Because I have four children in Israel, I travel there often to see them, and I belong to a frequent-flyer club. As a result, when I purchased my ticket for the trip from which I am coming back as I write this, I was able to get a one-way upgrade to a premium class. I decided that I would get the upgrade on the flight back from Israel, my reasoning being that, firstly, it would alleviate some of the “blue” feelings I always have when I leave my children and leave Israel, and secondly, the westward trip is longer.
So here I am, sitting in the premium cabin on an international flight – something I have never experienced before – and as everyone sleeps while I am trying to stay awake and readjust my inner clock to Dallas time, this is a good time for reflection.
My family and friends laugh good-naturedly at my trait of always being early for everything. I had spent my last Shabbat of this trip at the home of my daughter, who lives in a remote village in Shomron, across the green line. Most taxi drivers don’t go there, but another daughter of mine, on her most recent trip, had found one who would, so I used his services also. My flight was scheduled to depart on Motzae Shabbat, and I asked the taxi driver to leave his home base right after the end of Shabbat to pick me up and take me to the airport. Hashem made everything go smoothly; I arrived at the terminal in plenty of time.
As a premium ticket holder, I was invited to while away the hours in an exclusive lounge with all sorts of amenities. Regular coach passengers have to be ready to board an hour or two ahead of time, but premium passengers can spend their time in the lounge and go to the gate only one-half hour prior to departure. I got so caught up in the various creature comforts in that lounge that, when my flight was called, I had to run to the gate! As I was sprinting there, I thought about the well-known metaphor we’ve probably all heard, about how life is like a cruise ship which makes an interim stop at a pleasant port. Some of the passengers get off the ship but hurry back in plenty of time. Some get so involved in the pleasures of the port that they almost don’t make it back to the ship; those are analogous to people who get so caught up in the pleasures of this world that they nearly forget about the World to Come. The lesson was just too obvious to ignore!
When I boarded the plane, I was ushered to a section of magnificent, roomy seats with many features you don’t find in coach. I had asked for an aisle seat; this section of the plane was set up in a 2-3-2 pattern, with my seat being at the end of one of the “3” parts. A woman sat next to me in the middle seat of the three; she started scolding one of the flight attendants, protesting that here she was in a premium class but she was in a middle seat “like a tourist.” The seats were arranged with plenty of room to get up and move around nevertheless, but my seatmate was not a happy passenger. As I write this, she is asleep. I hope she is comfortable; all of the seats in this section can recline like beds. To me, though, this experience is too exciting to sleep through – and I am usually one who sleeps on planes, even when I’m cramped in coach.
I once watched a movie where a woman, blind from birth, was given the opportunity to see for a period of a few hours before she would once again be blind. To me, flying in a premium class is like that. Why would I want to sleep through it when I can be awake and have all these new experiences? To be attended to and served and have my every whim catered to is not my everyday life.
There is an article on Aish HaTorah’s Web site by someone who was upgraded to first class, and he mused on how it was so easy to feel superior just because one is sitting in a premium class. I’m glad I read and reread the article, because it keeps me mindful of not falling into that trap. Flying is usually a very stressful experience for me. While in Israel, I bought a book about emunah, faith in Hashem, and I’ve been trying to internalize the lessons it teaches. It’s almost like Hashem has given me a special gift now, to let me enjoy this flight, because I have taken a first step toward strengthening my faith and trust in Him. So rather than feeling superior, I feel grateful to Hashem that He is showing me such overwhelming kindness. Of course, He shows me kindness every day and every moment, but I’m not always able to see it. I can see it and savor it now, at this moment, as I sit in this roomy seat. On a practical level, as well as thanking Hashem, I am trying to compliment and thank the flight attendants as much as I can for their help in making the flight pleasant for me. I want to spread my happiness around and make it easier for service people, whose lives are certainly not easy. And I’m sure that in a premium class, more is expected of them than in coach, as shown by my unhappy seatmate.
Judaism is such a beautiful religion. Hashem doesn’t ask us to deny the pleasures He gives us in this world; He asks only that we keep a higher goal in mind and look toward the World to Come. We have to remember what the Chofetz Chaim said: We are only passing through. But meanwhile, as long as we remember Who is giving us the pleasures we have, we are free to enjoy the banquet He sets before us. When He gives us a free gift like this, He is like a loving parent who gives his child a prize. The child, if properly raised and not spoiled, just wants to hug and kiss the parent for showing such love to the child. I sing in my heart to Hashem, and thank Him for letting me enjoy this wonderful experience. And most of all, I thank Him for once again having let me visit His holy Land of Israel and my beloved children who live there.