Airport Stalking

On yesterday’s flights back from San Antonio, there was an odd and somewhat troubling coincidence — on every flight, and in every gate area where I was waiting for a flight, there was a kid crying one of those shrill, keep your nerves on edge cries.

crying babby in airplaneOne crying toddler, I can understand.  Sometimes, your child is just exhausted and is crying for reasons you can’t even fathom.  I get that.

But a crying kid on every flight?  That seems pretty suspicious to me.  It made me wonder whether the crying kid was stalking me.

Now that I think about it, there were some other pretty suspicious coincidences at the airports, too.  Like the hefty guy manspreading to try to discourage people sitting next to him.  Or the woman loudly talking into her cell phone and carrying on an unending conversation apparently heedless of the fact that she was sitting in the midst of a bunch of weary travelers.  Or the young people sitting cross-legged on the floor, even though there are actual seats available, so you can’t simply walk past but have to carefully navigate through the clutter of hunched-over people, backpacks, and cell phone cords.  Or the old people who decide that it’s perfectly okay to stop dead in the middle of concourse traffic so grandma can find her sunglasses.

I mean, what are the odds that would find these same people on every flight and in every concourse?

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Prodigious Purses On Planes

The other day I was waiting at a gate area for my flight when the gate agent made the familiar announcement about how passengers would only be permitted to board with one piece of carry-on luggage and “a small, personal item, such as a purse.”

mary-poppins-bag-600x345And I thought:  a purse is a “small, personal item”?  Since when?

As I looked around at the women waiting to board, I saw nothing “small” about the prodigious purses they were lugging around.  The gate agent, and the airlines, clearly have missed the explosive growth of purses into storage devices of colossal proportions and have never sat next to a fellow passenger who is struggling to jam her sprawling, bulging “small, personal item” — i.e., her purse — into the available space under the seat in the row ahead.

The days of “clutches” and dainty “handbags” that could house a tube of lipstick and compact mirror and be placed on a restaurant table next to the glass of wine are gone.  Now “purses” tend to be capacious, multi-compartment sacks carried over the shoulder and used to store laptops, wallets, cell phones, pens, appointment books, food, bottled water, articles of clothing, make-up items, toys and snacks to keep young children quiet, and other assorted paraphernalia, besides.  They’re like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, capable of carrying just about anything.  And forget about expressing wonder at the notion of “purse dogs” — you could probably fit a Great Dane into some of the stupendous purses of the modern era.

I don’t begrudge modern women their enormous purses; when I go on the road, I always carry an over-the-shoulder bag because it’s handy.  But can we please stop with the reference to “small, personal items”?  The “purses” of the modern world really aren’t purses, they’re luggage.

Paper Passes

I recognize that I am an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy in many ways.  I don’t have the latest gizmos.  I don’t keep up on new apps.  And when I travel, I like to have a paper boarding pass.

I recognize that continued use of paper passes is a Stone Age approach to travel.  The airlines are trying to get everyone to use apps.  Delta even puts a plug for “flying paperless” on its paper boarding passes.  And, obviously, avoiding unnecessary paper use is more environmentally friendly.

Still, I prefer the paper pass.  I like its tangible quality.  I’m admittedly the Uptight Traveler, so a paper pass provides the immediate reassurance I crave when I’m on the road.  I can reach into my suit coat pocket, fish out the paper, and see that I’ve got a seat assignment, check my boarding group, and use the flight number so I can find my connecting gate on the overhead monitor without muss or fuss.  I don’t have to worry about thumbing around on my phone or having the boarding pass app time out and the phone screen go dark just as I’m approaching the gate agent.

Increasingly, travelers are using boarding pass apps.  There are still a few dinosaurs out there with paper passes, though.  We’re not quite extinct yet.

Seat Shrinkage

A recent federal court ruling has confirmed what those of us who travel frequently already know:  the passenger seating space on airplanes is shrinking.

A lawsuit brought by a group called Flyers Rights challenged the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to consider regulations to address minimum standards for passenger seating.   The passenger space issue involves two basics of airline travel — the width of the seats themselves and the seating “pitch,” which is the distance between the rows of airline seats on a plane.  According to Flyers Rights, the width of the seats has declined from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s to 17 inches now.  And the airlines are constantly reducing the “pitch,” too — from 35 inches to as low as 28 inches.  Narrower seats, and tighter “pitch,” allow airlines to cram even more seats onto planes.

28up-legroom-master675Because nobody really cares about passenger comfort on planes, the Flyers Rights lawsuit was argued to the court as presenting a safety issue.  Flyers Rights contended that the combination of shrinking seats and expanding passengers would make it harder to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency and might also cause more passengers to develop deep vein thrombosis and blood clots because they can’t move their legs.  The federal court hearing the case ordered the FAA to at least consider these issues and decide whether to issue new regulations.

