Reconsidering Boarding Music

Recently I boarded a plane flight. As I put my carry-on into the overhead bin and settled into my seat, I focused on the music that was playing during the boarding process and found myself wondering who made the music selection . . . and why.

The music–if you can call it that–was a kind of tinkly, tuneless, ethereal background noise. It was the sort of allegedly “soothing” and “relaxing” (but in reality, kind of annoying) music that you would associate with yoga or a massage, rather than boarding a plane. As music goes, it was worse than the kind of generic offerings you hear on an elevator ride.

Why would you choose this kind of music to facilitate the boarding process? Are airlines worried that passengers these days need to be calmed down as they are grabbing their seats? I would think that the opposite is true, and it would be better for all concerned if we jettisoned the dreamy music and went instead with some sounds calculated to encourage boarders to move with a greater sense of urgency and get their butts in their seats.

I’d like to see some experiments done on this. Which music produces the speediest, most efficient boarding process: the tinkly random crap they were broadcasting on my flight, or, say, some selections from the early Beatles, starting with Twist and Shout? Playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos might incentivize passengers to move with the clock-like precision conveyed by baroque music. Or if you really want to get people moving, how about the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive and K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight? And, just to make it interesting, why not test Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water or Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, just to see how some heavy metal affects passenger movement?

It’s well past time to get a bit more scientific about airplane boarding music, and to make some selections specifically geared toward the ultimate goal: an on-time departure. Dreamy massage music just doesn’t cut it.

The Pilot Shortage

America is facing a lot of shortages right now. One of them is a shortage of airline pilots, which is helping to make air travel a bit of a crap shoot.

This past weekend was a challenging one for the air travel industry, with many flights being delayed or cancelled. One of our flights was abruptly cancelled for no stated reason, requiring us to do some on-the-fly rebooking. According to the linked article, 370 flights were cancelled over the weekend. Some of the flight cancellations, and other flight delays, were attributed to severe weather in different parts of the country, but “staff shortages” also played a role.

The pilot unions at the major airlines say that the airlines haven’t been quick enough to replace pilots who have retired or left the job during the COVID pandemic, when the demand for air travel plummeted and some pilots objected to vaccination requirements. Now the demand for air travel has increased substantially, and there just aren’t enough pilots to meet the demand for flights.

The pilot shortage is affecting airline decisions in other ways, too. American Airlines has decided to stop flying to three airports–in Toledo, Ohio and Ithaca and Islip, New York–due to the pilot shortage. The pilot shortage has hit the small regional carriers, like the American Eagle brand, the hardest, as experienced pilots are lured from those brands to work at the mainline carriers, which can offer better pay, benefits, and work schedules. That’s tough news for cities like Toledo, where American’s departure means the airport will not be serviced by any major airline.

The other thing about a pilot shortage is that it won’t be solved overnight. It takes time and lots of training to become an airline pilot, and we passengers wouldn’t want the airlines to cut corners in finding pilots. That suggests that travelers should brace themselves for more staffing-related cancellations in the months ahead.

Nine Hours In An Airplane Seat

Yesterday, we flew from the Rome International Airport to Boston Logan on our return from our Italian and Sicilian trip. The flight itself took just under nine hours. When you factor in the time spent as other passengers boarded, we spent at least nine consecutive hours sitting in an airplane seat. That’s more than an average workday.

For me, at least, nine hours is an airplane seat is a physical and a mental challenge. Physically, it is difficult to get and stay comfortable, even for an average-sized guy like yours truly. The coach seats on the big international flight jets have more seat and leg room than the coach seats in standard domestic jets, but you are still confined to a limited cube of space with boundaries rigidly defined by the seat in front, the seat you are sitting in, the overhead compartment, the aisle, and the seat next door. There simply are not the stretching and position-changing options that you have if you are, say, sitting at your office desk. Even if you find a comfortable position, it is only so long before your legs and keister start to complain about the need for positional variety.

