Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Don't you just hate flying?" "Yes, and I just told the worst one to my fiancee."

Observations on a flight back to the Midwest.

1. The Raleigh/Durham airport has an entirely new terminal, complete with fancy restaurants, book stores, and an Apple vending machine (yes, I capitalized Apple on purpose, meaning that it vends iPods). One of the nice features of this new terminal is the large, comfortably positioned chairs. Seriously, these chairs would have comfortably seated two of me, and were reclined just the right amount. Of course, in reality, this only makes the seats on the airplane more horrible.

2. A certain strange man in the Chicago O'Hare airport. I had a long layover (2 hours), so I went to the bathroom, bought a drink, and settled into a (less-comfortable than Raleigh) seat to read my book. The gate I was at (why do they call them gates, they are really just doors) was actually 5 different gates, F11 A, B, C, D, and E, so there was alot of activity. At least 4 planes left in the time I sat there. During this constant shuffling, there was a man who stayed in the same area, but kept getting up and moving around. I listened to him talk to a family of four. Ok, really, he talked to the father of the family, the mother and two teenage daughters just gave him weird looks. He explained a very long sob story about how he had been sitting in the airport for two days, is missing his conference, and doesn't know where his luggage is. Sad story, right? After watching him (not intently) for a couple hours, I have decided that this is a lie and he's a thief. He spent two hours focused on different individuals, zeroed in on them,watched them intently, and then came up with ways to start a conversation. He clearly has an operation going, he convinces them that he is just a poor, mistreated traveler, and then, when their guard is down, he robs them.

3. Pilots were never trained to talk to people. As part of my adventure, I was trapped in a metal tube on the runway for 2 and a half hours. During this time, the pilot announced several different reasons for the delay. First, we had to wait for some additional luggage. Then we had to wait our turn to de-ice. Then we taxied out onto the runway, and had a mechanical problem. And we had to wait to find out what it was, wait for it to be fixed, go back to the gate for it to be fixed. Finally the pilot announced, "Well folks, we have a heat sensor on the brakes, it measures how hot and how cold the breaks get, and the mechanical problem was that the sensor was acting erratically, it was saying it was hot and then it was cold and then it was hot and then it was cold, so we had to replace it." After being stuck in an incredibly hot plane for that long, I just wanted to yell, "Yes, up and down, that's what erratically means! We got it!"

4. Airlines are using smaller planes these days. On both legs of my journey, the planes held fewer than 60 people, packed full. They were the kind of planes that the stewardess checking you in has to give you a green tag if you have a rolling bag, because the overhead compartments are too small. Apparently some people were unwilling to believe her about the size of the overhead compartments because after several announcements she came over the PA: "If you have a wheelie suitcase, you MUST come to the desk now and get a green tag. The overhead compartments are the size of a shoebox! I am serious. Your bags will NOT fit!"

And so I conclude with a passage from my new book that aptly describes it all:
"Randy is in Tokyo's airport, ambling down a concourse with a slowness that is infuriating to his fellow travelers. They have all spent the last half-day strapped into bad chairs, stuffed into an aluminum tube alsosh with jet fuel. Over the safety-engineered nubs molded into the jetway floor, their rolling suitcases drone like fighter planes. They graze the backs of his knees as they bank around him."

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