“Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy the Flight”! How I hate this phrase! Its impact on me is second only to the sound of fingernails scratching across a blackboard.
I have recently re-joined the ranks of somewhat frequent fliers, and every flight is an “adventure” I’d rather not participate in. I imagine there is a section in hell where everybody is confined for eternity to a middle seat in the Basic Economy section of a major airline (You say, there is no such thing as all middle seats? Remember, this is hell – anything is possible there).
Fasten your seatbelts and follow me down the rathole of my most recent “adventure”:
Prolog: I get an eMail from Delta that states the following: “You booked a business trip through your company’s travel channels., and thanks to your organization’s partnership with Delta, Preferred Seating is on us”. In hopeful anticipation, I click my way through a couple of web pages until I see the available upgrades. My heart skips a beat or two when I see a couple of unoccupied first-class seats. “Honey”, I say excitedly to my wife, “I get to go first class!” “You deserve it”, she responds happily.
But something does not feel right, so I decide to call customer service to make sure the upgrade is truly free. After an hour wait, a chatty customer service rep finally picks up the phone. “Why certainly, we can upgrade you at no cost”, he proudly proclaims. “We can move you from row 34 to row 17”. “Extra leg room?” I ask. “No”. he answers, “but you are much closer to the front of the plane”. “Why do you consider that an upgrade?”. I can sense my blood pressure rising slowly. “Well, you get to board much sooner” he replies sheepishly. Now, I am very close to losing it: “Young man”, I say. “I am 6’3’’ tall and have sciatica in both legs. Why would you think that getting sooner into that cramped space you deem sufficient for an average human would be a privilege? I’d rather board dead last!” (comment – from a raw efficiency view I do not understand the logic by which most airlines board front to back). I hung up, and that concludes the story of my free upgrade.
Scene 1: I get to the airport on time. Thank God, I am TSA preferred this time, and the security check goes quickly. Much different from what the less privileged travelers have to endure: Poking, prodding, touching and walking through the x-ray machine with trousers dangerously close to slipping downward towards the ankles.
Scene2: I make it past the eagle-eyed gate agent who is looking for victims to be forced into checking their carry-on bags. Not to worry, this is a free service they say! How magnanimous! (Note: I would prefer to pay an honest fare rather than being nickled and dimed to death – the fight for overhead bin space began when airlines started charging a fee for checked luggage).
Scene3: As I am slowly making my way down the aisle to find my seat, I am praying not to be seated next to a heavy person or a “sleeper”. The first category can’t help but bleed into your space, and the second one often does so involuntarily ,once an open jaw and some odd noises are indication that consciousness has temporarily left its host.
Scene5: Now firmly wedged into the allotted space, I feel like a piece of luggage, and as we are taxiing down the runway, a helpful flight attendants teaches us the art of fastening a seat belt (for which I am ever so grateful – still trying to figure out how to reattach the belt to my trousers) and is calming everybody’s nerves by pointing out that the seat cushions float in water. Once we are airborne, the captain comes on to deliver his atrociously disingenuous “enjoy your flight” message. I am particularly encouraged by his promise that he will try his best to make up for the half hour delay at the gate (praying to God for tail wind?).
Scene6: Finally, we get the OK to use our laptops. It takes a while to extract the machine from its location under the seat in front of me. I have barely enough space to open this thing, but with a bit of twisting and neck craning, it is possible to make both keyboard and screen functional, albeit at awkward angles. And then it happens! The fellow in front of me reclines his seat. Bang! The seat introduces itself rather forcefully to my knees. Of course, my knees respond with a strong message in return. My fellow passenger turns around with an angry look on his face and only grudgingly accepts my explanation that my legs are not bendable. The seat back stays reclined though, and as a result my laptop has become inoperative – there is just not enough space.
Scene7: I resign myself to do some light reading and to waste time struggling with the NY Times crossword puzzle. Finally, the fabled inflight service begins. “Would you like pretzels, cookies or a health bar?”, the elderly male flight attendant asks with a syrupy smile. I pick the cookies and muster the courage to ask for the whole can of coke. I feel for the flight attendants. They are made to serve garbage and act as if this were champagne and caviar.
Scene8: Experience lets me know when we are beginning our final descent. An announcement from the captain, which as usual is barely understandable, confirms the notion. Thirty minutes later we are on the ground. On the way out we are all thanked profusely by a flight crew that would rather do anything but that.
Epilogue: The following is not at all meant for the hard-working airline employees who get me from here to there safely and often even on time. It is for the greedy, clueless executives whose policies force otherwise wonderful human beings into behaviors essentially alien to them ——- Dear airlines: My county Waste Management Department gives me better service than you do. You treat your customers with disdain and have the gall to act as if you are doing us a favor. You are largely protected from our wrath because your industry is an oligopoly. If you had to compete with companies that provide excellent customer service, you would all be out of business in no time. But do not rest easy, there is a huge threat looming in your future. Remember those two words: “VIRTUAL REALILTY”. Enjoy your flight!