Alright, so I know I’m not the first person to notice that flying is a less-than-perfect experience these days, but in light of some recent circumstances, I can’t resist sharing my pain with all 7 of my readers. How did we let things get so bad?
I’ll divide my grievances into three well-argued sections.
Section 1: Airport Security
Jerry Seinfeld said it best in his last big comedy act – “look at this cracksquad of savvy motivated personnel” (watch it below). As far as I can tell, the main job of airport security people is crowd control – they want to make the travel experience so unbearable that people will think twice about flying unless it’s truly unavoidable. It’s also important that they make sure we know they are having a much better time throughout the process than we are, which is why they socialize audibly and at length with each other rather than concentrate on x-ray monitors while we stumble through their grueling coordination test, teeth clenching boarding pass, liquids baggie overflowing, juggling electronic devices.
To keep us on our toes, they like to arbitrarily change the rules every few weeks. “Ma’am, the shoes must be in a separate bin this week for no apparent reason.” “Ma’am, bags go in wheels-first even though you’ve probably never heard this rule before because I just made it up on my last break.” Or my current favorite: “Even though you flawlessly followed all instructions, I’m going to move your sweater and carelessly toss it aside to maximize the chance that it will get caught in the conveyer belt and tear (extra points if it holds up the line!)”
Consistent with the American value of individuality, every airport likes to have its own special set of rules so that frequent travelers don’t get bored whilst going through security. I recently discovered this when I somehow lost my drivers license (and only photo ID) in the 100 feet between the escalator and the security line entrance. At San Francisco Intl Airport, not having photo ID is a serious offense punishable by excessive waiting and the issuance of a special ticket that flags you as a potential national security threat. (Because terrorists clearly wouldn’t go to the trouble of procuring a convincing fake ID or using their real one.) Security then thoroughly padded me down in a manner that teenagers would describe as “going to second base,” and took my shoes away for a good ten minutes. I luckily made the flight as it was boarding, but was not a happy camper. On the return flight from Dallas two days later, I arrived extra early in expectation of a similar ordeal with security. However, the woman at the airline counter stared at me blankly as I asked for my special ticket, while the man at security found it humorous that I had lost my license and eagerly accepted a credit card and health insurance card as proof of my identity. No pat-downs, no shoe-stealing. (Maybe Bush-country isn’t all bad).
Break for hilarious comedy bit that I promise will make you chuckle every single time you fly (start at 1:45)
Section 2: The Airlines
Every once in a while I read an article about how flying used to be, and it makes me sad. The flight itself was considered an exciting journey, not a dreaded means to a destination, with passengers given the royal treatment and flight attendants being stewards of comfort and delight. I guess when you reach critical mass and you’re selling a product with a relatively inelastic demand curve, thoughts of innovation, user experience and customer service fly out the window. And when you’re operating in tough economic times in the face of bankruptcy, it’s an acceptable business day if no one dies. Virgin is one of the few airlines thinking about more than staying afloat, but its 8-city itinerary hardly reaches the masses. The small fleet’s TED computer system lets passengers order a variety of food whenever they want it, not when someone comes by with a cart. Even though the food is overpriced, I’m usually happy to pay because it’s easy, convenient, and makes me feel somewhat like I’m ordering in a restaurant rather than a plane.
Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Karim Rashid, a prolific product designer, speak about being commissioned to design an innovative aircraft that was ultimately not built. Why should we drink from wide-rimmed glasses that spill during turbulence, or sit for long hours in uncomfortable chairs that elude sleep? The ideas and technology are there. But no one wants to invest in improvements when they know people will fly anyway. The airline giants are set in their ways and seem to only make changes that make life harder for their passengers.
Section 3: Miscellaneous
Is it just me or is there a Law of Crying Babies and Grossly Obese People that states that if either/both are present on the plane, they will defy the laws of probability and end up in your immediate vicinity more times than not?
Anyway, I’m still two hours away from landing in SF but my laptop battery is about to die, so guess this is goodbye. The baby behind me appears to be sleeping, so I’m at least grateful for that :)
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