Monday, February 21, 2011

Just Another Trip - NOT

I travel for work and will typically spend 45 weeks out of the year on the road. These weeks normally begin and end at DFW Airport and often include an additional airport or two in between.  Despite the fact that there are no airports on the Alaskapade, some people still ask me why it's not just another trip. Turns out, there is such a thing as a stupid question.  For me, the Alaskapade is the trip.  I don’t consider my business travel to be an adventure, although if you’ve read some of my other stuff, those trips sometimes turn out that way, usually because of some dim-witted action on my part.  The Alaskapade will be enough of an adventure without my help.  But I digress.

I’ll cover thousands of miles passing through eleven states, four Canadian provinces, and innumerable cities and counties; all having never stepped foot into an airport or on an airplane. The travel machine will have no influence or impact on my itinerary. Listed below are some elements from my typical air travel experiences that I will neither encounter nor miss while I’m on the road in June.

Let’s start in the terminal. I’ll skip the security theater details here as many readers (and apparently the TSA) are aware of my clearly articulated opinions and experiences there.

In the departure lounge:

First of all, It's presumptuous of the airlines to call the gate seating area a departure lounge.  Lounge? Really?  I know they work for the airline, but have they ever had to sit in one of these "lounges"?

Priority Carry-On Bags
Passengers with "Special Bags"
On most flights, all of the gate area seats are taken and many passengers are forced to stand. Still, there are inconsiderate idiots who feel their baggage is so important that it deserves its own seat in the overcrowded departure lounge. Some people actually take up both seats on either side of the one in which they're sitting. I personally don't care because I typically stand while waiting for my flight. I'll have plenty of time to sit when I'm in the air. I just hate seeing older travelers having to stand so some snob's Hartmann bag can sit in a chair.

The boarding stampede
I am as guilty as most when it comes to boarding.  The difference is on American Airlines, I am a Platinum flier and I get to board immediately after the a-holes in first class.  They're only a-holes because they're in first class and I'm not.  If I'm upgraded to first class, then it's perfectly acceptable; even necessary. [I'm claiming writer's prerogative on this one.]  I get a kick out of the people who's boarding pass clearly states GROUP 4, yet they charge the jet bridge and demand to board with the earlier groups anyway.  For the most part, the gate staff do a pretty good job of telling them they must wait. I personally believe there should be a trap door through which these dorks are dropped and then forced to ride in the plane's cargo hold.

People who think that wheels on a suitcase, no matter the size, makes their bag a carry-on 
Need I say more?

Passengers who think the weather gods work for the airline
I get a kick out of pASSsengers who blame the flight attendants, ticket agents, or gate personnel for weather related delays. If these employees' name badges don't say Anemi, Aurae, Boreus, or Zephyrus, chances are they don't possess the power to command the forces of earth, wind, and fire. If they did, do you really think they would wast their time at a job where they have to listen to idiots like you?  These passengers should get the trap door and ride with that dork from GROUP 4.

On the plane:

People who slam their seat back with no consideration for how little space there is behind them
I used to carry a wooden door stop type wedge that would fit into the articulating hinge of the seat back. It was always entertaining to watch the guy in front of me push the button and try to lean back, bouncing back and forth and then finally give up. I could have sold dozens of those little gems to the passengers on my row. I suppose the joke is on me because I forgot it and left it on a plane a few years ago.

People who put small carry-on's in the overhead storage bins
These people must be inbred relatives of the inconsiderate dick who's bag needed its own seat. Overhead storage is to passengers as catnip is to cats.  There's always a frenzy to get some. If the space over my seat is occupied by a bag that would fit under the seat and there's no other space near me, I have no problem pulling it out (the bag), asking who's it is, and placing mine in there. Of course, this is after stuffing my other bag under the seat in front of me. You can't be a hypocrite when you call someone else out, ya know.  They usually whine to the flight attendant, who in turn advises them that it will fit under the seat in front of them.

Captain Quaalude
Bueller?  Bueller?
We’ve all heard the pilot make his announcements during the flight. I always wonder to myself if the s-l-o-w, draaaaaged-out, breathy speeeeech is contrived or if thses guys are really that mellow. Maybe they teach it in airline pilot school. Nevertheless, I get the impression these guys could sleep through an orgasm. No matter what they’re announcing, it’s the same monotone pattern that makes reading the nutritional information on a box of rice more exciting. I sometimes wonder if Ben Stein is my pilot. If I were in the cockpit, I guarantee you the announcement would be more exciting and my passengers would damn sure be paying attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, please ensure your seatbelts are securely fastened. I’m gonna try something.  I saw it in a cartoon once and I’m pretty sure I can pull it off.”