Experienced travelers recommend that you get up, stretch your legs, and go to the bathroom regularly, just to keep the blood flowing and the leg cramps at bay. Of course, a short jaunt to the bathroom only provides so much exercise, and you can’t really do laps around the aisles, like you can on cruise ships. One woman near me on yesterday’s flight tried to deal with the issue by performing somewhat theatrical yoga-like stretching in the aisle. Her efforts were arguably commendable but annoying, because her stretches caused her to briefly invade my cube of allocated airspace, and I was acutely aware of the integrity of my designated space. So, for me, the physical exertion was limited to a few bathroom visits, whether necessary or not, thereby running the risk that the passengers around me might think I was an old guy with bladder-control issues. Fortunately, one woman in our section set the international flight bathroom-visit record, so my three trips probably weren’t that noticeable.

The mental element of the trip all relates to the passage of time. Nine hours is a long time to spend in a confined space, and the time seems to pass with glacial speed. You take a refreshing nap, do some reading, eat your airplane meal, watch one of the in-flight movies or a few episodes of a TV show, then hopefully check the monitor–only to learn that the flight is still five hours from departure. Five hours? Seriously? International airline flights are a tangible demonstration that the passage of time is all relative, and hours four, five, and six are the draggiest. By then, you’re desperate for something new to watch or read, and you hope that one of the flight attendants stops by just to break the monotony.

I recognize that regular international travelers will scoff at the notion that a nine-hour flight is a challenge. After all, it is less than half the duration of the longest current non-stop flight, from New York City to Singapore, which clocks in at a mind-numbing 18 hours and 50 minutes. I can’t imagine being on that flight. I enjoy travel and hope to do more of it, but getting to the places on the other side of the world are going to require some careful planning that allows for a few shorter hops with breaks in between and sets about a 10-hour limit on non-stop flights.

COVID Casualties Of The Travel Variety

COVID-19 continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, affecting not only health but also creating many other unexpected changes–in how, and where, and even whether we work, how we shop, how kids are educated, how we travel, and countless other aspects of American life. COVID has caused some business to close and others to reap record profits, and now it’s making life difficult for regional airports.

Those of us who don’t use regional airports probably haven’t noticed, but the airlines are retrenching and pulling routes back from the smaller markets, and are citing COVID as the reason. In November, United Airlines announced that it was pulling out of 11 cities, and this week Delta announced that it was cutting seven routes, including suspending service to three airports entirely. Lincoln, Nebraska, Grand Junction, Colorado, and Cody, Wyoming are the three cities that are being dropped from the Delta flight list. A Delta spokesperson said: “”Due to ongoing travel demand impact from the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to suspend Delta Connection service to these markets.”

That’s hard news to take for the travelers who use the regional airports that are affected, because the law of supply and demand teaches that with every drop in supply–in this case, of flights–the prices of the remaining options are going to increase. That means if you’ve got to fly to Lincoln or Grand Junction in the future, brace yourselves for sticker shock, at least until some small regional airline decides to start service in those locations. And if you live in an area serviced by other regional airports, keep your fingers crossed that your travel demand statistics are robust enough to keep the airlines servicing your airport, thereby producing competitive prices and justifying the money that your tax dollars spent to build the airport in the first place.

The “ongoing travel demand impact from the pandemic” that the Delta spokesperson mentioned is worth thinking about, too. Are people not traveling because they are concerned about their health, or because they have seen so many things get cancelled as new variants crop up and sweep across the globe, or because people feel that the masking and testing requirements that apply to air travel are so unpleasant that they’d rather stay home? And in the case of the smaller markets, how many travelers have decided that they would rather just drive to their destination and avoid the cancellation risk and the masks? It makes you wonder whether the impulse to just drive rather than fly, like the impulse to work from home, will be a permanent byproduct of the COVID years.

Wiped Out

Every flight I’ve taken recently has a new feature in the boarding process: a flight attendant who solemnly hands you precisely one sanitizing wipes packet as you enter the plane. (I suppose it’s possible that you could get extra packets, but I’ve never asked.)

It’s not clear to me what you’re supposed to do with the one wipe, and no instruction is given—which is strange because airlines typically overinstruct you about everything, even how to fasten your seat belt. Are you supposed to use the wipe on your hands? The flimsy tray table? The arm rests? The seat belt? The seat itself, with the cushion that also helpfully serves as a flotation device? Or all of the above, which would be asking a lot of one tiny packet with one sanitizing wipe? Hey, are the airlines suggesting that they aren’t thoroughly cleaning these planes any more and asking us to pitch in?

