Sunday, March 04, 2007

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Not long ago my wife and I completed a marathon day of flying on a major U.S. carrier. I think three words sum up the experience and they are as follows: misery, frustration, and contempt. Perhaps my time on the flight deck as a pilot spoiled me but I sure do miss it. TSA officials at our departure location feigned polite demeanors but had contempt for our baggage and developed a particular interest in my wristwatch. I bet they saw me talking to it and thought I communicated instructions to a terror cell hidden discreetly in the vast expanse of asphalt tarmac. I probably did speak to the watch wondering if the blasted thing was ticking or not. I tried to use the automated check-in at the ticket counter but needed tutoring assistance from an agent because every time I entered new information the screen returned to its home page. I think the exasperated agent hit it twice with an open palm until the lines on the screen jiggled and after that no further problems manifested themselves during the process.

My wife's underwire bra has caused us numerous travel delays over the years and nearly 12 arrests. No, I do not think they thought she had a bazooka under there but her finger pointing and elevated vocal tones surely pushed us to the top of a watch list. That leaves me flushed and put in the awkward position of neutralizing the situation before she falls into a pair of handcuffs and a federal prison. The one solution that works the best for me is telling them the truth. She is full-blooded Norwegian and if you think she's a handful at a security checkpoint you should try living with her. After hearing this timely information they always let us pass and I receive glances of sorrow and condolence.

The airplane rides (I still call them airplane rides) for the most part were uneventful. The weather was good, the ride okay, and schedules maintained with no undue delays caused by the airline. The people that fly are a different story. I think it will be easiest to list my peeves in numerical fashion and they of course are in no particular order.

1. Please avoid traveling with infant children delivered from their mother's womb within the last 7 minutes. They are out of their element, extremely stressed, and desire nothing more than quiet surroundings and their mother's affection. The birth was bad enough. Don't make their little ear canals suffer plugging and implosion upon a descent. Believe me, several newborns traveled with us and they made no bones about displaying their displeasure at the situation. Remember that air circulation on an aircraft at altitude is to a great extent recirculated. Do I need to bring up dirty diapers?

2. Please try checking some of the baggage you are taking on your trip. Yes, I know airlines lose luggage and jockeying for a position at baggage claim is like finding yourself in the L.A. riots. When everybody "carries on" their usually oversized luggage there is a hellish delay getting seated and getting the flight out on time. One guy tried carrying on his golf clubs. Another guy had what I believed to be a riding lawn mower and folding chairs. The result is disastrous. Oftentimes people are so rude they stack their junk in the overhead bin directly over the seat you paid for. Through trial and error I have remedied this annoying predicament. If someone else's junk is directly above my seat, I remove it and place it neatly in the aisle replacing it with my one TINY carry-on and take my seat with resolve.

3. Please be on time. We left the gate for departure twenty minutes late waiting for stragglers to board the aircraft. They made no attempt to hurry towards the aircraft either. That is really nice for those of us already in our seats needing an on-time arrival to make a connection. I believe these perpetually pompous idiots (we make exceptions for those detained by a late arrival) should be given the chance to board the airplane since they did purchase their seats. Simply allow them to chase the aircraft down the taxi ramp and if they are fast enough to jump in front of the plane before it makes the runway, the captain authorizes a baggage handler to load them in the forward baggage hold. The second option is for the adventurous straggler only. Stand in a crouched position approximately 1500 feet from the departure end of the runway. If you can catch the wheel well as we thunder past, you made the flight and can keep the whole can of complimentary beverage.

4. For those of you traveling with toddlers and tots ages 2 to 5, I guarantee you that a majority of passengers in your proximity have no problem with disciplinary procedures. I further guarantee that you are the ONLY ones that think your kids are cute. Remember it's not that big of a deal because chimpanzees throw cute pups too. If you want to give them a "time out" I would prefer you do it at home where their squealing impresses only you because of the great strides you've seen in junior's behavior therapy. Don't do it at 40,000 feet in a pressurized tube from which I cannot escape you and there is no bar. If you are a little nervous about the general public seeing you discipline your children in a time honored and physical fashion, take these tips I learned from being the object of my grandmother's ire. Gently but firmly grab girating junior's forearm and press the thumb downward. He'll be so stunned you are serious he may fall asleep from shock. My grandmother's favorite maneuver was grabbing the short hair on the back of the neck. Although far from lethal or lasting, the momentary pain was so intense I couldn't mutter a squeak if I tried. Just a thought to help you (and us) out.

5. Once the plane is docked and you are ready to leave your seat and exit the aircraft, don't jump ahead of people sitting in front of you that should exit before you. Unless you have a pending diarrhea calamity so imminent as to affect the health and safety of other passengers, just wait your turn. Even then you should only be able to jump ahead of those in front of you when the orange DIARRHEA EMERGENCY sticker is affixed prominently and securely to your forehead. If you refuse to ingest this advice and you try this on me again, you will be seeing an orthopaedic surgeon for repair of your ACL after I chop block you. My time in jail will be worth it to watch you suffer.

6. Don't annoy people with your aviation knowledge. I get so tired of arm chair pilots sitting behind me trying to impress their companions with knowledge of flight and aircraft mechanics. "He's putting the flaps down now." "That's the landing gear." "The captain is putting his left turn signal on now." "Hold on honey, he just put it in drive." Those of us that are pilots love to respond to diatribes like this one with questions devised specifically to confound the rambling air philosophers. I usually ask them why the engine vibrates right where it attaches to the wing or if the flaps are supposed to shudder like that just prior to touching down. Are those rivets loose just above the leading edge of the wing? What's that funny vibration during the turns? These comments usually steer the conversation in a different direction.

At any rate sit back, relax, enjoy the flight and remember to keep that seat and tray table in the upright and locked position.

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