A Harsh Screed On Airplane Boarding

I’ve been doing a lot of air travel lately, and I’ve concluded that the boarding process is broken beyond repair.  Inevitably, it produces delays, irritation, and examples of all that is bad in human nature.   And, it even results in situations where normally even-tempered people (which I thought reasonably applied to me, until last night) end up grinding their teeth and resenting people who claim to have some kind of infirmity or other reason to receive preferential treatment.  I’ve reached the point where I’ve jsut got to unburden myself about it.

Last night, as I flew home on a Southwest flight, I saw all of the elements of what makes modern air travel so frustrating.  (Of course, Southwest goes by the A/B/C open-seating  approach, but the “zone” approach to seating now seems to be used by pretty much everybody, so the lessons are the same.)  We start by giving preferential seating treatment to anybody who claims some kind of infirmity.  They roll, hobble, or walk down the jetway first, and always take the choicest seats at the front of the plane — inevitably on the aisle, where they can take their own sweet time about getting out of their seats and allowing people to sit in the window or middle seats in their aisle, delaying the people who are getting on behind.  This always causes me to wonder why they choose the aisle seat, knowing that getting up and down, twice, is going to be a very . . . deliberate process

Then the people coming on behind take their aisle seats first, toward the front of the plane.  When people want to sit in the middle or window seats in their aisles, the aisle seaters have to stand up and block the aisle to allow the others through, further delaying people who are coming aboard.  And, as those people queue up, there are always further traffic jams behind as people try to find room in overhead bins around their seats.  On last night’s flight, some inconsiderate jerk shoved his bag into an inadequate space so that it was hanging halfway out of the overhead bin, which clearly couldn’t be closed, then left it up to a busy flight attendant to lug it somewhere else while claiming that he couldn’t do so because he was sitting inside one of the aged who takes forever to rise from his seat.

And, of course, deplaning is equally bad.  The aged and infirm at the front of the plane take forever to leave, and last night one of them decided he had to be a raconteur as he was oh-so-slowly getting off the plane, chatting up the captain and the flight attendants who had to act charmed by his comments while people who just wanted to get home were stacked up behind him like planes in a holding pattern over O’Hare.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished the codger would shut his pie hole and have the minimal self-awareness to recognize that he was unnecessarily inconveniencing everybody else.  By the time he and the rest of the aged had shuffled off the plane, the tension level of everyone behind them has reached a fever pitch and blood vessels were ready to burst.

So here’s my modest, politically incorrect, screed-infused proposal.  Can we please go back to boarding aircraft from the rear of the plane forward, so we don’t have the inevitable traffic jams that come from allowing people who are seated all over the plane to get to their seats in random order?  And while I understand the need to allow people who say they need “extra assistance” to get on the plane first, how about making sure that they are seated together and not on the aisle, so we don’t have to wait forever while they rise from their seats to let us by?  And how about adopting a first-on, last-off policy, which says that anybody who claims priority in boarding also agrees to wait until everybody else deplanes before they leave the plane?  This would avoid the wheelchair/walker/standing cane-related deplaning snarls that now occur — and might have the incidental benefit of discouraging people who really don’t need the special treatment to refrain from claiming it in the first place.  And if the seniors decide they need to have a long discussion with the flight attendants as they leave the plane, the rest of us won’t have to wait while they do so.

Air travel has really become unpleasant.  The boarding process is a big part of it.  I know waiting for five, ten, or fifteen minutes while these common issues are worked through, flight after flight after flight, isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you just want to get home every moment seems precious, and I’d rather spend them with my family than listening to Grandpa tell some eye-rolling joke to the co-pilot as he exits the plane at a glacial pace.

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