While I enjoyed flying in the Navy immensely, flying commercial is probably one of the least fun things to do fully clothed. And it wouldn't be any better unclothed. Not that I would know personally of course. The airlines tend to frown upon naked people on airplanes. Now actually flying a commercial airliner would probably be fun, but flying in it is what sucks. Almost nothing to do with commercial airline travel is pleasurable, unless you’re paying for some serious sucking up, AKA Business or First Class. And even that only makes the seat more bearable and customer service a bit kinder and gentler. There’s always a premium on the customer service that everyone should be getting.
Sure, it wasn’t always that way. Flying used to be quite enjoyable. My first flight was from Medford Oregon to San Diego (through SFO), a ticket on United Airlines, purchased by the good old U.S. Navy to transport the 18-year-old me to San Diego for some sort of swearing in ceremony. Memorable since it was my first flight of course, but also because the plane was almost empty. I think I had the whole row to myself, both sides of the aisle. This was before some significant airline consolidations around the country and somehow they could justify flying routes that were half full. I suppose it was what led to the consolidations- undercutting the widespread competition was a race to the bottom, and none of it filled their airplanes. PSA or Pacific Southwest Airlines, along with Horizon Air- a regional airline for Alaska Air (through Portland and Seattle) were the only three options out of Medford. None of them really went to the same place with the same routing, but the prices were still low. I flew home for Spring Break in ’87 on PSA and paid $109 round trip. You can’t get on a short flight for double that fare now. After the merger of PSA and US Air, they pulled out of Medford, leaving United as the sole choice for getting around the country, and the prices started to climb. That same flight became far too expensive for my mom so I only went home at Christmas or Summer Break, and that was by Greyhound or hitching a ride with classmates.
The one Greyhound trip I made took almost 48 hours. And after meeting some of the strangest folks on earth, I vowed to never do it again. I got a ’71 Bug a year later and drove the 1800 miles round-trip a couple times. Flying? Not on my own dime until I got that full time job with the Navy, and infrequently after that. It was always somewhat exciting though since it was a rare occurrence. There was also the joy in traveling fast- getting to the destination in a matter of hours what would normally take 2-5 days.
There was one flight to San Diego from Newport RI (Providence actually) which was in an oversold situation. I took the offer of a later flight, a free flight voucher, and first class on the next leg which was quite enjoyable. The guy sitting next to me learned that it was my first time up front and told me two things that are memorable. He asked me if I knew why first class costs so much. “It’s because it’s worth it” He then advised me that when the flight attendant asks you something, the answer is always yes. “Would you like dessert?” Yes. “Would you like another drink?” Yes. “ Would you like a deep tissue massage?” YES! Ok, the last one never happened, but if it does, I know what to say.
But this was before the world changed.
After 9-11, with modes of travel having been turned into weapons of mass destruction, all excitement and joy was quickly sucked out of airline travel. I understand the need to protect the flying public, and those on the ground from the flying terrorists, but that doesn’t mean I like it. In their defense, TSA has a thankless job, but their bedside manner could use a lot of work. Before they came around, flying was easy. Now it’s one of the biggest pains in the arse this side of flying a triple-cycle recovery tanker mission without a seat-cushion.
When I fly for business, it’s often to the east coast which takes most of day and means early flights. Waking up at zero-dark thirty, getting to the airport too damn early, which you can only be sure it's too early by getting there early enough to realize it. If it wasn't too early, I'd be stressed out which makes it late in my book. Then waiting in line for TSA can be frustrating because there’s never enough of them checking IDs and boarding passes. Or you see a dozen in or around the gate, doing seemingly nothing. Could it be that they’re scanning the crowd, looking for nervous passengers, trying to pick-up the tell-tale signs of the next shoe or underwear bomber? Possible, but I just don’t see these folks as trained counter-terrorism experts.