I put the wipe packet in my pocket or use it as a bookmark and eventually add it to my home wipe collection. I haven’t seen anyone else use one, either. But on one flight yesterday, the young woman sitting next to me broke open the packet and carefully wiped down her tray table and the back of the seat in front of her, and probably wanted to wipe me down, too. Then she never touched or used the tray table in any way.

This new travel rite of passage seems very odd to me, but I suppose it’s all part of an effort to get the germophobes out there more comfortable with flying. If wipe packet distribution does the trick, so be it.

The Middle Seat Muddle

This week the CDC released information about whether airlines should follow policies that block off the middle seat on their planes. The CDC announced that laboratory modeling showed that blocking off the middle passenger seat, in either single-aisle or double-aisle planes, reduced airborne exposure to infectious diseases from fellow passengers by 23 percent to 57 percent. Those in the airline industry promptly noted that “the CDC admits that the current studies quantifying the benefit of specific social distancing strategies in the cabin, such as keeping the middle seats vacant, are limited.”

I don’t know which airlines–if any–are still blocking off the middle seats of flights. We flew American to and from Arizona on our recent visit, and on our flights every seat, including the middle seat, was filed. The airlines not only take the position that the science cited by the CDC is “limited,” but also point out that the airline industry took a huge hit in the early days of COVID, when most people avoided travel, and they need to sell those middle seats to recover economically and become profitable again.

It’s a class example of the tug-of-war between public health and profitability. I’m convinced that, if the CDC had its druthers, they’d rather every American stayed in their homes and avoided any risks whatsoever. And when it comes to air travel, they’d rather people are more spaced out (cramped passengers wouldn’t mind that, either), everyone wears masks, no food is served, and aircraft are designed so that all potential disease transmission vectors are avoided. Of course, if the airlines followed all of the CDC’s guidance, the cost of air travel would inevitably increase, some airlines would go out of business, and people wouldn’t be happy about it.

I’m guessing the airlines will come out on top in the middle-seat muddle and will continue to fill those middle seats, unless the FAA or Congress actually mandates that middle seats be left vacant. But you can bet that the airlines won’t object to the public health requirements that don’t affect their bottom line–like requiring passengers to wear masks at all times, regardless of their vaccination status or COVID case data. I think air travelers are going to be masked for the foreseeable future–and maybe permanently.

Up In The Air Again

We flew back from Tucson yesterday, connecting through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, which is traditionally one of the nation’s busiest airports. Here are a few additional observations about air travel during the COVID period.

  • Every flight we took, to and from Tucson, was absolutely full of passengers. I’m not sure whether the airlines have reduced the number of flights to ensure packed planes, or whether people are just sick of staying at home and want to get out, or whether we were seeing the tail end of the spring break rush, or whether it was a combination of all three factors. For whatever reason, we rode in full planes.
  • Tucson’s airport was not very busy, and when we arrived in Columbus at about 8 p.m. last night the airport was almost empty–but O’Hare was jammed with people and looked like the pre-pandemic O’Hare. Obviously, navigating from one gate to another in a crowded airport doesn’t give you much opportunity to practice social distancing. You’re dodging and skirting people in the concourse, standing in long lines if you want to get something to eat, and sitting cheek by jowl with other passengers in the gate area. Our airports aren’t designed for social distancing; they are designed to pen as many people as possible into the smallest space possible, and there is really not much you can do about it.
  • The social distancing impulses developed over the last year made me more irritable than I expected as I moved from one concourse at O’Hare to another. I’ve written before about the fact that many travelers seem to lack any meaningful spatial or situational awareness, but the problem is compounded when you are trying to practice social distancing and people just stop dead in the middle of a concourse walkway, or abruptly turn around against the flow of traffic, or act like they are out for a casual stroll in the park when people are rushing to catch their next flight. Is it too much to ask for people to be aware that they need to move with the flow of pedestrian traffic, keep pace with the crowds, and work toward the edge of the crowd when they need to exit the flow to get to their gate?
  • I will sound like a whiner, but wearing a mask for hours with no break on a busy travel day is not pleasant. When we finally got home, it felt great to take the mask off and breathe a few hearty gulps of unmasked air. I don’t know how long the federal mask mandate will last, but I suspect that it will ultimately affect travel patterns, if it hasn’t done so already. If I were going somewhere that is within reasonable driving distance, I would much prefer to hop in my car and take a mask-free trip, even if it meant longer travel from portal to portal, rather than masking up for hours of sitting in crowded airports and planes.

