A fork, just a single, plain, silver, unassuming fork. And yet, the reaction was anything but common. A fork? Really? A metal fork? I can’t remember the last time I received one of these!
The impetus of the amazed chatter working its way down the rows and aisle was not the fork itself but its location — on a meal tray on an airplane in the coach section. Did I also mention there was a meal? Included in the price of the flight ticket, even? And a glass of wine, not even from a box. It was like I had died and gone to air travel heaven without shelling out for the overpriced upgrade. Sure, the airline also scrimped on the pillows, charged haggard parents 15 bucks for some sort of preloaded DVD contraption and ran out of champagne splits before the beverage cart even made one round but still. A metal fork!
A fork may seem like no big deal for those fancy folks who put their feet up in first class on a regular basis to chug complimentary beverages and enjoy not having to fight others off for prized overhead luggage space. Once upon a time, back in the pre-9/11 era before safety concerns and a fees-for-everything corporate mentality took hold, a fork was also nothing more but an expected item with an expected in-flight meal that might even taste a little like real food.
Nowadays, a fork is a luxury item, right up there with pillows, blankets, headphones and — on some flights — even the perfunctory bag of peanuts. Even those overpriced in-flight snack boxes and lovingly reheated meals for purchase come only with a napkin and maybe a plastic spork.
But wait — isn’t a fork also a potential weapon, right up there with snow globes, metal emery boards and travel-sized bottles of shampoo greater than 4 ounces? How is it the TSA can justify feeling up any woman with an underwire or man with potentially suspicious, ahem, junk and yet the minute the seat belt sign is off just pass out flatware willy-nilly to a gaggle of passengers already mentally stretched to the breaking point by fussy babies, zero legroom, turbulence and what feels like priority boarding for every special demographic but them. These are not people who need sharp objects; these are people who need complimentary cocktails, Valium, fuzzy socks and a good set of earplugs.
And yet they get a fork which is only one step away from a knife. In fact, some might argue with a little in-seat filing from the now-allowed metal emery board, a fork can be just as dangerous an object.
The real peril in the real fork, however, is that it reminds passengers of a bygone era when flying was often considered exciting and fun rather than a series of unfortunate events required to move from point A to point B. The fork is a sign of days when flying was more than a mode of transportation; it was an experience.
Now, flying is still an “experience” although many people in this last decade of color-coded safety assessments, random patdowns and fees for just about everything short of using the lavatory would be hard-pressed to use that term without a bit of a grimace.
Admittedly, nobody should really get this happy over actual utensils. There’s certainly more to flying — and more to vacation — than feeling pampered in any minor dose. That said, who am I or any passenger to turn down even the smallest indulgence? Some could say even after years and years of airlines taking a multi-pronged approach to frugality at the expense of customer service, it’s about tine.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.