Once you get past TSA’s ID check, you wait for the inevitable traveler who either is on their first flight ever, or has forgotten every rule that has been pummeled into our heads from news stories and by the TSA agents yelling out the rules: “PLEASE REMOVE ALL LIQUIDS FROM YOUR CARRY-ON, REMOVE LAPTOPS AND PUT THEM IN A SEPARATE BIN, TAKE OFF YOUR COATS, SHOES AND BELTS. REMOVE EVERYTHING FROM YOUR POCKETS.” Then they wait a minute and loudly REPEAT THE WHOLE THING OVER. Most folks have it down, but there’s always one who doesn’t, and that person is usually right in front of me.
Remember flying before those full-body scanners? I’ve lost track of how many times I saw some lady with either an armful of bracelets or an ear full of metal forgetting to remove them, causing the airport traffic jam. I always seem to find myself behind someone who doesn’t know the rules, or forgets what they have in their bag- a bottle of water, their Costco-sized shampoo, a loaded Glock, or my sunscreen. To the terrorist that started the “no liquids over 3.5 oz” rule- screw you. After having a long history of skin cancer, I either have to try and sneak a bottle of sunscreen in my carry on, or pay $25 each way to check my bag. Sure, I could pick up another bottle at my destination, but then I have to pay $8-12 for a bottle I’ll only use twice. I’ll gamble on getting one past the ever-watchful TSA. Which I usually do.
It’s not just the newbie travelers of course. The TSA isn’t exactly the DMV, but they’re no speed demons either. There must be some pretty high turnover in that agency because it always seems like the person viewing the X-Ray scanner is under training, and trying to do extensive image analysis on whatever innocent item they see in someone’s bag. I’m fortunate to be a government employee. As such I have a “Known Traveler Number” which always gets me into the TSA Pre-Check line while traveling for business, and at least 50% of the time when flying for pleasure. TSA Pre-Check is like flying before 9-11- just put your stuff on the belt and walk through the metal detector.
|Empty TSA Pre Check line in San Diego|
My wife and I flew to Savannah last weekend to visit the Teenangster for Parents’ Weekend at her college. Somehow she got TSA Pre-Check and I had to line up with the rest of the cattle. How’d it go? Read back a couple paragraphs. It doesn’t get any easier once you’re at the gate. With the airlines being the money-grubbing capitalists they are, nobody wants to pay for bags which inevitably slows the boarding process as far too many folks try to carry on their luggage and hope for an overhead space. You’re Boarding Group 5? Good luck. I’m glad I got on way before you!
I don’t fly a lot, but enough to board right after the nobility and Active Duty in uniform. So you wait at the gate, wait on the jet-way, wait in the aisle. This is because everyone has to hold up for somebody who inevitably (choose all that apply) gets in the wrong seat, gets in the wrong row, has to unpack all their stuff before sitting down, then attempts to find a spot for their bag. Then you find out that person is sitting in the window seat after the aisle and center seat have already been occupied.
While all this might make me sound like an impatient person, I’m really not. I’ve learned to just go with the flow, as my impatience isn’t going to actually effect anything.- with TSA, with other passengers, with the weather. I also arrived at the airport at zero-dark-thirty so I’m stress free!
The recent videos of bad airline customer service and passengers acting like whiny victims has taught me something though. If they want to bump me, it could cost them as much as 10 grand. Unless I really need to fly or I really need the money, I’ll hold out until they bring out the wheelbarrows full of cash. If so, maybe my next flight will be up with the nobility.
“Sure, I’ll have another drink! Don’t forget my massage.”
P.S.- I learned from an airline buddy that your ticket is really only for passage. The specific seat, the time, and even the day are up to the airline. Sure, they have to compensate you, but usually somebody will accept voluntary compensation before they have to up the ante to the levels required by law. They'll also pull some BS like telling my friend who bought two first class seats, one for her toddler, that her daughter had to be held on her lap. This was to try to accommodate an elite last-minute passenger. There are no rules requiring any child to be held, only when they must have their own seat (2 and up). This might be one of the issues with this flight recently in the news. In general, I abhor bad behavior by customers who are creating a scene (the Doctor on the United flight), the family at the link. Sure, there might be poor customer service involved, but screaming or posting a video (when you're in the wrong) is also wrong.