Homemaking: Flying the unfriendly, crowded skies
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I didn't get to ride in an airplane until I was 18 years old. I'd traveled on buses, with crowded, smelly seats and folks with a lifetime of possessions packed into threadbare luggage, most toting some sort of smelly, bagged lunch. I hated it.
This time, I was going off to college, and my parents made me put on a jacket and tie to travel because my dad told me that that's what "people who fly" did. As I got on my first plane, I nodded to the flight attendant and walked down the aisle like James Bond. Now that I was a sophisticated adult, I vowed, I'd never ride a crowded, uncomfortable bus again.
I didn't have to go back to the bus. I flew last weekend, and I realized this: The bus came to me. All these years later, air travel has become the new bus. People don't wear suits on airplanes. They wear frowns.
The most stressful part of any flight is when the plane pushes back from the gate but before you get to the runway. At some point in the past decade or so, Americans as a whole got over their fear of flying, and now, we're all afraid of getting on an airplane and not flying.
There's always the chance that something is going to happen, and you're going to sit there on the tarmac with no air conditioning and overflowing toilets for hours and hours. As the door closes, everyone clutches their armrests, afraid that the overhead speakers are going to crackle and the pilot's going to come on, saying, "Uh, ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately ..." Each person glances uneasily at the person next to them, suddenly realizing that they may be stuck next to this chump for hours longer than they originally thought.
There's always a different reason for the delay, but it always sounds suspiciously like a lie. Sometimes it's a weight check, and other times it's because the pilot is waiting for clearance. And it's always just a few more minutes. The pilot will never get on the intercom and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, we rushed to pack you into this tin can because we're trying to keep up our on-time departure stats. Because of corporate policy and ridiculous bureaucracy, though, we're going to make you sit here for hours until you go crazy and someone uploads a video of the chaos to YouTube and we have to apologize on the 'Today' show.
"Also, we knew this was going to happen. We didn't want to tell you until we had you strapped into a seat where we could have you arrested if you talked back!"
One of the reasons the plane is so crowded and uncomfortable is the whole carry-on war. It started when the airlines began charging people to check baggage. They left open an option, though: You are allowed to take one of those roll-on suitcases on board with you, the type airline employees used to use before everyone caught on, because supposedly they'll fit in the overhead bin. The problem is that every single passenger on your flight has elected to take those roll-on suitcases with them, and they've packed them so full that they bulge out into the shape of huge footballs, so stretched that if they dropped one, it would explode, underwear, socks and roll-on deodorant flying everywhere.
And while the overhead compartments are, indeed, designed to handle the standard roll-on bag, it doesn't work out so well if every man, woman and child brings one -- there's just not that much space over your heads. What happens, then, is that half the folks drag their roll-on bags down the gangway to the plane and then get to check their bags right at the entrance to the plane -- for free, screwing over the folks, like me, who paid to check their bags.
The worst are the folks who bring a bag they clearly know will not fit into the overhead space. It looks like a roll-on, but it's one-third bigger, and they think nobody will notice. They're usually the last to show up for the flight, and they push their way down the aisle, taking out elbows right and left, before announcing to everyone that there's no space in the overheads. Then they muscle back to the front, taking out any elbows they missed, to check their bag -- for free.
I think my next trip, I might just skip the friendly skies and mosey down to the bus terminal. I can bring all the baggage I want, I can pack myself a smelly liverwurst sandwich, and probably, because everybody else is now flying, I'll be able to stretch out between two seats.
And instead of a jacket and tie, I'll be wearing a smile.
First Published July 21, 2012 12:00 am