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Air Travel Woes
by jeremy    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 room.

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:

  1. Hell in liquid form
  2. If rubbing alcohol were made from grapes, it would taste like this.
  3. A wine that helps you celebrate that happy occasion and disinfect that open sore.
  4. A favorite with the homeless all over the world.
  5. As good coming back up as it is going down.
  6. Available whereever fine auto care products are sold.
From now on, I'm sticking to soda and juice.

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 them.

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 checked.

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?

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