Friday, February 13, 2009

Flying the Friendless Skies

Okay, so I've recently become a neophyte road warrior.

My work has suddenly begun to require a tremendous amount of business travel, which I’ve never really experienced before. This seemed like a totally cool thing to be doing, and totally worth the purchase of an amazing new suitcase (Travelpro platinum 5 series 22 inch expandable suiter, thank you very much, and a suitcase I love so much I would date it...)

I don't even mind the frequent delays that accompany the travel, after all, even the best traveler can't control the weather. Plus I joined the Admiral’s Club, so delays aren’t so bad and if things need to get reworked the staff is really helpful and I don’t have to wait in lines.
However, it recently struck me that as individuals, WE have total control over our behavior when we travel. The behavior we indulge in when we are in the privacy of our own homes is one thing. The things our friends and family decide to put up with from us, that is their choice. But when in public, let me just say, behaving like a raging asshat actually impacts the world around us.

Take a recent trip. When I arrived at O'Hare, I found that my flight was delayed over 2 hours. I headed for the Admiral's Club in hopes of a quiet place to plug in my laptop and get some work done while waiting for the flight. I found a lovely location, a circle of chairs with an open outlet, and only one other traveler, quietly working away. I plugged in. Connected to the internet. Got to work. When a woman came by to offer drinks we ordered a matching pair of Diet Cokes, and made eye contact. Smiles. We know what the deal is. Aren't we lucky to have a nice place to wait out the weather?

Then they descended. A group of eight, talking loudly in what I think was Russian, pushing aside our suitcases, gesturing for us to move our belongings out of their way, and plopping themselves down all around us, even moving over other chairs from another area. The conversation got louder and louder, cocktails arrived, raucous laughter.

It should be noted that the club has private rooms available for meetings and gatherings, not near the hardworking quiet folks.

I left. I was way outnumbered and trying to be Zen.

Then a stroke of huge luck. Despite being number 22 on the standby list for an earlier flight, I got on, second to last. There was still an overhead space big enough for my suitcase. The seat was a middle one, not the best thing for my size 20 tush, but other than that, I was grateful. We got delayed another half an hour on the tarmac due to the catering truck not arriving on time. Because those itsy bitsy microscopic bags containing four pretzels the size of my earlobe are so necessary for air travel, or someone might feel neglected!

But eventually we were wheels up. And for the next two hours there were many lessons I wish I could have taught my fellow travelers.


#1 I'm sure those papers are full of information that should not be shared with strangers. Let me recommend that you put them in your briefcase for safekeeping and take them home. Purchase a shredder, light the scraps on fire, immolate them to your hearts content. However, when you sit directly behind me and RIP PAPER INTO LITTLE BITS FOR 27 MINUTES WITHOUT STOPPING, it, um, is the weensiest bit irritating.

#2 Children are a little miracle. And I know from my friends with wee ones that sometimes in the least convenient moments, they get overtired, or scared, or their ears pop and they are in pain that doesn't make sense to them. I may have made a very personal choice not to have any children myself, but I have sort-of nieces and nephews (by choice, not by blood) and a 3 year old goddaughter I dote upon, so I am not a total idiot about the ways of the bitty ones. So when the little darlings on my plane begin to get inconsolable, I try very hard not to think of them roasting in a slow oven with a rosemary orange glaze. But when your child says "mommy, mommy, mommy..." over and over again at least 48,000 times, for the love of god ANSWER HIM. Do not sit and talk to your traveling companion as if you are completely unaware of his need for your attention.

This is where I PLEAD with airlines....I will happily pay an upcharge for childless flights. I'm not saying, I’m just saying…

#3 I appreciate that the second we land we are allowed to turn on our cell phones. As I had a car service coming to pick me up and my flight arrived three hours late, I absolutely made a QUICK CALL to let them know I had landed. I did not, however, have a fifteen minute conversation at the top of my voice about what Kimmy did at the AEPi party, and how totally smashed I was, and like, how excited I am to be coming home for the weekend. Nobody on flight 368 cares that you are a drunken ho who is totally flunking Sociology.

#4 When the flight attendants ask you to remain seated and stay out of the overhead bins until we arrive at the gate, and this will apparently come as a surprise to many, they G-ddammed mean it! You just sat for 3 hours, three more minutes is going to kill you?

#5 Bodyslamming the little old lady sitting on the aisle to wrest your rollabord out of the overhead so that you can wedge your ass in the face of the person next to you for ten minutes while waiting for the plane to disembark is just plain rude, and your mother would be ashamed of you. She raised you better than that.

