My dear mother was deathly afraid of flying, and sedated herself with wine and cigarettes, before, during (back in the day when you could smoke on flights) and after flying. I myself was never afraid of flying, but I do have an aversion to crashing. Flying is statistically much safer than driving your car to the mall, although Boeing and their corporate greed are doing their best to reinforce my mother’s fear. And although I don’t fear flying, I do dread it. Not for the safety but for a litany of other reasons; overbooked/crowded flights, frequent cancellations and delays, and seats the size of postage stamps. It makes me wish that like Captain Kirk I could just instantly teleport to any location I needed to be. Airline travel doesn’t need to be this bad, but the pursuit of profit and a captive audience has led to abysmal customer service and business practices. One airline boasts that it is rated by J.D Power as #1 in customer service in the airline industry. That to me is like a university boasting they have the best hockey team in the south.
First let’s start with booking your flight and then checking in. At every step of the way the airline is trying to up sell you on services that should be free. Want to sit in an exit row (so you can sit comfortably without your knees hitting the seat in front of you), that will be an extra $50, want to board first, that will be an extra $30, want to check a bag, that will be $30, want an oxygen mask that works, $25, want a left handed arm rest, $20, want the Flight attendant to smile, $10, want 2 packs of pretzels, $5. It will only be a matter of time before the airlines will want to charge extra to allow you to actually exit the aircraft. In some future world a poor passenger will be stuck on an aircraft in perpetuity, like Tom Hanks at the airport, with no cash or credit to exit, surviving on pretzels and soda.
The next injustice is boarding the aircraft and finding your infantile sized seat. I am a good-sized man, 6’2”, about 225 lbs., and squeezing into the seat is a challenge. I pity those larger than me. For me the width of the seat is not problematic, it’s the knee room between the next row. With the seat ahead upright, my knees are already touching the seat in front of me, not to mention what happens if the person in front of me decides to recline. It’s like being stuck in a trash compactor. If the person does attempt to recline, they first notice that their seat is not reclining, and they push harder…against my knees…which are not going anywhere. I then push back a bit, so their seat is in the upright position, where it needs to be. The next issue is the headrest. Due to the size of the child-sized seat the top of the headrest usually hits me mid-shoulder, so if I want to lean my large planet-sized head back it just flops backward and I am staring at the ceiling of the aircraft. This is not comfortable, and it scares the people behind me. It’s like the guillotine has just dropped and this large head is about to roll into their lap. If given the choice (and if it isn’t an extra charge), I try to book the window seat, so I can flop my planet-sized head against the window. If instead I get stuck on an aisle seat, I must keep my head upright the whole flight, and I enjoy people bumping into me because my shoulders are extending into the aisle space. I enjoy playing bumper cars at the amusement park, but not when flying.
Once I am in the seat, I then have to compete in the armrest wars. You see, when there are people sitting side by side, there aren’t two armrests between them, there is just one. The trick is to be the first in your seat and establish dominance by putting your arm their first. If you are the last to arrive and they have already established arm rest dominance, the trick is to wait for them to go to the restroom, or to reach for their purse or briefcase, then you sneak your arm in and pretend it was there the whole time. This is childish, I know, but when sitting in child-sized seats it reduces me to childish behaviors.
The next injustice is the in-flight snacks. When I was young, I flew occasionally because my Dad had passes with TWA airlines. It was not uncommon for me and my brothers to jet set across the country all weekend with less than $20 in our pockets and no credit cards, just hopping around on flights. Back in those glory days they actually served real meals on flights…and get this, on real china…with cloth napkins. For real. I remember eating steaks, getting desserts, and the adults drinking wine (at no extra charge). It wasn’t 5-star dining but for a hick-country boy from Boone County, Kentucky I felt like royalty. Nowadays, the Flight attendant comes around and gives you a pack of pretzels with 8 miniature pretzels, or a pack of cookies with 2 cookies. If they are feeling generous that day, they might sneak you and extra pack. First class of course fairs better, but for us minions in the back we are reduced to being fed just enough to keep us from passing out on the flight. Many people now bring food onto the flight, which is fine, unless you are the poor guying sitting them to them as they chow down their Big Mac and fries. Just recently I was on a flight and a Dad actually carried on one of the drink carriers with 4 smoothies loaded on it for his entire family. I am not sure how the Flight took off legally with him holding the 4 smoothies, but it did. I myself think it’s kinda rude to be eating food 6 inches from someone who has nothing, but it happens every flight. There should be a rule that if you bring food on a flight you have to share it with the people sitting beside you, especially if their name is Roger.
So now you are probably asking why do I bother flying, and for one it’s because my job requires it. But then I puzzled a bit more and realized there was a bigger reason. Airline travel enables you to visit all parts of our country and the world, and to see old friends, and to make new friends. It reminds me of the book and movie, The Accidental Tourist, starring William Holt. The main character, played by Holt, wrote travel books about how to travel with the least inconvenience. Coincidentally, he was living a life where let’s say he did not veer much from the beaten path. Long story short, he meets someone who is eccentric and certainly off the beaten path, and he realizes that his life needs a little more spice and inconvenience to be meaningful. As I thought about this, I realized that although airline travel today is indeed inconvenient for all of the reasons I stated above and more, it does enable you to have a richer life experience in what you see, what you experience, and who you meet. So, although I do dread airline travel, I do not fear it because it enriches my life. And in fact, I have a fear of not flying because it means I am not getting the fuller life experience that this amazing world offers, if only I dare to travel.
The theme song for this blog is none other than Up, Up, and Away, the theme song for TWA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hiDVYi8XJ8