Something Special in the Air

So we’re returned from our Christmas excursion to strange foreign (West Coast) lands, and have a renewed appreciation for how really awful the flying experience has become. I am old enough to remember when I looked forward to flying, although that might have less to do with my age than with the fact that I used to have a job that involved a lot of overseas business-class travel, with lounges, comfortable seats, personal video, something approaching real food, and interesting destinations. I don’t have a job like that (or, hell, a job) anymore, so on the rare occasions when I do fly nowadays I get the full-on modern airline experience rather than the artificially insulated one. In other words, I’m flying coach to California. Also, I have a six year old kid who wasn’t even a hint of an imagined thing back when I was a sophisticated world traveler. That’s a big difference too.

I don’t want to single out any actual airlines for ridicule, but let’s just say that we had booked a flight on Palin Air that was being operated by An Airline That Lee Greenwood Would Be Proud to Fly. Why we didn’t just book the flight with Lee Greenwood Airlines is unclear to me, but it somehow made sense to the fine people computer algorithms at Expedia. We tried to check in online via Greenwood Airlines, since it was their flight, and were told to check in via Palin Air, which I assume will be possible once that particular carrier is able to afford a computer and create its own Geocities site or something. So we went to the airport and found the Palin Air counter, where we tried to check in on their self-service terminals and had no luck, so we then talked to a ticket agent who explained that, you know, Greenwood Airlines is running this flight, so you gotta check in with them, dummy. Thus chastened, we headed to the Greenwood Airlines counter as I let my wife know that, if Greenwood Airlines tried to send us back to the Palin Air counter, I was probably going to wind up on a no-fly list.

Get the full experience after the break.

Let’s not be completely negative here. When we went through security, we somehow got put in the TSA Precheck line. I don’t know how this happened or why we were so lucky, but it was awesome. Leave your computer in your bag, leave your shoes on, leave your belt on? Just put your bag on the conveyor and walk through the metal detector? Amazing. OK, I did take my belt off, because leaving it on seemed like pushing my luck somehow, and I suppose it’s a measure of how far our standards have fallen that “today you don’t have to strip naked and unpack all your bags at security!” seems like a tremendously generous gift as compared to the traditional airport experience, but whatever. It was nice. Then we made the mistake of getting on the airplane.

We’re in a bit of a transition period as far as airlines go. We moved from Chicago to northern Virginia a few months ago and hadn’t actually taken any flights anywhere since then. From Chicago, when we flew to California to visit my in-laws we’d usually fly one of three carriers: Very Rich British Guy America, Geographic Region to the South and West Airlines, or United (sorry, I got tired of the euphemisms). So it’s been a while since I was on a Greenwood Airlines flight. Apparently they’ve adopted a new policy of leaving small gifts for you in your seat pockets, like the air-sickness bag in my seat pocket that was filled with orange peels and an old coffee cup, or the air-sickness bag in my wife’s seat pocket (which I made the mistake of checking for her after I saw how mine was stocked), that was filled with human spit. While I applaud the effort to make passengers feel like they’re still at home, you might want to check before you leave the undoubtedly bonus-level gift spit bag, to make sure that the recipient is actually the sort of person who just likes to hock one on the rug or wherever they are at the time.

To make matters worse better, I mean, obviously better, we were sitting in row 30, which is apparently the last row in that particular type of aircraft, and so we had the privilege of sitting right in front of the lavatories. You haven’t truly experienced the joie de vivre of modern air travel until you’ve combined the twin benefits of the gift spit bag and the seats in front of the lavatory. After a while I became convinced that Greenwood Airlines’ old slogan, “Something Special in the Air,” referred to the heady aroma rather than to the airplanes themselves. Our circumstances were not helped by the fact that we were apparently on a special Small Bladder Flight, as the constant and never fewer than eight people deep line for the restroom suggested. My daughter, who is something of a connoisseur of public toilet facilities, found the bathroom so interesting that she herself had to go about 10 times in the six hour flight. Other than the time or two when she locked herself in, this was not so big a deal.