Flight Attendants who make up excuses for having to turn off your electronic devices
Anyone who flies knows there is no technological reason to turn off your electronic devices when the plane is taking off or on approach for landing. The flight attendants should just shrug and acknowledge the rule is bullshit and admit that it's not their rule to break. Personally, I just accept the rule, nod, and like any seasoned passenger, hide my iPod and phone so the flight attendant can't see it. I don't have to hide them from the other passengers. They're too preoccupied hiding theirs to pay attention to me.

Twenty ears ago, I participated in an extensive study for a major airline who wanted to understand the effect of cellular phones on their aircraft systems. After a six-month study, we delivered a New York City phone book sized report with our findings.  Our tests, which were conducted on the ground, in the air, and in hangars, yielded no interference whatsoever to the "sensitive" avionics. The results were not what this AAirline wanted and they subsequently buried the data. At that time, they were selling phone airtime through their GTE AAirfone product.  They were simply protecting their turf and hoped that physics would back them up.  The flying public in general was not sophisticated enough to know any better.

These days, airplanes are externally bombarded from a wide spectrum of frequencies which, by comparison,  relegate mobile phone measurements to negligible at best.  Avionics systems designs have been refined over the last twenty years and can deal with the increasingly pervasive presence of consumer radio frequency devices. Consumers have become too tech savvy to just accept the lame interference line from flight attendants. I wanted an explanation, so I consulted an insider; an industry expert.  My sister has been an American Airlines flight attendant for over 30 years. She admitted that the FAA, the FCC, and the airlines are well aware that there is no interference from consumer devices.  They just want your attention when they take off and land. So in the interest of passenger safety, all Kindle users must power off their reader. However, these same passengers can open a book and immerse themselves, completely ignoring the flight attendant instructions.  Laptops and personal video players must also be powered down before taking off and must remain that way until the flight attendant remembers to announce that "approved" devices are approved for use.  Interestingly enough, the video screens on the airplane continue to run throughout the taxi and take-off without placing the passengers and crew in peril.

The airlines also tell you that personal electronic devices that are Wi-Fi capable are allowed only if the wireless function can be disabled in order to "prevent harmful interference to sensitive aircraft avionics systems".  I find it interesting that I am allowed to enable my wireless functions if I'm paying to use the Wi-Fi system installed on the aircraft.  It's not clear to me if paying the fee makes the avionics less sensitive or if it makes my wireless function interfere less. This is a hypocrisy the airlines don't even bother to try to cover up.

Misbehaving children
When the kid is screaming and kicking my seat from behind, three words come to mind: Flintstone's Chewable Valium.  The flight attendants should be empowered to forcefully dispense heavy doses of Benadryl at my discretion.

The guy who stuffs his oversized carry-on into a bin at row five when he is seated in row 33
I have actually moved people's bags to other rows to the other side of the plane just to screw with their heads.  I've also sat and watched them lose it when they think someone stole their bag. On a crowded Air Canada flight to Winnipeg, I found myself on the last row where I got to enjoy the roar of the jet engine outside my window and the aroma of the lavatory directly behind me. Traveling on airlines other than American with no frequent flier status sucks. But I digress. As I placed my bag in the overhead bin, I also got to enjoy the company of a guy who proudly proclaimed that he put his bags in a front row bin so he wouldn't have to drag them up the aisle when we deplaned. I just nodded and smiled as I took my aisle seat.  When we landed, the flight attendant announced that we would be deplaning from the rear of the aircraft and I thought this guy was going to come unglued. I'm normally one of those people who stands up as soon as allowed when the plane lands so I can stretch and gather my belongings.  This time, I just sat patiently, waited for them to open the rear door, and watched this guy's skin crawl off his back.

Pay for food, Pay for drinks
Pay for your checked baggage
Pay for a blanket
Pay for a pillow
Pay for crappy headphones to watch CBS reruns
The airline can pay to kiss my butt.  I paid enough for my airfare. I never check bags, I bring my own headphones, and I drink water, so those fees are out. I can't imagine paying for one of those disease infested blankets that have been used as snot rags, diapers, and baby wipes by thousands of passengers. And the pillows?  How do you think I tolerate the rock hard cushions that comprise the bottom of the seat.  I would never pay for a pillow that I know people sit on for hours at a time.

