Air Travel Woes
May 20, 2002
I just returned home from 2 weeks on the road. I wish I could say I was
touring with CSATFCWB, but I was actually on a business trip for my day job.
As such, I didn't play any packed stadiums, sign any autographs, or get
mobbed by horny groupies (not that I do those things on tour with CSATFCWB,
either). I did, however, have to suffer through hours of waiting and
standing in line at some of our nation's busiest airports.
For most people, the experience of commercial flying is, to paraphrase Jerry
Seinfeld, a strange mixture of boredom and terror. I have been flying long
and often enough that this is no longer true for me. Not much excites me
anymore when it comes to flying. In fact, I don't even look out the window,
unless I'm taking off or landing in a city I've never seen before.
About the only thing that energizes me at all is the occasional first class
seat assignment. It's a small perk of my job. When I travel, it's often
with executives from our main client company. These guys ALWAYS fly first
or business class. When I fly with them, it's understood that I'm permitted
to seat myself in first class, as well.
The first time I ever flew first class was on an international flight. I
was going from JFK (New York) to Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the
best flight of my life so far (and, unless I join the mile high club or
something someday, will probably remain so). The food was excellent, the
seats were comfortable, wide, they reclined fully (to become flat, like
beds), and the flight attendants were courteous and beatiful.
Flying first class on domestic flights is not so great, but it sure beats
flying economy. The seats are just so much wider and there's plenty of leg
Since 9-11, the airlines are doing all they can to recover financially.
They are slowly raising fares now and for some time they have been cutting
back in other areas. If you've flown at all, you've probably noticed that
meals are rarely served. When they are, the food is usually a sandwich and
chips or something very simple. Even in first class, sad to say, the
quality of the meals has really declined. I learned this the hard way on 1
particular flight from Boston to Houston a couple of weeks ago.
It was a long flight and I was hungry and tired. It had been a long day for
my colleagues and me, and so I decided to have a glass of white wine with my
food. Big mistake. It was really nasty stuff. Afterwards I composed what
I consider to be truthful advertising slogans that this winery (to be nice,
I won't mention the airline or the winery) should adopt:
From now on, I'm sticking to soda and juice.
- Hell in liquid form
- If rubbing alcohol were made from grapes, it would taste like this.
- A wine that helps you celebrate that happy occasion and disinfect that
- A favorite with the homeless all over the world.
- As good coming back up as it is going down.
- Available whereever fine auto care products are sold.
I know that much has been made of the airlines' and the US government's
efforts to tighten up security at our airports. Despite the hassles and
inconvenience, it appears that most people are happy about the change.
Better safe than sorry, right? Some people (that I like to call racist
bozos) argue that if security forces would just concentrate on Arabs and
leave us white Americans alone, we'd have nothing to worry about. Besides
being politically inflammatory, this kind of thinking is just plain stupid.
Ted Kaczinski, Timothy McVeigh and now this Minnesota kid named Helder are
just a few recent examples of American terrorists. While we have yet to see
an American suicide terrorist (though that will come someday, I'm sure), we
can hardly claim that our only threats come from non-Americans. Besides
that, security checks are not entirely random. On my trip I flew with 3
gentlemen from Africa. The fact that they are not US citizens caused them
to be stopped virtually EVERY time at every checkpoint and security
clearance point. I was almost never stopped, though I was travelling with
Another time we flew first class, one way, and had purchased the tickets
only hours before the flight. That time all 4 of us were stopped and
As much as I hated the hassle, I was comforted by the fact that a computer
or person somewhere was using concrete information to more intelligently
police the skies.
Having said this, I still believe that many rules and regulations adopted to
increase security are just window dressing and will not save 1 life ever.
The first is the rule about no knives, period. The same goes for the
airlines, you know. In first class, passengers are given real metal cutlery
to use in eating their meals. Now, the metal butter knife has been replaced
by a plastic one. Of course, left unchanged is the metal fork, an implement
far more potentially lethal than a butter knife with a barely serrated edge.
This thinking has led the airlines to bar scissors, tweezers, even finger
nail files. I can't help but find this idiotic. The only people happy
about this are the makers of emery boards, I suspect.
Another example of idiocy: in Boston, one of my African colleagues was
stopped and questioned for over 5 minutes by a security guard who demanded
to know why his ticket had "MR" behind his name but it didn't appear on his
passport. Of course, the airline added "MR" to show that this passenger is
a male. They did so because his name is foreign and so to English speakers
his gender is not immediately identifiable. The security guard evidently
didn't know that and was about to turn my friend back to the ticket counter
before her supervisor stepped in and set her straight.
I guess it will take some time to work the kinks out. First things first,
though: can we get the government to pass laws forbidding airlines from
serving disgusting wines?