Thursday, May 25, 2006

Terra firma

Note: I'm writing this from the docile comfort of my living room. I've missed this place and the people who share my name who make this house a home. If I ramble a bit in this entry, blame the fatigue and leftover bronchitis buzz. Here goes...

I know there's something cool about waking up before first light and crossing the continent in time to have dinner with my family. So many words have been written about the lore and the poetry of long distance flight. It is indeed magical.

Today, however, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and ended up somewhat childishly focused on the nagging annoyances of air travel. Not that I wanted to be. It just happened. Here are some of my observations from the journey:
  • You will inevitably get into line at the security checkpoint behind a woman who has no idea what she's doing. She will ask you a million questions. Slowly. She will reask those questions as you desperately look for someone, anyone in uniform who can take care of her. She will ignore your furtive glances at your wrist as you realize your plane's engines are probably already turning and they're calling your name at the gate.
  • Also inevitably (this word seems to be permanently linked with air travel...discuss...) you will have the joy of Type A people - always men, for some reason - cutting in front of you in every line you're in. Check-in, security, boarding...doesn't matter, he'll deke you out, then stare at you with that look of death that only someone who's destined to die of cardiac failure at 42 can muster.
  • When a genial elderly gentleman sitting behind you asks whether his removing the magazine from the seat pocket disturbed your back, resist the urge to let him know you didn't feel a thing. I'm not sure what he was doing back there, but I could have lived without the resulting lumbar massages that lasted for the rest of the flight.
  • Personal space doesn't seem to be as sacred as it once was. I always try to sit by the window so that I can scrunch up against the bulkhead, nod off and pretend to be in my own world for the rest of the flight. Call me silly, but I just don't enjoy touching arms with my fellow travellers. So my new neighbor's propensity to share her blanket with me and lean over the Line of Death - usually known as the arm rest - wasn't exactly the highlight of my day. And, no, I'm really not that interested in your dog-eared issue of People magazine, either.
  • Bad: airlines not serving meals on board any flight.
  • Worse: airlines charging for boxes filled with junk food.
  • Inexcusable: airlines not having any entertainment - not even a cheesy movie - on a transcontinental flight.
  • Salvation: my iPod. My camera. My wickedly nasty sense of humor.
  • To wit, here's what I did on my flight out west earlier this week: I took the Skittles out of the aforementioned junk food box and laid them out on my tray. The elderly lady next to me stared at me in amazement. I could see in her eyes that she wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I smiled at her, said nothing, and proceeded to slowly and deliberately turn each Skittle face up so that the S was visible. I arranged the colors so that they were more or less evenly distributed. I then took out my camera and surveyed the result from a number of angles. I resisted the urge to scribble my blog address on a napkin and hand it to her.
The moral of all this is simple: The new age of travel requires travellers to make their own fun. You can either let the few hundred wackjobs you meet along the way get to you, or you can make lemonade out of lemons.

Postscript: As I settled into the final leg of my journey - a tiny wind-up propellor/commuter plane - the pilot announced over the PA that they were waiting for the waits and balances calculations to come back from the airline's operations center. OK, I thought, nothing I haven't heard before. He proceeded to explain in pretty neat detail what this meant. Then he explained that the reason it was taking so long was because they send 'em back via carrier pigeon.

After he laughed and confirmed that he was just teasing us, I thought how cool it was to have a pilot who made the effort to connect with the folks whose lives were entrusted to him. The flight ended up suffering a minor delay due to thunderstorms. He repeatedly got on the horn and talked us through what was going on and how they were responding.

One person stood out from the countless boobs I encountered today. I hope that when you travel, you take the time to find that one diamond sitting in the middle of all that slag. Then forget about the grandpa who's getting his jollies fondling the seat behind you.

Your turn: Got a travel horror story?


kenju said...

The only one I can think of is the time I flew from LA to RDU with a stomach virus (which I didn't know I had until I got on the plane). I spent the majority of the flight in the bathroom and had major tinnitus from the engine noise, which remains today.

Mamacita said...

I do, but both of them concern horrible out-of-control brats and their clueless insipid mothers. On a red-eye flight.

jennypenny said...

My horror story is getting my flight cancelled in edmonton in January. Gah that was no good. I totally agree with you on the ipod as salvation though. Saved me in my travels many times.

rashbre said...

It is a shame that the airlines have been squeezing the last few dollars out of the 'in flight experience'. But in honesty, when they used to always serve food on medium and short haul, I'd often decline in any case.