COVID Travel

We took a commercial airline flight a few days ago, and the pandemic continues to change the way we travel. Here are a few things I noticed:

* In the three airports we used on our trip, many of the stores, including food and snack options, were closed, and the ones that were open had very long lines. In Phoenix, for example, the line for a Wendy’s had about 30 people in it, which means you’ve got a pretty long wait for your Frosty. Next time we travel by air we’ll pack a lunch or a snack.

* The months of social conditioning about social distancing have had an impact. If you get to your gate early, people are spaced far apart, but as departure time nears the gaps fill in and people get noticeably antsy when people sit in the adjoining seat—and that’s even with everyone masked up.

* Here’s a positive: masked travelers make fewer annoying and intrusive phone calls. The gate areas are a lot quieter.

* The airline magazine on our flight, shown above, has supposedly been treated with some process to make it safe to handle. Nevertheless, it looked like it hadn’t been touched, and I didn’t flip through it, either. I bet readership is way down, and wonder whether this is the death knell for such magazines. For now, though, travelers can expect pristine in-flight magazines and untouched crossword puzzles., even if they are flying mid-month.

* The pre-flight lecture has gotten longer, with a COVID-19 specific section at the end. We were told that federal law now mandates a two-layer mask, and scarves, gaiters, and bandannas do not make the cut. And, keeping with the airline tendency to say even the most obvious stuff—like how to work the seat belt—we’re now being told that if the oxygen masks drop, it’s okay to remove your COVID masks before donning your oxygen mask.

Out Of Practice

Practice makes perfect—and when you’re out of practice you tend to forget the little things. Here’s how you know it’s been a while since you’re done any traveling by airplane.

• You don’t automatically establish a mental calendar entry to get your boarding pass precisely 24 hours before the established boarding time.

• You kind of forgot about the whole TSA precheck line and confirming that you are shown as TSA precheck on your boarding pass until you’re already at the airport.

• You don’t think about following any of the streamlining and expediting and weight-minimizing travel tips that you’ve developed over the years and you end up bringing three or more otherwise identical cell phone chargers.

• You need to think for a minute about how to put your cellphone into “airplane mode.”

• Kids crying and dogs barking in the gate waiting area seem like a novel experience.

Flying Unburdened

Today I’m taking a plane flight without luggage.  I’ll have my faithful black satchel to carry my laptop and a few books, but that’s it.  Today, I’ll have no carry-on bags to stuff into the overhead bins.

hqdefaultIt’s amazing how different a trip without suitcases feels.  Yesterday I didn’t worry about getting checked in precisely 24 hours before my flight is to depart, to make sure that I get an early boarding assignment so I can be sure to have overhead bin space.  I also don’t have to fret about whether my bag would exceed weight allowances, or be too big to fit overhead.  I know from hundreds of trips that my satchel will fit comfortably beneath the seat in front of me.

And when I arrive back home, I’ll be able to grab my little bag and zip off the plane without having to wrangle a suitcase from the bin space and worry about clobbering the little old lady across the aisle.  I won’t have to be part of the scrum of travelers clustering in the jetway to get their gate-checked bags — a process that inevitably leaves me in a foul mood about the grace and patience of my fellow human beings — nor will I have to wonder whether my bag will be the last one to come tumbling out onto the baggage claim carousel.

When you think about it, a lot of the angst in travel is directly attributable to our being weighted down by concerns about the possessions we’re carting around in our luggage.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a luggage-free trip for a change.

 

Encouraging Airplane Creepiness

Airplanes are, by definition, strange places.  You’re placed in a metal tube, sitting cheek by jowl with a bunch of unknown people, and the only thing you’ve got in common with them is that, at that particular time on that particular day, you’re taking that flight to get from point A to point B.  Your fellow passengers, for the most part, are probably reasonably decent, up-standing, law-abiding folks, but you never know — they could cover the spectrum from kindly, doddering grandparents to budding serial killers.

delta-coke-napkins-915Most air travelers, me included, are just grateful when the flight ends without incident and they can get out and get on with their life without further ado.  And here’s how you know that that is the prevailing sentiment of virtually everyone — at the end of your next flight, watch how many people dawdle to continue their conversations with the person in the next seat over, and how many grab their carry-ons at the maximum possible speed and hightail it out of there.  You can also reflect upon how many deep friendships you’ve made with random people you’ve met on an airline flight.