Anybody who travels much knows these passenger space issues deep in their bones.  Most flights these days are totally full, and it’s not difficult to feel like a sardine as you wedge yourself into your narrow seat, put your carry-on under the seat in front of you and thereby restrict your leg room, and then find your legs clamped when the person in the next row up “reclines” their seat by a few inches, directly on top of your kneecaps.  And the cramped feeling is exacerbated when, as is often the case, the person sitting next to you is overflowing their designated seat space.  If, like me, you typically work on a plane and need to retrieve things from the carry-on under the seat, you need to make many minute adjustments, and cram your face against the seat back in front of you, just to reach your carry-on and get out pen, paper, and reading material.

It’s hard for me to believe that any actual study would show that an airplane is as readily evacuated with narrow seats and 28 inches of space between rows as it would be with wider seats and 35 inches of passenger maneuvering room.  But forget the safety issue for a minute — I’m wondering whether any airline will start marketing itself as the humane airline that actually offers more leg room for those of us in coach.

Hey, a traveler can dream, can’t he?

Seat Grab

I was sitting in my seat on my flight to Denver, doing some reading for work and minding my own business, when suddenly my seat lurched backward.

I momentarily wondered what had happened,, then I realized the truth:  the person who was sitting in the seat behind me was getting up and had to grab the back of my seat with both hands to help themselves up — and from the amount of the backward movement of my seat, I figured it was a big person.  When I looked behind me, sure enough I saw a heavyset guy struggling to rise from his seat and head off to the bathroom.

How often has this happened to you?  For me, it’s become commonplace.  We’ve got such an obesity problem in this country that people can’t get up from their seats without help.  Even the armrests that allow you to balance yourself as you rise from your seat on the airplane aren’t sufficient, so the obese travelers have to hang on to the back to the seat in front of them and pull themselves to their feet.  Never mind that there’s somebody sitting in that seat they’re grabbing, and that the seat grab is going to cause that unlucky person to move backward unexpectedly, interrupting whatever they might be doing.  There’s never an apology, either.  It’s as if the seat you are sitting in was intended solely to help tubby passengers stand up, giving them every right to wrestle with your seat and maneuver it as they see fit so they can get on their feet.

It’s a minor annoyance, to be sure, but it’s just another little reminder of how extensive the obesity epidemic is in this country.  When people can’t even get to their feet on a plane without putting both hands on the seat in front of them and pulling with all of their might, it’s obviously a problem.

First-Class Jerks

Here’s an interesting finding:  when flights attendants were asked whether they would rather work the first-class cabin with its handful of passengers, or deal with the mobs in coach, most of them voted with their feet and chose to work coach.

stm5384a217ee8e720140527Why?  Because the first-class cabin is filled with a bunch of demanding prima donnas, whereas coach is filled with the humble salt of the earth — people who, accustomed as they are to being crammed into uncomfortable seats with insufficient leg room, are happy as hell when the attendant simply flips a packet of peanuts their way and gives them a glass of soda with too many ice cubes.

This squares with my years of personal experience.  I think I have flown first-class precisely once, when I had to get somewhere and the first-class seat was the last one available.  Other than that, I’m a coach guy who simply can’t justify the expense of first-class airfare.  So I skulk through the first-class cabin as they sip their champagne, munch on free cheese and grapes, and talk way too loud on their cell phones, like they’re the only passengers on the plane.  Given my brief, unpleasant exposure to them, I’m not surprised that — with the obvious exception of the Scotsman, who flies first class because he has booked every plane trip on Delta since Reagan was President — first-class air travelers are demanding, first-class jerks.

I’ll share a secret smile with the attendant in coach the next time I’m folded into a seat and she hurls a tiny bag of pretzels my way.

The Dreaded On-Board Delay

  
I’m going to have to get used to the above scene.  I’ll be looking at it for a while.

I’m in the midst of a dreaded on-board delay.  After three hours of delays due to crappy weather on the Eastern seaboard, we finally got to board our plane — but then our hopes were dashed by a “ground hold” issued by the destination airport.

When an on-board delay happens, every action of fellows passengers becomes irritating.  The tubby guy across the aisle moves one enormous leg into the aisle, and you think:  who the hell does he think he is?  Then there are the too loud talkers, yammering about their breakdowns and second homes, and the guy who springs up to rearrange his stuff in the overhead bin that he put away only moments before, and the weak-kidneyed woman who trots to the bathroom.  Seriously? Can’t people just sit still and stoically endure the agony?

The only thing worse than an on-board hold is a deplaning, and the only thing worse than a deplaning is hell itself.