We managed to make it to Los Angeles without breaking out the oxygen masks, and had a lovely few days of 80+ degree Christmas weather before heading back to LAX to begin our (one-stopover, on United) journey back home. Now I am pretty sure that, if there is a hell, mine will be having to wait for a flight at LAX, in one of those “a and b” gates where they actually have two gates but only half the needed number of seats, only the flight never takes off. What I noticed about this particular trip is the clever way in which the PA systems for the gate agents actually muffle their voices. I’m pretty sure they’d be louder if they just talked normally. Meanwhile they have to compete with the neverending stream of incredibly loud security announcements, because IF YOU SEE A SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE, REPORT IT TO SECURITY IMMEDIATELY. DON’T HESITATE TO REPORT ANY SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES TO SECURITY. HAVE YOU SEEN ANY SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES THAT YOU COULD REPORT TO SECURITY YET? WHY HAVEN’T YOU REPORTED ANY SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES TO SECURITY, FOR GOD’S SAKE, DO YOU WANT EVERYBODY HERE TO DIE? LOOK, JUST KICK THAT LADY NEXT TO YOU IN THE FACE AND REPORT HER PACKAGE AS SUSPICIOUS. IT WILL BE OUR LITTLE SECRET. I’m not questioning the importance of reporting suspicious packages, and certainly not questioning the pressure that TSA agents at LAX must feel, but I don’t think we need to have that message blared at us over and over, especially when it means that people at the gate can’t hear potentially important messages about their flight, do we?

So we finally get on the flight, find our seats, take off, and of course the person in front of me hits that recline button and I get to spend the four hours to Chicago (where we were changing planes) with their head in my chest. I don’t know where you come down on the whole “is it rude to recline your seat in coach?” debate, but it is, and if you disagree you’re wrong. I’ll admit that the real fault here is with the airlines, who manage to create a seat that doesn’t recline anywhere near enough to make it anything approaching comfortable but does recline just enough to make the person behind you feel like he’s flying in a shoebox. But they’re not about to get rid of the reclining seats, so it’s up to the people flying not to be jerks about it. Luckily, I had to get up a couple of times during the flight, so I could wedge myself out into the aisle and then pinball my way back into my seat. Really fun times.

The flight attendant came around to ask if we wanted anything, and since we’d gotten a fast breakfast in the airport I was under the silly assumption that we were all satisfied for the time being. Imagine my surprise when my daughter ordered all the finest meats and delicacies in the land brought to her seat at once. Sadly they were out of Pringles, which kind of panicked me a little. I mean, how does an airplane run out of Pringles an hour into a four-hour flight? Is there some kind of nation-wide Pringle shortage? Does the President need to consider opening up our strategic pressed potato leavings reserves in order to manufacture more of these food-like things? But, anyway, some food came, and the three things she ordered came to a very reasonable $1628.50, so we were all good.

The in-flight entertainment was the film Jobs, which was not about a WalMart greeter position that comes alive and terrorizes people on a beach. Who knew? Actually it was about Steve Jobs, this very rich man who was kind of a jerk but managed to find lots of really talented people and then say vague platitudes in their general vicinity until people threw money at them, or really him. It stars Ashton Kutcher as Ashton Kutcher, playing Ashton Kutcher pretending to be Steve Jobs if Steve Jobs were a lot more like Ashton Kutcher. I especially liked the part where Kutcher Jobs got to exact terrible vengeance on a bunch of people who once mildly inconvenienced him by giving those people enormous sums of money to quit their jobs. I remember thinking, “Gosh, I hope somebody wreaks the same kind of vengeance on me someday.”

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We had a short layover in Chicago, and breaking up the flights that way, while inconvenient and longer than a non-stop, actually seemed to make the last hour or so with the child go a lot better than it did on the non-stop flight we took out to LA. Then it was a short taxi ride home and here we are. Congratulations, airlines, for making what is mostly a luxury seem like anything but. Happy holidays!


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