Thursday, May 25, 2006

Airport '06

I know it's de rigueur to criticize air travel these days, but it really has to be done since there's so much worth criticizing. I had a few beefs last year, but picked up a couple more this week.

Tuesday and yesterday, I was in Pittsburgh, a town which, though it was considered a national joke only a few years ago, is really a lovely place to be. On the way back to Florida, the plane was packed to the gills. Because the airlines are all bankrupt, they now oversell tickets to the point that every seat is stuffed, with many still waiting at the gate to get on.

When I travel, I usually carry a relatively small shoulder computer bag onto the plane with me. Now, I'm 6-2, and most commercial airliners are not a comfortable ride for me. My knees are often brushing up against the seat in front of me, and I need every bit of leg room I can find. So I put my computer bag in the overhead compartment. But what I've been finding more and more is that flight attendants are wanting to ask people like me, who are carrying on small bags, to put them under the seat in front of us so that bigger bags can go in the overhead compartments. To which my answer is a big, fat no.

At what point in this country did a carry-on go from being a purse or a backpack to a suitcase the size of a Volkswagen? Do you need to have the entire contents of your home with you to help you get through a couple of hours in the air? What I think is happening is that many people want to save themselves 15 minutes at the luggage carousel after the flight by bringing their main luggage on board with them, rather than checking it. To which I say, "tough luck, buddy." I simply refuse to sit with my knees smacking me in the nose and my circulation cut off below the thighs for three hours while gangrene sets in so that some putz can save himself 15 minutes of waiting for his bag at the end of the flight. And to give those people preference, as if dragging all their worldly possessions onto the plane entitled them to a favored overhead compartment instead of people who carried on carry-ons is borderline criminal. Instead of everybody else having to cater to them, they should be politely told, "Sir (or ma'am), this is an airline flight. It's not summer camp. You're not moving in. This only takes you where you're going, and it only takes a couple of hours. You're not actually establishing residency on board. So you need to go check your washer/dryer combo with the gate agent."

But that pales in comparison to my second beef. Does the drink cart really need to take up every available bit of space in the aisle? Would it completely destroy that oft-noted airline hospitality (sodas and peanuts!) to narrow the cart by about an inch on each side? Is there so much high technology packed into that cart that it has to take up every available micron between the aisle seats? Last time I checked, they don't even serve meals anymore. Couldn't you pretty much carry cans of soda and seven-count bags of pretzels in vendor's trays like you find at the ballpark? Do we really need this enormous mechanism in order to distribute wafer-thin shortbread cookies and thimbles full of flat Coke?

The reason I ask is because, while I know the rules about putting your knees or feet into the aisle, I occasionally will take one of those peaceful airline naps (during the 30 quiet seconds between the attendant explaining how you can deploy your under-seat life preserver as the plane nosedives into the drink by merely connecting six interlocking straps and pulling a series of ropes and pulleys to inflate it, and the pilot blaring over the intercom system to tell you that flight control has given him the official okey-dokey to ascend from 37,500 to 38,000, meaning that he'll be able to have you into Atlanta-Hartsfield sixteen seconds ahead of schedule). During that sleep of angels, as a guy who's 6-2, sometimes my knee may stray about 1/16th of an inch into the No-Man's Land known as the aisle, where it is promptly sheared off by the 1400 lb. drink cart. This, which happens on every flight to every person sitting on the aisle, is usually followed by a brusque "sorry" from the flight attendant, as if to say, "You knew the rules and violated them, and you deserve to be kneecapped and crippled for life." After approximately three dozen times of being wakened from a deep sleep to find part of my kneecap missing while the bloody stump leaves a crimson brushmark along the side of the passing drink cart, I'm thinking maybe there'd be a way to establish a one inch zone of grace on each side of the cart. Maybe they could take notice of the fact that most people don't naturally fit into a 12-inch wide seat and allow for the occasional, accidental elbow or knee flop. Or perhaps they could put very sensitive lasers along the aisle that will alert a buzzer in your seat if any part of your body encroaches the plane of the aisle. I'm just saying.

Oh, and while we're fixing things, could we get the flight attendants to stop telling us that "we'll be on the ground in 15 minutes"? I need a bit more specificity here. I want to know when we'll be landing. "On the ground" seems to offer a margin of error that frankly I'm not too comfortable with.

Related Tags: , , , ,

No comments: