Someone Has to be in the Middle

Uzbekistan Airways Boarding Pass

I looked at my boarding pass. 8B. Smack in the middle like the white of an Oreo cream cookie, only not yummy.

And I hate the middle.

The tickets were purchased late. A last-minute trip to grieve with family over loss. Last-minute tickets yield middle seats. The grid that showed us available seat options on the website was blue in the middle and occupied white everywhere else.

While the middle of a cinnamon roll is something to crave, to fight over, the middle airline seat is something to run from. Squished between two strangers, last zone to board, looked at with hostility as you walk down the aisle — nothing good about the middle!

But. Someone has to be in the middle. Someone has to squish between those two strangers. Someone has to turn this seat into opportunity. Someone needs to see the humor of two people whose names you don’t know, mouths open in sleep, a slight snore coming from one of them, falling on my shoulders. The one in yellow is on my right, the one in black on my left.

I settle in for a long flight. Can there be hope in the middle?

I’ve packed all my reading material, and, because I was last to board they took away my bag at the gate telling me I would meet it at the other end. All I have is a One Thousand Gifts Devotional I’d ordered on a whim. There’s a space at the back to count those gifts or graces, count the moments I’m thankful for — even if I’m not really thankful.

So I open it and write “Seats in the middle” Right under it I write “Hope in the middle”.

I scan through the titles of the devotionals. The word Grace is in all 60 titles. I flip to Devotion number 5. It’s called ‘Here-Now Grace’. That’s the one I need. I’m tired, I know it’s a long flight, I’ve got worry hanging on my shoulders like a back pack full of bricks. And I’m in the middle seat. I need ‘Here-Now Grace’.

I read the words several times before I accept their reality. “The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountaintop experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here in the messy, piercing, ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible. The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.”*

So I’m not off the hook. The holy grail of joy is here in the middle and I need ‘Here-Now Grace’. Because Someone has to be in the middle.

*From One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp

The Language of Travel – Acronyms for Airlines

Source:  via Katheryn on Pinterest

Oscar’s for Airlines drew a lot of comments and a lot of opinions – we who travel have strong feelings on the vehicles that get us from place to place, as well we should.

Third culture kids and global nomads speak the language of travel. When they reminisce, it’s not about what happened in their town or city, it’s usually about travel. How often have conversations begun “Remember when we were on our way to [fill in the blank]?” “Yes! Do you remember how [fill in the blank] got sick?” 

The language of travel includes airline delays and lay overs. It includes third-rate guest houses and five-star hotels; friends you can stay with and best cheap eateries; airline reviews and all the best websites for travel. The language of travel includes anticipation and longing, reminiscing and dreaming. This is the language of travel.

Part of the language of travel is developing acronyms or tag lines for airlines. This was a favorite way of communicating as kids – we had our own language for these airlines. Somehow it set us apart and allowed us to have something all our own; an area where we were skilled and set apart.

So today we’re going to speak the language of travel. Bring on the acronyms! I’ll get us started, but you all have to keep it going!

What other acronyms have you heard? Join in Acronyms for Airlines! If you haven’t heard any use your creativity and make one up! The person who comes up with the most unusual will receive a copy of Alain de Botton‘s book “The Art of Travel“. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Oscars for Airlines: A Third Culture Kid’s Airline Review

It has been said that Third Culture Kids feel far more loyalty to airlines and airports than to nations and governments, so with that in mind when Jet Blue banners fly across my computer screen with $44 fares highlighted in their familiar blue I always look. The flights are cheap, you get one checked bag at no cost and their boast of “extra leg room” is entirely accurate.

I flew before I walked and can’t count the number of flights I’ve taken, or airlines and airports I have had the privilege to meet. At the risk of sounding annoying and “remembering the good old days”, when it comes to airlines, it was the good old days.

International flights often included overnights in major cities world-wide at the cost of the airline. All inclusive packages with meals and transportation vouchers to and from the airport were the norm. In-flight meals, drinks and toys were complimentary and we even got little wing pins to proudly place on shirts or jackets that said “Fly the Friendly Skies“.  Extra baggage didn’t come at an exorbitant fee and you could often talk your way out of the cost through smiles and thanks.

Consider the average flight today where a grumpy airline employee checks you in, or you check yourself in, and then wander over to make sure your luggage will get on as well.  You wait, sometimes for hours with no information, to find out your flight is delayed and once you finally leave, peanuts, pretzels and drinks are thrown at you across the aisle.

But even in the current abysmal state of the industry there are those airlines that rise to the top and get high marks for everything from flight schedules to customer service, so today I bring you the “Oscar” awards for airlines

For domestic airlines in the United States the Oscar will be shared, going to Jet Blue and Southwest. Both offer great prices, generous luggage allowances, credit cards to help you build miles and all in all a good flying experience. News this past fall that Southwest has purchased Air Tran put a smile on my face!

Bottom of the barrel – no doubt American airlines with their frequent cancellations and rude interactions, and NO – getting an email telling me that my flight scheduled for 8am will be leaving at noon is not ok. United is right down there too, with equally bad schedules, although perhaps not as quick to change flights.

If flying internationally the Oscar goes to Swiss. With their hot towels to refresh you in economy class and their attention to detail and comfort, even with a delayed plane, they rise to the top.  A stop in Zürich, particularly if you have young children, is a treat as the airport has a fully equipped play room/nursery with a special room just for babies. Memories of hours in that nursery remind me that it saved us from what could have been miserable times of waiting by gates during long lay overs – we owe this airport our sanity. A close runner-up could be British Airways as I have always had lovely flights on British Air.

Virgin Air gives a cheap but uncomfortable flight to London, and if you are patient you can usually find British Air tickets for almost the same price. I have heard that Singapore Air could probably get a world-wide Oscar for the best airline (which I tend to believe as the efficiency in Singapore is legendary) but I can’t speak from experience on the airline. Lufthansa could be up there as a competitor, though not winner, and after our recent trip to Egypt, we would swear by the Egypt Air New York/Cairo Nonstop flight.

I’ve been told that Iceland Air is the bottom of the barrel internationally so I will not be swayed by their cheap prices, realizing I will pay the cost some other way (like having to make sure of change in my pocket in order to use the bathroom). I assure you I am not being dramatic – Ryan Air out of Ireland does have a “pay when you go” policy on using the loo.

So what about you? Who gets the Oscars from your experience? Would love to have you weigh in – Favorite Airlines, Worst airlines, Worst airline stories – we want to hear it all!