Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, flying the friendly skies was an enjoyable experience. People would dress up for the occasion, champagne would be served in-flight, seats were large and comfortable and only those who could afford the privilege of “jetting” boarded planes flown by venerable airlines such as PanAm, Braniff, TWA and others no longer with us.
Then the government stepped in with something called “deregulation.”
The sky suddenly became as crowded as a Southwest 737 going to Disney World. Seats got narrower, legroom got shorter, planes got bigger, fares got cheaper and the magic disappeared.
In a post 9/11 world we’re forced to take off our shoes, remove our belts, carry a plastic baggie for liquids, be subject to random searches and pat downs and heaven forbid you should try to bring a bottle of water through security.
I fly pretty frequently – several times a month. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m getting older or because I’m getting wiser, but I’m growing tired of the whole air travel experience. As I made my way to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport the other day, I found myself mumbling, “this is getting old” as I parked my car and waited for the shuttle to take me from the lot to the terminal.
Once inside, throngs of cruise ship passengers crowded the security lanes. I pointed to the words “First Class” printed on my boarding pass and the lovely representative in charge of the line pulled the barrier back and granted me access to an “express” lane to the screening area – all without saying a single word. I was the only one in this line which was serviced by the same TSA agent serving the non-express line. I waited as he took passenger after passenger and kept giving me the “one minute” signal.
After several of those signals, I finally was granted access.
Knowing that if I went to lane 5 I would have to opt-out from the full body scanner, I headed to lane 1 where only a metal detector is present. A TSA guy saw me walk over to that lane and quickly pointed me over to lane 5.
“I’m going to opt-out of I go through there, can I go through lane 1?”
“Stand here, sir.”
As he radioed someone, my chances of going through lane 1 dropped faster than Obama’s approval rating. It seemed my little comment about opting-out was enough to put me through the whole pat-down anyway. Anytime I’m face-to-face with a body scanner, I opt-out. It’s not that I’m concerned about radiation or whatever types of harmful things these machines may do, I just like to see these men and women in blue work for their money.
Next time, I’ll pull the no-speak-a-English card and see where that gets me.
I was read the disclaimer about how the agent is going to touch me here and there using the back of his hands and if I wanted to we could go somewhere private. If he were better looking, maybe. But I’ll settle for the public inspection.
After I got myself dressed, it was off to the gate. The genius who designed this particular gate configuration never took into account you need more than 10 feet between gates to board two flights at the same time. 150 people boarding a plane to Canada with a pre-board Passport inspection is going on just feet away from 150 deplaning and 150 people boarding my flight to Charlotte.
Each gate agent spent time explaining to customers that gate 7 was for Charlotte, gate 8 was for Canada. It didn’t matter anyway, because people don’t listen and both boarding processes were held up by passengers trying to board the wrong plane.
When one passenger started yelling at the English-only speaking gate agent in French, I knew it was time for a drink.
“Now boarding First Class.”
Somehow people in Zone 5, who are seated 24 rows in the back, rush the gate. Rather than turn them away, they’re allowed to board. I asked the gate agent when Zone 5 was reclassified to First Class. He wasn’t amused and didn’t even wish me a good flight. To hell with him.
Since I pee a lot, I always try to get seat 1A. Window. Bulkhead. Close to the toilet. After all, you don’t want me crawling over you while you sleep in my attempt to quell my overactive bladder. Since there is no floor storage for the bulkhead seats, I had to put my laptop bag in the overhead. The only space available was above row 2. As I reached up to put my bag in, the woman behind me let out a loud “huff.”
“Was that huff meant for me?” I asked.
“You’re taking my overhead space,” she replied.
“I didn’t realize it was yours,” I snipped back. “If I saw it was reserved for you, I wouldn’t have put my bag there, but unfortunately I have to use it.”
“Oh, you’re a wise guy,” she grumbled.
“Have a drink,” was my final sentiment as I settled in my seat.
My row-mate arrived a few minutes later. After the obligatory exchange of unwarranted greetings, he was off and running like a four year old on a sugar high. In the brief span of ten minutes, I heard about his last six flights, the opinion he has about the company he works for, the party he had for his wife’s 40th birthday, the reason he had to check his bag (he has a hernia) even though he didn’t want to, and why his wife is sitting in coach while he’s in first in spite of her recent birthday.
I reached for the nearest magazine and started reading an article about a city I would never consider visiting, just to give him a hint.
It didn’t matter. Neither did telling him I had a pounding headache.
Once up in the air, I turned on my iPad and started watching the Hitchcock classic, “The Lady Vanishes.” With my earbuds firmly in place and window shades drawn, I could tell this wasn’t going to be a private screening. He apparently saw the movie before and proceeded to tell me how great it was and pointed out which scenes are the most boring.
I even got nudged a couple times with a “watch this” as he followed along sans-sound.
Once on the ground in Charlotte, I bid my voyeur a good day and prepared myself for the next flight. As I walked to the gate I thought about what it must have been like to fly during the “jet age” and longed for a sense of civility to return to air travel. As I daydreamed about pillows, headrest covers, hot towel service, a flute of France’s finest bubbles, I was shaken back to reality as I passed a drunk puking into a garbage can.
Now who was it that said, “It’s the only way to travel?”