in knowing one’s humble place these days. You wait there, listening to the gate agent summoning the ranks into formation, starting with first class, working through the elite-status levels, then to the travelers holding various airline-branded credit cards. Medieval theologians who devised the ranks of heavenly hosts in the Celestial Hierarchy — seraphim and cherubim first, common angels last — used a simpler formula.
When I finally made it to the jetway at the tail end of the line, an airline employee blocked my way. “You need to gate-check that,” she said, grabbing my small backpack and slapping a tag on it.
More surprises awaited after takeoff. In the seat next to me was a man with a very large child on his lap. The child kept hitting me, which is a lot to put up with in cramped conditions on a four-hour flight. There were two lavatories in the back of the plane, one of which the flight attendants declared was “broken.”