The exit row emergency briefing
These days, you need to pretty much be a Navy Seal to qualify to sit in the exit row.  Beyond paying my airfare, now I also have the added responsibility for saving the lives of the passengers around me.  The briefing I usually receive depends on the flight attendant delivering it.  Some are as succinct as "you guys all know the routine, right?" We nod and the attendant walks away.  Others practically read the speech to me and they don't like it if I look away unless I'm holding the aircraft safety briefing card and faking like I'm listening instead of my usual habit of trying to guess their age and cup size.

One one flight, I was the only passenger in any of the ten exit row seats.  The flight attendant, one of the oldest I've ever seen,  practically sat in my lap as she conducted the most thorough exit row briefing I've ever had.  Her instruction included using my right hand to grasp the bottom of the door and my left to turn the latch, how and where to place the door inside the aircraft after I removed it, and where to stand on the wing as I directed exiting passengers to safety after we "land".  Ever the smart ass, I informed her that I was left handed and asked if I should sit on the other side of the aisle.  Her head cocked sideways slightly like Nipper the RCA dog hearing his master's voice. Then I asked her what to do with the door since the exit row seats have immovable arm rests that occupy the space where she had instructed me to place the door after I removed it.  More head cocking.  Finally, I asked her if I was supposed to open all four of the doors since I was the only briefed and qualified passenger on this flight available to do so, and if so, in what order should they be opened?  At this point, she looked like Regan from The Exorcist and her head pretty much did a complete 360.

Look, I've been in a plane crash. Not a commercial airliner; a military transport, but a deadly crash nonetheless. So, I know exactly how I will proceed in the exit row if the situation calls for me to respond.  Left hand, right hand my ass. I will chew the handle off and rip that door off with my bare feet if I have to.  Which door?  The one closest to me and God help any passenger who sits between it and me. The door will wind up wherever the hell I throw it. If we have a water "landing", rest assured the door will wind up in the drink and if it floats, I have a life raft. Finally, any passengers who exit after me (which will be ALL of them) will not need any direction as to where to go because they will see and hear my happy ass paddling away on my floating door.  I think they should let me conduct the exit row briefing.

The dirty doo doo diaper changer
I know babies are necessary. Somebody has to speak for E-Trade and model for diaper commercials. I don't mind traveling near babies as long as they aren't mine. On one flight, a woman on my row actually lifted the arm rest between her window seat and the middle seat where her baby was laying, stripped the kid and changed its runny shit-filled diaper right next to me. I glanced over briefly and it looked like she fed him a green chili sauce burrito from Taco Bell. My eyes were watering so much that my contacts fogged up and I thought I was going to barf. Other passengers were turning to stare at me like I farted and all I could do was hold my nose with one hand and point with the other. Then, she folded and taped the doo doo bomb into a neat little triangle and proceeded to take precious and its diaper bag to the lavatory - leaving the bomb in the seat next to me.  I waited till she was far enough away and then stuffed the diaper into the carry on bag she placed under the middle seat. I suppose she thought the flight attendant took the diaper because when she returned, she didn't ask.


People who snore loudly
I know I snore occasionally, but I do it in my bed. Passenger snoring can be entertaining for a moment or two, especially when they awaken and look around wondering why everyone suddenly looks away grinning.  After a while, I find myself willing to actually pay for a pillow to stuff down their throat.  Nevertheless, don't snore on my row or you'll wind up on my blog.

People who jump up the instant the plane gets close to the gate
I know when we land at DFW, the trip from the end of the runway to the gate often feels as if we landed in Houston and are taxiing up I-45 to Dallas. And heaven forbid the aircraft arrive five minutes early or we get sent to the nether regions of the airport to sit in time out.  Despite all these usual occurrences, there are always people who jump up and reach for their bags in the overhead. I can hear it coming when their seat belts clank loudly. When the pilot hits the breaks and the idiot falls forward, it takes every ounce of control for me to not laugh out loud.

I could go on and on ad nauseam about this.  Indeed, many of you probably think I already have.  My point is that business travel is far more glamorous to those who don't have to do it than it is for those of us who do.  That said, The Alaskapade will have no dirty diaper babies, nobody telling me how to exit, and nobody snoring; except possibly me. And if that happens, I'll be sleeping alone in my tent and no one will hear me.