"Every time I fly and am forced to remove my shoes, I'm grateful Richard Reid is not known as the Underwear Bomber."
— Douglas Manuel, aerospace executive, USA Today, March 13, 2003
I recently returned from yet another business trip. I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling by air over the last couple years, and there are a few things about airline flying that never cease to intrigue, amuse, and/or frustrate me.
- WE ARE FLYING.
How insane is that? We are ground-dwelling creatures flying through the air at over 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet above the earth. It’s crazy, really.
We are sitting in a small metal and plastic container (likely built before most of us were born) that rattles and shakes like a 25 year old Datsun…and we sit there calmly drinking ginger ale and eating peanuts. It’s just plain ridiculous.
And, oh by the way, we are doing this on purpose. In fact, we pay money to do it.
- Security Policies
Couldn’t the ingredients to make a toxic substance be placed in 3 oz containers and then mixed together in flight? Why does the Ziploc baggie have to be see-through if they are going to X-ray it anyhow? What is it that they can see in a laptop computer alone in a bin that they couldn’t see if it remained in its case? What can I hide in my flip flop sandals that I couldn’t also carry in my pocket? Has the rate of foot fungus acquired in airports risen dramatically since 9/11? Is security level Orange better or worse than Yellow? These are some of the things I ponder as I wait, and wait, and wait…
- The Personal Space Issue
Flying, especially in coach, presents an awkward social situation. On any domestic flight over 100 people are packed like sardines into seats that were built for people prior to the weight of the average American rising from 150 to 180 lbs. Plainly put, many of us don’t fit in the seats without touching the people next to us. And touching, among strangers, is, well, uncomfortable.
We cope with this discomfort by practicing what I call “Active Ignorance”. We put ourselves into a state of altered reality where we can read our newspapers, work on our laptops, and take naps (complete with snoring) seemingly oblivious to the fact that the person next to us is most definitely invading our personal space. This not unlike the strategy employed by my 13 year old Labrador Retriever when I use any sentence not containing the word “treat”.
- Air Sickness Bags
Tiny paper bags with the words “For Motion Discomfort”. First of all, speaking as one who suffers from motion sickness, “discomfort” might rank among the largest understatements in modern culture. How about “For Holding Over Your Mouth When You Are Writhing in Agony and Can No Longer Retain The Contents Of Your Stomach”?
Secondly, why paper bags, and why so tiny? Think about it.
- First Class
They board the plane first. Their seats are wider. They watch all the poor lower class schmucks pass them on the way to the tiny seats in the back of the plane. They get free drinks, and often a meal. They get the nice stewardess (see #6). A curtain separates them from the rest of the plane. The restroom at the front of the plane is reserved for their use, supposedly “to avoid congestion in the aisles” (more like to avoid contamination from the untouchables in the back).
If this does not reinforce a class-divided hierarchical society, I’m not sure what does.
- Mean Stewardesses
I know, I know, we are supposed to call them Flight Attendants. But it seems it’s always the older female ones who are mean, and I still think of them as stewardesses.
I suspect they started their careers back in the day when only the rich and powerful traveled by air, and they are bitter about having to wait on us average folks. Or maybe they are mad because no one calls them stewardesses anymore. Whatever it is, one nasty stewardess can ruin the day of everyone in coach. And they don’t even know it.
- Airplane Food
Food that can be pre-made, frozen, then heated and served in a kitchen the size of a locker. Enough said.
- “Me First Me First!” – aka The Deplaning Game
The plane lands. We taxi to the gate. The seatbelt sign goes off. And even if I’m in the very last row of the largest and longest plane imaginable, everyone around me jumps out of their seats and begins gathering their luggage as if they are going to walk off the plane immediately.
But it never works that way. The doors have to be opened. First class has to be personally escorted off the plane led by an adorable small child strewing rose petals in their path. The rose petals have to be cleaned up. Then, and only then, does coach class even begin the process of leaving the plane. The PSJUs (Premature-Seat-Jumper-Uppers) quickly realize they are not going anywhere soon. Refusing to admit defeat, they continue to stand, avoiding eye contact, awkwardly hunched under the low ceiling until at last we begin to sense movement ahead.
A side note: Given the Personal Space Issue (see #3), the desired for escape is completely understandable. But the outcome is always the same. The basic principals of behavior modification would predict that after a few flights, people would understand that they are not going anywhere quickly and would choose to remain seated. But this is not the case. The behavior pattern is definitely fodder for someone’s psychological doctorate.
Air travel truly is a wonderful thing. With it we can traverse distances in timeframes that were unimaginable even 100 years ago. It is truly one of the greatest inventions in the history of humankind.
Now if they could just do something about the tiny bathrooms…