Look through any window

I would not expect much agreement on whether JetBlue’s one-time flight attendant, Stephen Slater, did a good or a bad thing when he cursed passengers on a flight recently, then flew away down the emergency slide to end (for the moment?) his career with that airline. He had had his personal defenestration moment, and I am sure was on the brink of defenestration with more than a few of the passengers. We know that each person’s tipping point exists, and is different. We can hypothesize about what we might have done and criticize him or not for what he did, but the fact is that he had had enough. He was mad and could not take it any more. But, having been through the flying routine again yesterday, I wonder why it is that more people, both attendants or passengers, do not go over their tipping points during the process of going from airport to airport.

Yesterday was the now common mixture of absurd, annoying, surreal, and downright laughable. As usual, much happens from check-in. Our flight was at 8.30am and we were at the airport before 6.30. We found out that we were not going to be seated together even though our booking showed we had assigned seats together; while our six-year old is quite independent, we prefer her to sit with us. We were told we could try to arrange things at the departure gate or on the plane, but why have to do that when you believe that you had set up the desired seating? Who should we defenestrate at that moment? The flight had been oversold, we were told. I suggested that the simple thing would be to bump us up to first class and then do some rearrangement in coach. It did not happen, but it is always worth suggesting. So, we paid the $25 per checked bag and hauled them off to be sent to the plane. On to the security area: always eventful. Added to the mix of checks now is a trip through a machine that is like an airlock chamber. I think it’s a body scanner, and as I raised my arms and had a puff of air whistle past me, I hoped that this was really making us all safer. My carry on bag was packed as usual, and out came my laptop for its check. But, out too had to come everything else. Somehow, the contents (which was less than usual) could not all be seen. I think the real problem was that I had some croissants mixed in with the electrical items, and they were probably showing up as dense material. The female official asked me if I would like to repack my bag after she had taken out the contents, and I did not hesitate to say that I would not like to do that, having done it once already. She was not sure whether to smile or get vexed, so I helped her and smiled, and she followed my lead. She repacked the bag nicely, more or less as it had been originally.

We found the lounge, which for reasons that defy reason but fit some corporate policy, did not open until 7am. Why do that in an airport where people have to check in at least 2 hours before departure and flights are going from the early morning? We waited and wondered as other passengers came to the same area and waited and wondered. I have to give US Air credit, though, for having a lounge that does more than just offer space to cool out. We have never seen a lounge that has a selection of children’s books in its general area, along with the array of travel related magazines. In terms of food, they offered enough to tempt us for breakfast, but had a coffee machine that was a bit too high-tech for many, I suspect, though once we figured it out, the coffee (choose from these 20+ varieties) was great. But, it was odd that no staff were in the lounge, other than at the registration desk. I did not know if the bar was meant to be self-service; not that I wanted a beer so early in the morning. But, was this cut-backs or was it just Sunday operations?

Once we got onto our US Air flight, and were trying to rearrange seats for ourselves and our child, we found that common courtesy where attendants offer to help and fellow passengers are willing to make personal adjustments to accommodate each other. So, in no time, we had found a row of three seats for us all. In the process, a young couple had found seats adjacent to each other and were happier, and a single lady had found a similarly located aisle seat to the one she had been assigned originally so was no less happy. How very nice and civilized.

We were set for an on-time departure, and noted that drizzle was coming down, but nothing that should hold us up. “This is the captain, speaking,” we heard. “Well, we have a little problem. A light went out in the cockpit earlier, and we thought nothing about it. Now, we realise that we cannot take off until we get a bulb replaced. We have none and we are trying to see if another airline has one we can have.” My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief, as wags chimed in with remarks such as “We could have picked some up at Home Depot”. But, we all waited patiently, knowing that there was little or nothing we could do to alter the situation.  About 30 minutes later, the captain came back on the intercom with good news: he had found a bulb and it had been replaced, and as soon as the paper work was done, we would be pulling away from the gate. The sighs were clearly heard. We had lost our take off slot, so eventually took off about an hour late. We could now settle back and enjoy the short (two-hour flight). I peered out of the window to check if the pilot had defenestrated the defective bulb. I did not see any signs that he had, and cheered him for his tidiness.

Flying is not really enjoyable when you have the non-stop sound of screaming children. I understand that children dislike flying for a host of reasons, but that does not stop my disliking being trapped in a metal shell with screaming as background noise. In front of us, was a sweet little girl, who did not like flying and yelled often “I don’t like it!” at take off as she saw the ground moving away in the distance. A natural enough reaction, but still one that grates. In the rear of the plane, I could hear a long wail from a very small child, and it went on for the whole flight. Having headphones is for more than listening.

As we were due to land, cloud cover was very heavy and the plane hit several bad patches of turbulence. I am no lover of roller-coasters, but always try to sense no danger when a plane starts to rock and roll. As the plane dropped in an air pocket, the passengers let out a collective “Wheee!” as if we were all on a ride. Some even raised their arms to simulate that. It was a way to break the tension. Our little fellow passenger did not like that rolling either, but eventually got calmer as the bumps got fewer. As we approached the ground, however, she let out “Mummy, don’t go so fast!” and as the wheels touched the tarmac, she let out another yell that suggested that she was not really into fast movement of any sort. The passengers clapped and cheered as the plane touched the ground and started to taxi to the terminal. Always grateful to arrive safely.

I am glad to report that was it for drama. We cleared immigration and Customs without any hitches or delays, and when asked if we had anything to declare I showed my bandaged finger: a clear declaration that I was not in the mood to fool airport officials.

Getting out of an airport is the part of airline travel that I enjoy the most, nowadays. Time was when I was really excited to be heading off somewhere by plane. No more. My next trip is due to be by inter-city bus. I hear that it’s very cheap (less than the cost of a checked bag by air) and comes now with lots of neat perks, like wireless internet access and movie. I know from tales I have heard that I may find I have to deal with behaviour that may more than test my tolerance, but I can’t wait to just step up and get on.

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About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
This entry was posted in Bureaucracy, Human relationships, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Look through any window

  1. Ski says:

    I absolutely agree with you, travel used to be something people enjoyed but not today. We are all looked at as possible terrorists. And dear I say landing in the US when you are a foreigner is absolutley the worst. Talk about no manners in dealing with people. I do have to say they do the same in the UK with a lot more professionalism and courtesy.

    I have also to agree with you re.children on the plane. Why can’t they stay home with grandparents as I’m sure it’s not a holiday when you have to take a 6 month old baby with you. But these days we the others on the plane just have to accept thses noisy children because they are just children. Unfortunately it is the way it is.

    • Dennis Jones says:

      Ski,

      I have to admit that we travel a lot with our small child, but she has always been a good traveller and we manage her activities on a plane. So, she was either having a lot of sleep or not being a nuisance, and that involved flying routes like west Africa to Australia, when she was just a toddler, with 4 segments of over 12 hours each. Now, she knows the ropes well and we could leave her to sit with by herself with another passenger, if pushed. But, many adults are not themselves aware of how they can disturb others on a plane, and it gets hard when you have a handful of disturbances–and they can come in many forms–and the plane gets to be just like a madhouse.

  2. It surprises me that there are not more flight attendants who lash out. The experience for all is miserable. Some customers really have no behaviour!

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