So how in the world did Delta and Diet Coke think that it would be a good idea to distribute drink napkins with messages that encouraged passengers to try to connect with other passengers?  The napkins carried weird messages like “Be a little old school. Write down your number and give it to your plane crush. You never know…” and had places for passengers to write down their names and telephone numbers to give to their “plane crush.”  Another napkin’s message was:  “Because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey… you never know.”

Gee, what could go wrong with encouraging passengers to even think about another passenger as a “plane crush”?  And what could be creepier than getting a napkin with somebody’s name and phone number on it, knowing that, after the flight is ended and you’re deposited in a strange city, the total stranger who had it handed to you might want to interact and see if you’re interested in something more?  And, possibly, be upset if you aren’t and ready to stalk you to the end of your days?

After passengers commented on the obvious creepiness, Delta and Coke apologized and have withdrawn the napkins.  But it really makes you wonder:  what process is used in vetting airplane napkins, and who in the world was responsible for coming up with the napkin text and approving it?  Doesn’t Delta have any idea that 99.9% of its passengers don’t view airplane flights as a great opportunity for flirting?

Big People On Planes

Modern air travel just isn’t made for big people — or for the people seated next to big people.

On one of the legs of my recent trip I was seated next to a guy who probably weighed about 350 pounds. He had the window seat, and I had the aisle seat. He wedged himself into his seat the best he could, but there was a clear spillover effect; he took up the entirety of our shared armrest and a chunk of my airspace, too. The only way I could accommodate his bulk was to sit twisted sideways. I was very glad I had the aisle space to one side and wondered about how cramped and uncomfortable it would have been if I’d had the window seat. Fortunately, it was a relatively short flight — but even so I was nursing a backache by the time the flight ended.

I’m not dissing big people here, but I think this is an increasing problem with modern air travel in America. Seat space on planes keeps shrinking, and Americans keep expanding. Obviously, that’s a problem, and it’s just going to get worse. Airlines want to pack as many passengers as possible into their planes — as the picture I took on the flight shows — and they aren’t going to reverse course on seat width and leg room, and Americans are, on average, heavier than ever.

What’s the solution? Make passengers disclose their size and, if they are above a certain point, make them buy two seats? Have a special heavyweight section with larger seats? I’m not sure, but something needs to be done. If you draw the short straw and are seated next to a big person on a flight, you just aren’t getting the same experience as passengers seated next to normal-sized folks. Why should somebody who has to endure an uncomfortable sitting position and has their personal space invaded by a stranger for the entire flight be charged the same as somebody who doesn’t? It really isn’t fair.

Tipping, Up In The Air

Next week I’ll be taking my first flight ever on Frontier Airlines.  It’s branded as a low-cost airline that differs from other carriers in that it charges you separate fees for things like your carry-on bag and basic in-flight drink and snack options.  Frontier presents its approach as allowing it to keep base fares low and giving travelers “options that allow you to customize your flight to match both your wants and your wallet.”

flight-crewNow I’ve learned that Frontier differs from other airlines in another, more interesting way:  it’s the only airline that encourages travelers to tip its flight attendants.  Beginning January 1, 2019, individual Frontier flight attendants can accept tips, and if a traveler purchases in-flight food or beverages, they get a prompt from the Frontier payment system notifying them that they have the option to leave a tip — just like you get in many restaurants.  In the article linked above, Frontier explains:  “We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment system] gives passengers the option to tip.”

The union that represents Frontier flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants International, isn’t happy about Frontier’s tipping policy and says that the airline should be paying flight attendants more instead.  The union and Frontier have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and one union official has said that “[m]anagement moved forward with a tipping option for passengers in hopes it would dissuade flight attendants from standing together for a fair contract — and in an effort to shift additional costs to passengers.”

