Friday, July 20, 2007

Enjoy Your Flight

By Rick Rantamaki
Update: This article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 2007-08-05.

ATLANTA, GA - Whenever possible, I avoid flying. Not because I fear it, but rather, it’s a pain in the [buttocks]. The whole experience sucks, from the parking lot, to security, to the congested concourse, to the cramped seating, to sub-standard in-flight service, it all sucks. However, there are just some circumstances where flying is the only option - and they know it.

If you’re flying, you’d better get there early. It’s not like the old days when you could arrive an hour before take-off and have plenty of time to chat with the leisurely folks at the ticket counter. Oh no, if you’re not there three hours before departure, the check-in kiosk will refuse to print your boarding pass and laugh at you for trying to check-in only fifty minutes prior to take-off.

"Ha! Ha! Foolish mortal. Did you think you could thwart the system?"

This would be embarrassing if it weren’t for the fact that your kiosk has joined a chorus of other kiosks already laughing derisively at a half-dozen, or so, other customers.

The synthetic voice echoes through the terminal, "I don’t care that it took you an hour to park in our grossly overfilled parking labyrinth, go stand in that long line with the fools who insist on bringing WAY too much luggage. And, while you’re waiting for our lethargic airline representative to reschedule your flight, you need to think about getting to the airport A LOT sooner next time. Enjoy your flight. Ha! Ha!"

I’m paraphrasing…a little.

Security, now that’s fun. Well, actually it’s not a joking matter. I would make light of it, but the feds will track me down and I’ll end up naked in an interrogation room with Vaseline dripping out of places it shouldn’t and Katie Couric waiting for me to come out and share my feelings. So lets just say there’s nothing unusual about a crowd of people waiting, shoeless, for some high school drop out to half-heartedly scrutinize their personal effects while she talks with her co-worker about her new designer fingernails. Nothing at all.

Okay, now that we’re through security, lets check out the concourse. Atlanta is "the world’s busiest passenger airport". So, you would think that with such a grand distinction our airport would want to make an equally grand impression. You know, take the opportunity to display posters, statues, and murals depicting Atlanta’s storied past and its diverse modern economy. Well, that’s not how our airport looks. Judging by our airport’s current interior decorations, you would think you would soon be stepping out onto the plains of the Serengeti. Ah, screw diversity.

Now you’ve got to hurry and get on that concourse train because, according to the cyborg voice, "the doors will close and not reopen". What happens to the body parts caught by these doors? Well, rumor has it they’re ground into the shape of honey roasted peanuts and served lightly salted. This is unverified…but if it were true, there’s nothing unusual about it. Nothing at all.

Now you’ve got to wait an hour, or so, before you can board your flight. During this time you’re subjected to a constant barrage of security alerts: "Attention passengers, Homeland Security has issued security threat level Orange. There is a high risk of a terrorist attack. So pucker up and enjoy your ulcer." and the classic "Never leave your baggage unattended", which should be modified to "Never leave your child unattended, because the waiting passengers will take that opportunity to discipline your little hellion".

Hey, it’s time to board. "Now boarding all rows…but yours." Is what they might as well say.

Somehow, I always manage to be among the last to board. There’s actually a benefit to being the last one on the plane, at least I don’t have to go through the agony of watching all the skinny people sit in other rows as the guy that has to squeeze down the aisle sideways makes a bee-line for the seat right next to me. (I’ve ceased to be amazed by this phenomenon years ago.) Besides, when I’m the last to board, that fat guy gets a complete workout just trying to let me in. Yeah, it’s a brief moment of satisfaction before he uses me as an armrest.

Here’s something odd, I think the airline accidentally added some extra seats on the plane. I’m sure these seats were farther apart before. Come to think of it, didn’t the 727 originally have fourteen rows of seats? Yeah, and you had to get up and walk to retrieve the ‘Sky Shopper’ magazine from the seatback in front of you. Now that same ‘Sky Shopper’ magazine is ‘technically’ the only thing that’s keeping us from spooning each other. (A little turbulence and I might unintentionally become a member of the mile-high club.)

Speaking of the good ol’ days, remember when the stewardess used to be amiable? They were the angels of the sky, with their elegance, grace, and beauty. At the very least, if the plane were plummeting to Earth, their composed, heart-warming, smiles could relax any sphincter. But, not today. Now the ‘flight attendants’ are truck stop waitress rejects with attitude. (You can’t say ‘stewardess’ any more either, or they’ll give you an ‘eat-[poo]’ look that even your kid will feel three states away.)

My ‘flight attendant’ is trying to reach over the fat guy to hand me my drink, but he’s pretending she’s not there - even though she just rammed him with her cart, twice. Well, she’s not really giving me a ‘drink’ per se, it’s just a plastic cup containing three ice cubes lightly coated with the flavor of my choice - I imagine the business class passengers get the whole can. She tosses me a complimentary packet of honey roasted peanuts. I check the label.

Eventually, we reach our destination. As we arrive at the gate, a flurry of cell phones spring to life and when the plane halts, everyone stands. I can’t, I’m trapped in the folds of my seat-mate.

Now we wait. It’s what the airline likes to call, ‘The Dramatic Pause’. They won’t open the exit door until everyone is sufficiently irritated. Only then will the pass-and-review process begin - this is when the flight crew scans the departing passengers to ensure they’re not trying to sneak off with one of their floatational devices (they do make lovely hats).

As I’m heading out to retrieve my rental car, I catch a faint, synthetic, echo from the main terminal.

"Ha! Ha! Foolish mortal. Did you think you could thwart the system?"

I have a return flight at six.

1 comment:

Sarah Hall said...

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