I also like window seats and leaning my head against the edge of the plane, and a book and iPod makes a great personal bubble.

I can go into 'airport lounge' mode now fairly easily (like a meditative state) which means that the processing of me and others around me doesn't seem any where near so bad or traumatic.

On the naughty humour - have you ever said you were an air crash investigator to a very talkative person sitting next to you?

Greetings from England,

Sandy said...

I want to see the skittle pictures!

Horror story, oh certainly. So here I am, returning from a press tour in Boston. It is easily a 5 hour drive from my front door to Boston. Yet we always flew.

No problem getting to the plain in Logan. No problem with the flight. No problem landing. And then we sat.

And we sat.

And we sat.

And we sat.

I'm not sure what happened exactly, but for whatever reason no one was leaving the gates at Newark that night. And with all the gates tied up with sitting planes, landing planes got to sit too. We sat on that tarmac for nearly an hour. A very long. Hot. Cranky. Hour.

When we finally got to taxi up to the gate and be free of our tiny little stuffy seats, my husband knew better than to ask me how the flight was. ;) It had been an hour at Logan between check-in and take off. A 2 hour flight. Another hour on the tarmac. About a 1/2 hour to navigate through the terminal and to the parking lot to find our car in the over crowded hourly lot AND then the 1 1/2 hour drive home.

I could have driven home faster.

srp said...

My daughter and I left Norfolk, VA to fly to Columbus, MS. One leg to Atlanta, puddle hopper to Columbus.

First mistake: taking the late afternoon flight. Thunderstorms delayed take-off at ORF for two hours.

Second mistake: checking the bag with toiletries. We missed the last plane to Columbus. Had to stay in a cheesy airport hotel.

Next morning, we fly on to Columbus. Our bags are touring the US. They arrive late that afternoon, about an hour before my dad and brother showed up. They drove from VA to MS and almost beat us there.

Here from Michele.

A BCer in Toronto said...

It's not so much a horror story, but an annoyance, and an politness question: if you're going to take one of those portable DVD things on the plane to entertain your five year old, why wouldn't you take along headphones too? I mean, it's a nice idea, but I have no desire to be forced to listen to the disney movie of the week for two hours at full volume!

Chatty said...

I used to love flying until one Thanksgiving I was flying home (I went to college in NH and lived in VA)we hit horrific turbulence in a lightening and thunderstorm. I was scared and held my breath. The woman next to me began to scream holding her Rosary beads. I've not been able to fly without crying ever since.

Stopping by via Michele this evening, Carmi.

Just a trumpet player said...

My worst nightmare involes a drooly and snoring man with his head on MY shoulder... Yikes !

barbie2be said...

carmi, i love your story about the skittles. i do the same thing with M&M's and people around me look at me oddly. but that's ok.

michele sent me this time.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I don't know how you dom it Carmi...I can't travel anymnore but I don't think I would anyway inless it was absolutely essential. Traveling on a plane now is like being on the Subway in NYC in Rush Hour! HORRIBLE!

I hope you weren't in L.A. on your trip "out west"...I'm so hoping to meet you my dear...

And, I'm here from Michele tonight!

Grins said...

I have a quite a few travel horror stories but where is the photo of the Skittles?

Me said...

You have not flown until you have flown IN China with people who have never been on a plane before, which was pretty much the entire cabin full of people! First, there are no such things as lines. I kid you not. Then, there is the actual flight: I have seen people standing up and posing for pictures WHILE TAKING OFF ON THE RUNWAY, people chatting away on cellphones to everyone they can call, the constant leaning over to see out the window until I finally changed seats with them, playing with the buttons (lights on, lights off, lights on, lights off...). Luckily it was only a 45 minute flight.

Culture shock.... At least it's an adventure I lived to tell about later.

My husband says "Then there's landing front wheel first, but that's another story!"

Ms Mac said...

Have I ever! One day I'll be sufficiently recovered enough to blog the incident which involved a very drunk passenger on a long haul flight and eventually Singaporean Police!

Anonymous said...

I think the worst (of a few) was sitting on the tarmac at Miami Int'l airport on our way to Cancun, for 3 hours strapped to our seats before being allowed to take off, only to hit the worst tropical storm ever! It was like being in a washing machine! It was my husband's 1st flight and he did not stop vomitting (sorry!) until we arrived. When we arrived the airport was flooded with 2 feet of water and we had to carry our luggage up over our heads. I had to drug him severely to get him back on the return flight! Funny now, but not then!!