I’m not quite sure how I come out on the issue of tipping flight attendants.  Obviously, their job involves a lot more than donning a little apron and serving drinks and snacks, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the tipping option — apparently presented only when food or drink is ordered — and the actual contours of the flight attendant’s job.  At the same time, many airlines are nickel-and-diming passengers with fees, so perhaps tip income for flight attendants is the wave of the future.  And I’m all for airlines adopting different models — like Frontier’s low-cost approach — as they compete for passengers, and letting the passengers themselves decide which approach they like best.

I’m thinking my flight on Frontier next week is going to be a bit of an adventure.

Standby Status

For the last leg of yesterday’s three-hop trip from Boise to Columbus, I was on “standby status.”  My flight from Salt Lake City was to get in to Detroit at about 7:20 p.m., and there was a flight from Detroit to Columbus at 7:55 that was sold out.  I was put on the standby list for that flight, and the ticket agent told me that I would be number two on the list.  If I didn’t get on the standby flight, I was confirmed for a seat on a flight two hours later.

metro_airport_inside_mcnamara_terminal_20130916171656_640_480Standby status is weird.  It’s by definition contingent, of course, but it immediately spurs analysis of the key factors that will affect whether you will make it on the standby flight, as well as lots of wishful thinking.  I knew the Detroit airport is huge, and the 35-minute time period between landing and taking off was ludicrously tight, requiring the incoming flight to be on time and the standby gate to be within reasonable sprinting distance of the arrival gate.  (Reasonable sprinting distance, that is, for a 61-year-old guy who doesn’t jog for exercise.)  If I was going to make it, all of those factors, none of which were under my control, had to go my way.

But even if those dominoes fell, I still needed some confirmed passengers to not show up for their flight.  Well, sure, that could happen, right?  After all, I was only number two on the list.  Maybe some incoming flight would be delayed by weather or mechanical issues, or a few of the confirmed passengers on the standby flight just wouldn’t show up.  I found myself hoping that some of the faceless passengers on the confirmed flight would just miss their flight so I could get a seat.  I was a bit ashamed of hoping that fellow travelers would experience such misfortune, but the urge to get home two hours earlier overwhelmed all basic instincts of human kindness and brotherhood.

When the pilot on the flight from Salt Lake City announced that we would arrive in Detroit early, it looked like the dominoes might just fall my way.  But when I emerged at my gate, ready to run, I learned that the standby flight was itself delayed and wouldn’t be leaving until after my confirmed flight.  Alas!  I therefore immediately shucked off my standby status and strode forward into the Detroit airport as a confirmed passenger, wishing nothing but good for the world.

Today’s Travel Tribulations

The travel day started uneventfully.  I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight to Newark.  The plane loaded and left on time, and actually landed in Newark about 20 minutes early.

Then, it all went horribly wrong.

5644ef75112314303e8b4807-750-563Because we were early, and because the airlines never want to leave a gate unoccupied, of course there was a departing plane at our gate.  So we waited for the plane to leave.  Then the captain announced that there were a bunch of other planes looking to use the same runway, so we would have to wait for the runway to clear.  Then — and this was the unbelievable part — the captain came on the intercom again and let us know that the captain of a plane in front of us had pulled into our gate by mistake, and the ground crew would have to back that plane out and reposition it before we could be towed into our gate area.  All told, we sat on the ground at the Newark airport for almost an hour.

It wouldn’t have been so bad but for the guy sitting next to me.  He was one of those guys who answers his cell phone using his hands-free option, so everyone around him can hear his incredibly important calls.  He was upset to begin with, because we all got to hear that there was some kind of billing snafu at his business, and as the delays mounted he got increasingly agitated — first muttering, then loudly complaining, and finally throwing around f-bombs that didn’t exactly have a calming influence on the other passengers.  We all were inconvenienced by what had happened, but this ticking time bomb had to act like it was all about him.

Then my fellow passengers acted like jerks in the scrum to get the gate-checked bags, milling around rather than lining up and not caring if they blocked everybody behind.  And when I got to the taxi stand, a loud altercation between the cabdrivers broke out because one driver was accused of cutting in line.  As I settled into my cab, with a driver who’d just been engaged in a red-faced, gesturing shouting match featuring an unknown foreign language, I wondered what might happen next:  volcanic eruption?  earthquake?  Cats and dogs living together?  Mass hysteria?

I’m going to have to ask the Jersey Girl whether flying into Newark is always like this.