My family likes to travel. We love basking in the beauty of breathtaking scenery, as well as meeting frum Jews wherever we can find them. It’s an expensive hobby, so we try to keep costs down where we can. We book the cheapest flights possible, often with one or more stopovers, and we happily volunteer to be bumped from our flights when our schedules permit. We don’t order seats, and we take a minimal amount of baggage so as not to incur additional fees. Our accommodations are not usually of the highest standards, and our family subsists mainly on peanut butter and tuna sandwiches. We view ourselves as simple people with a strong desire to broaden ourselves and see the world.
My husband has reason to travel to the US from our home in Israel on a fairly regular basis. With all of his traveling, he managed to rack up quite a number of miles, which automatically granted him preferred status. My husband was aware of this but did not realize what the ramifications of his new status would be. On our most recent family trip, we were surprised to find ourselves in the sky priority category. Among other things, this translated into waiting on shorter lines and being seated in a much more comfortable area of the plane. After a major triage episode moments before we left for the airport, during which we discarded a significant portion of the contents of our suitcases out of fear of surpassing the weight limit, we were told that the weight limit does not apply to priority passengers. This new status literally saved us when one of our flights was canceled. The airline asked that we wait to travel the next day but such a delay would have eaten way too much into our trip. But with our magic charm of preferred status we were quickly rerouted to our destination with only two short stopovers. It was far from the ideal but certainly better than the alternative – and another opportunity to sit in the priority lounge.
We are not upper-class people. As a matter of fact, I would say that we don’t have much class at all. We cover our Shabbos table with a plastic tablecloth, we have no qualms about setting our table with mismatched dishes and cutlery, we serve croutons and horseradish in their original containers, and we’ve never ever owned a set of stemware. So, the royal treatment felt a bit strange to us.
At first, we enjoyed all the perks we received from the airline. We were able to check in very quickly. Each member of the family had a turn to accompany my husband into the priority lounge, which was an experience in and of itself. They were able to relax in a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the airport and indulge in whatever kosher food they could find. When it was my turn in the lounge, I sheepishly returned our cups and wrappers to the table we sat at when I was unable to find a garbage pail as I attempted to clear our table. Apparently, sky priority passengers are not supposed to clean up after themselves. Live and learn.
It was quite fun to see how the other half lives, but ever so slowly a sense of unease began to set in as we walked past the long line of people waiting to board the plane. Who were we to go ahead of them? I wish I would have photographed the expression on my kids’ faces when we found ourselves in the business section of the plane. A bottle of water, earphones, and a cushy pillow and blanket were invitingly waiting on our seats. Our seats were designed for utmost comfort with a lamp, screen, and footrest, all adjustable so that we could move them around to just the perfect angle. My kids wasted no time figuring out the function of the many buttons that surrounded them. Within minutes, the crew began to wait on us, bringing out all sorts of goodies every few minutes. It began with alcoholic beverages, and moved on to Wi-Fi vouchers, and a pampering kit all in quick succession. The kit was filled with a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, an eye shade, and skin cream – everything necessary to make us “important” people feel comfortable over the flight. Our lack of ease gradually morphed into discomfort, as the passengers boarding the plane passed us by as they headed to the less comfortable section of the plane, while we were treated like kings and queens. Who were we to deserve to be pampered any more than anyone else on the plane? Were we really so special that we deserved to have the pilot announce a special welcome to priority passengers? That was actually comical. But it was downright embarrassing, as all the passengers walked past us toward the back of the plane. By the time a rav we know from our community stepped onto the plane with his wife and children and headed towards the back, we were ready to hide under our seats! How could we be sitting in luxury while this teacher of Torah headed back to the sardine section of the plane? Something was very wrong with this picture. When we arrived at the destination of our stopover, I was quick to explain to the rebbetzin that we did not request to sit in that section of the plane. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with flying in business class. It’s just not who we are. We’re regular people. The rebbetzin was quick to reassure me that there was no need to explain.
For the final leg of our trip, our preferred status did not grant us preferred seating. We sat in the back of the plane with many families with little children (bli ayin ha’ra) who were returning to Israel in time for Elul z’man. The screaming was incessant as the parents tried to feed, entertain, and calm their little ones. We were back in our element. We did not have the creature comforts that we had on our previous flight, yet we were more comfortable than we had been on that flight. We had no roomy seats. No pillows. No blankets. No flight attendants waiting on us, hand and foot. No screens whatsoever. But we finally felt at home as we headed back to our real home in Eretz Yisrael.
Reprinted with the permission of The Jewish Press
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.