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Costa Rica Travels Part One: The Red-Eye

March 17, 2011

Heading to San Salvador 3-14-11

A red-eye flight seemed ridiculous to me. I know that there are people in the world who are able to board an airplane, drop into blissful slumber and arrive at their destination bright-eyed and ready to take on the world and everything in it.

I also knew that I would not be one of those people because I am a pretty, pretty princess who can feel a split pea buried under a 12-inch Tempur-pedic mattress and who cannot sleep because of it.

Yet somehow, in some crazy way, I performed the mental gymnastics necessary to convince myself that I could board a 12:25 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles and wake up in Costa Rica at 9:40 a.m.

I imagined the flight as a dark and peaceful respite from the rest of the world. We would board, find our seats and the staff would lower the lights as a hush descended over the airplane. The 2 inches we could recline our seats would allow our bodies to relax and slumber as comfortably as if we were at the Ritz-Carlton.

What the hell, people? Clearly, my brain has begun to rot.

First, I underestimated the cheerful energy of Latinos traveling home. The four Honduran ladies in front of me started chatting across the aisle before they buckled their seat belts and did not stop for seven hours.

The two Colombian girls beside me were even worse. In addition to being absolutely stunning and chic (and there isn’t anything more galling than someone who can look chic when stuffed into the middle seat of a Row 17 economy class airline seat at 2 a.m.), they alternately chatted happily and then fell suddenly and simultaneously into hour-long naps.

I was envious to the point of fury. Just as I would nod off for 30 seconds, they would awaken and begin to talk with great gusto. When I pried my red, sticky eyes open to regard them balefully, they would descend back into sleep, lithe bodies gracefully twisted like pretzels in the tiny space, their perfectly blown-out hair fanning out around them.

Then there was the staff. Most of the American airlines I have flown recently have been staffed by crews who are surly and reluctant to leave their jump seats. I haven’t gotten an airline meal since I was in college.

But the TACA/LACSA flight crew performed their duties with a busy, machine-like, almost cruel efficiency, considering the time of day. Every fifteen minutes or so, they would come by with food or drink or to clean up the trash or to ask incomprehensible questions in Spanish as I desperately tried to conjugate the right verbs in my head.

They even served breakfast of french toast and eggs at 4 a.m. Four o’clock in the freaking morning. The smell of eggs is a little touch-and-go for me at any time of the day, but the 4 a.m. breakfast almost sent me reaching for the Adios bag (you know, the one with the little twist tie on the top located conveniently in your seat back.)

I think the total of sleep interruption opportunities was two drink runs, two food runs, four trash runs, a pass to hand out headphones, another to give out duty-free catalogs and another to sell duty-free items. All in a four and a half hour flight. God bless those hard-working people. I hope they get a discount on Dr. Scholl’s gel insoles.

So I ended the first leg of my flight in San Salvador at 6 a.m., tired, gritty and with my hair stuck up on one side in a most fetching and unfixable fashion. Meanwhile, the Colombian girls smoothed their white skin-tight jeans and strolled around the airport in 5-inch heels, stretching a little and tossing back their impossibly thick and straight hair.

The miracle of flight is a wonderful thing, and I give thanks that I have the opportunity to see other parts of the world. But I do think God could be a little kinder and not make me sit next to Colombians.

  1. March 17, 2011 13:46

    I have done the overnight flights when I went to London and I still cannot comprehend looking/feeling refreshed after more than 3 hours in the hour. My hair falls flat and the recirculated air makes my skin break out. If I can get an hour of uninterrupted sleep that’s pure luck.
    It’s all about the destination, right?

    • March 18, 2011 16:27

      Indeed. I don’t know how those chic people do it.

  2. Elvie permalink
    March 17, 2011 16:10

    Alaska Air to Seattle fom Hawaii was a red eye. The difference was when we got on the lights were dim, pillows and blankets at each seat, almost telling us cuddle up, go to sleep and don’t bother us. No breakfast either.
    Glad you are home and can write so eloquently about your journey.

    • March 18, 2011 16:28

      I like that Alaskan attitude. No one needs breakfast at 4 am!

  3. March 27, 2011 21:36

    My best friend from high school and I went to Cancun for spring break in college. This many years later, all one of us has to do is say “Cheese and fruit? Cheese and fruit?” and we crack up. The Air Mexicana flight attendants were all about the cheese and fruit. I remember them fondly.

    Korean Air was amazing to behold — a similar machine in a different culture. And that was an eleventy hour flight to Hanoi. You’re making me I wish I’d written more about it then, when it was fresh in my mind.

    • March 28, 2011 18:21

      I never thought I’d wish for the slackers on some American Airlines (which shall remain nameless).

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