#6 If you needed to stow your luggage further back than your seat due to the fullness of the flight, please wait until the plane is clear before heading back to fetch it. Swimming like a salmon upstream through the rest of us is likely to get you kneecapped.

#7 If you do not plan on taking the complimentary airline magazine or Skymall catalog with you, please note that it is not a good place to store your used gum. The seat pocket in front of you is actually not related to a wastebasket at all, and the patron coming after you is not so interested in your leftover kleenex or empty beef jerky packages. Stuffing such savory items way down into the pocket instead of just HANDING THEM TO THE ATTENDANT WITH THE GARBAGE BAG is just flipping lazy and gross.

#8 Just ask Martha Stewart. Bathing. With soap. Its a good thing.

#9 Flight attendants are in fact well-trained professionals in a high pressure service industry who have nearly 200 people to take care of. They even occasionally have to get everyone out onto the wings in the middle of the freaking Hudson, for chrissakes! They are not your personal slaves, punching bags, nor are they paid nearly enough to be treated like crap. They did not get together in a coven to conjure up a storm over O'Hare for the amusement of making your life difficult. They did not cancel your flight, lose your luggage, or fill up business class preventing your upgrade from going through. Their universe does not, in fact, revolve around you, and when you speak to them in a disrespectful manner, they do, in fact, gather in the galley and talk about your ugly green suit and bad comb-over, and assume, like the rest of us forced to listen to your pompous vitriol, that you are compensating for a very VERY small penis. Hypothetically.

#10 Your elbows. Belong. Somewhere relatively related to YOUR BODY. If they wander over near my breast one more time, I'm going to introduce my own little elbow to your balls.

#11 Friendly conversation on a plane is fine. I have met some lovely people on a flight, including one guy who I actually went on a couple dates with. But, I am not interested in becoming a cog in your pyramid scheme, purchasing life insurance from you, or hearing about the gumbo you ate last night. And when I have my laptop open and my headphones on, it is a sign, subtle though it may be, that I DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO YOU. Poking me in the arm and making me take out one earphone to hear that you hope your luggage made it on board is only going to make me cranky

ONE FLIGHT. On ONE plane, this is the behavior I witnessed, the irritations I was subjected to. But surely that can’t be normal?

Except, it, um, totally is.

Flight after flight, I become enraged, incensed, who are all these idiots and why are they always going where I am going? I hate that I have become the woman who eyes the passengers in the terminal and begins to mentally categorize them. “You with Bluetooth smoking in your ear, you’ll be the one who is rude to the flight attendant. You with the poncho, you’ll be the one at the end of my row who has to get up four times to pee during a two hour flight. You over there, with the baby, you will be the death of us all.” I find myself making snap judgments, based on looks, and what saddens me ever more than my own prejudices, is how often I am right.

Not that there aren’t the occasional good moments.

On one flight from New York to Chicago there was a young man of about five or six who was about as ill behaved a child as I have ever seen. Screaming at the top of his lungs, refusing to listen to his parents, making a racket of gargantuan proportions for nearly half the flight. I must have heard the phrase “I hate you!” bellowed at his parents about twenty times. At one point a man behind me said quietly but audibly, “I will pay anyone fifty bucks to punch that kid in the throat.”

Not trying to be funny. Just a sort of an exasperated general offer to the universe. I genuinely believe that if someone had, in fact, punched the kid in the throat, every one of us would have paid them fifty bucks, and the hero would have been able to afford business class next time.

Finally off the plane and waiting at the baggage claim, I happened to be standing next to the monster’s mother. She looked weary. Damien the Devilspawn was off somewhere with his father. And then a very kindly woman in a denim skirt and hand-knit sweater approached her. Her salt and pepper hair was in a low messy bun, and she looked as if she should smell of cookies. She smiled at the mother, tilted her head and said, in a voice full of compassion and deep personal understanding

“So, your son. He is autistic?”

The mother snapped her head up, eyes like daggers, mouth pursed into a tight line. Through clenched teeth, she replied

“No, he isn’t.”

The kindly stranger visibly jumped, muttered some apologies, and backed away, her entire response and body language screaming out ‘oh, sorry, so its just bad parenting then, didn’t mean to pry!’

I think it shows tremendous restraint that I moved to the other side of the carousel before laughing so hard I nearly passed a stone.

But I do think it is an interesting way to begin to address some of these behaviors. I am thinking very seriously of simply using this tactic on people who cannot behave appropriately. I’ll put on my sweetest most compassionate voice and just approach them and say

“So, you’re autistic, huh?”

I wish for you all an aisle seat with an empty middle seat, first bag off the carousel, and a cab driver who knows how to get to your hotel.

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