5 May 2011

The term “enhanced” used to have benign connotations, as in when your IT guy sends you an email informing you of some “enhancements” that will be made to your operating system (on second thought, let’s find a better example), but with the revelation that it was actually, in the view of some (let’s call them members of the “Cheney School” of Advanced Inquisitional Sciences) “enhanced interrogation techniques” that provided the big break in the Osama case, the term has acquired more ominous associations.

Most if not everyone who has undergone water boarding and other EITs agree that they constitute torture. Cheney disagrees, but then he hasn’t actually been subjected to water boarding, although apparently he once offered to do so in order to settle the controversy. (Note: upon fact checking for this blog, I learned it was actually Senator Franken who volunteered the former VP to undergo the procedure)

That is why when I boarded my latest flight which featured “enhanced seating”, I was understandably nervous.

I needn’t have been. As the flight attendant informed us as we taxied out onto the runway, ES is nothing to be feared, but rather should be embraced, or perhaps, more accurately, we should allow it to embrace us.

Let me explain. Airlines such as British Air realized a while ago that if they cut the legroom between seats in Economy in half, passengers would actually pay more money to get their old economy seat spacing back, as long as the airline made it palatable by renaming this section “Economy Plus”. After all, no one wants to be taken for a fool, especially by an airline company.

Enhanced seating, as I experienced it on my most recent flight, simply takes the concept to the next level. As the plane is about to take off, you will notice that the seat in front of you is closing in on you, ever so slowly, much as the blade in the famous Edgar Allen Poe short story, “The Pit and Pendulum”, swung in ever descending arcs towards it’s hapless protagonist victim. At some point, if you allow the process to continue uninterrupted, the seat in front you will actually crush your legs.

But here is the good part: you can stop this process at any time by simply swiping your credit or debit card across the reader on the back of your tray, and the whole “enhancement” process ceases and desists, instantaneously.

Another bonus: for a nominal charge, the flight attendants will sell you “extended fingers” – 8 inches aluminum tubes that fit over your finger tips which allow you continue working on your laptop keyboard after the guy in front of you puts his seat back, and you have to tilt your hands at a 90 degree angle in order to keep typing. You can take these fingers with you when you leave the plane, and use them on the next flight if you remember to pack them — although few people actually do.

To be sure, there are still some “kinks” in ES that need to be worked out. For example, the screaming of the passengers who refused to ante up the difference (come on, really, what’s $100 these days?), and the cracking sound their femurs made was, to be honest, distracting.

And then there was the poor unfortunate passenger in seat 45E, pathetically waving his hundred dollar bill at the flight attendant who said: “Sorry, Sir, we can only take Visa or Mastercard.”

Rupert Scofield


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