Saturday, May 10, 2008

Up, Up and Away

I recently flew somewhere. It doesn’t matter where; the experience is the same on every flight, unless you’re wealthy enough to fly first class, which of course makes everyone in coach hate you.

I was packed with approximately eight bazillion other passengers into coach seating that reclined, for my comfort, about three angstroms. The stewardesses -- oh, excuse me, flight attendants -- served delicious cuisine that would make Denny’s proud. One of the flight attendants was male, and it occurred to me that this guy must feel about as masculine as Gwyneth Paltrow in a tutu. I mean, can you imagine having that job, meeting someone at a party and being asked what you do for a living? In that situation I would definitely lie. For example:

Stranger: “What do you do for a living?”
Me:         “I make pornographic films featuring invertebrates.”

This would at least lend me the dignity of appearing creative.

Anyway, my seat was about the size of an oven mitt, except not as wide. Also there was a guy next to me who apparently was on his way to an introductory Jenny Craig conference. As I sat there envying Inquisition victims, I tried to think of ways in which the airline could have made me even more uncomfortable. For example, by having knives come out of the seat and stab me. The guy in front of me practically sitting in my lap added a personal touch that I’d never be able to find, say, on a bus.

Oh, and let’s not forget the overhead compartments, which were stuffed like sausages. It never ceases to amaze me how people can make travel bags the size of major appliances fit in a space that normally wouldn’t even accommodate a standard poodle.

I’m sure we all know why people desperately wedge their bags into passenger cabin spaces: it’s better than entrusting their belongings to baggage handlers, who apparently love to play a game called Let’s See What Happens When We Drop This Bag from a Weather Balloon. Actually this is not our biggest fear. Our biggest fear is that our possessions will go to Portugal when we’re flying to Baltimore. You know the feeling: you wait patiently at the conveyor belt while 387 bags and suitcases stroll by, mocking you, and after about thirty minutes, when you start to see the same unclaimed items a second or third time and no new items are appearing, you experience the horror of realizing that THOSE MORONS LOST MY LUGGAGE! So, full of righteous indignation, you make haste to the nearest counter and explain, in a tightly controlled voice even though you’d like to kill everyone in the airline industry, that YOU IDIOTS LOST MY LUGGAGE AND I WANT YOU TO FIND IT, GODDAMMIT! So the employee behind the counter, who has been on Prozac for seven years because his entire job consists of dealing with irate people like you, offers the most insincere apology a human being can make before spending 20 minutes typing messages into his computer such as, “Any chance of getting this suitcase back into the States before Labor Day?” Then, when it has become apparent that your possessions are lying somewhere alongside Jimmy Hoffa, he’ll have you fill out some kind of claim form, which serves no useful purpose other than to keep you occupied so you don’t snap and go postal. You might be given an 800 number to call in order to track your piece of luggage, but don’t get your hopes up that the “luggage professionals” will ever find it, because the education level of most baggage handlers is one step below that of stewardesses. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t pick on baggage handlers so much. After all, baggage handling is not a simple task: they put the luggage in the plane, the plane takes off, the plane lands, and the luggage is gone. It’s very complicated.