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No one looks forward to a fourteen hour flight; for many families, this is a real deal-breaker. A fear of flying keeps some folks grounded, but others worry that they won’t survive the long, tedious hours spent on a cramped airplane with their own children. Now while I won’t suggest that the United Airlines flight to India was the highlight of our journey, I can say that it wasn’t so bad.
As we walked aboard United Airlines #82, our direct flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Delhi, Inida, my kids gazed longingly toward First Class. But it wasn’t the Boeing 777-200 (twin-jet) true lie-flat business and first class seats that caught their eye, nor even the big 17″ screens at the premium seats. No, they wanted to check out the video games on the 7″ seat back screens, which I told them was a luxury class above our coach seats. “When I grow up, I’m going to make enough money to fly first class,” said Alex, instigating a full-on bickering session with his sister about who would have the better paying job (and who would be sleeping on the other’s couch.)
All squabbling ceased when we reached our rear row and discovered that every coach seat has a shiny new 7″ seat back screen.The entertainment system provides 150 hours of programming, including a variety of movies (all free,) television programs, games, and music. Within moments, Kayla and Alex had pulled out their earbuds from their iPhones to plug in at the front of the armrest (complimentary earphones were distributed later, much later.) Microseconds passed before they launched a multiplayer Battleship game, and soon they were back to arguing about who was sneaking a peak at the other’s screen (it takes an extraordinary degree of integrity to play Battleship seated side-by-side.)
As much as I like to encourage cooperative play between the siblings, I was happy when they settled down to watch movies – even though the y weren’t all that quiet. Kayla guffawed so loudly over 21 Jump Street and Eddie Murphy’s A Thousand Words that a lady in the next row looked over to see what was going on. She smiled…the first time. I quietly enjoyed one film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which happens to have been filmed in Jaipur, one of the Indian cities I’m hoping to visit. Meanwhile, Alex indulged in a SciFi marathon: John Carter, The Matrix, Star Trek, Avengers, and he still had time to eat and sleep.
The fact that we had meals aboard a commercial flight was a surprise. Accustomed as I am to purchasing meals on planes these days, I was delighted to get two meals, as well as a bagged snack – placed on a seat back hook even if the passenger is asleep – all free of charge. And the food was pretty good. Both times I chose the vegetarian Indian meal, which contained Aloo Paratha for both breakfast and dinner. Kayla joined me at dinner time, but she went Western for an egg omelette breakfast.
Possibly the biggest surprise was that we were able to sleep in our seats. It was a tight squeeze, in my opinion, as I still remember the days when there was enough leg room that you could lay down a blanket on the floor for a sleeping child. Those days are long gone. There was, however, sufficient recline and an ingeniously crafted head rest, with flaps that turn up to cradle your head. In theory, the flaps are great for preventing your head from slipping off. But it’s set a little too high to help me at all.
Still, Alex and I slept for a few hours. And Kayla slept through almost its entirety. Now that’s real luxury.