Heartland View

Flying out of Columbus today on a clear, cold day, looking at the familiar grid pattern of the farmland below, I was reminded of an enlightening conversation I actually had on a flight some years ago. The well-dressed, older woman sitting next to me, who apparently hailed from one of the coasts, was looking doubtfully at the countryside below and finally asked: “What is going on down there?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Why are those squares and rectangles on the ground?” she asked.

“Those are farms,” I explained.

“Oh,” she replied.

I know they call our neck of the woods “flyover country,” but don’t the folks on the coasts at least know what they are flying over?

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Considering The SkyMall Life

I miss SkyMall, the curious catalog that used to be found in the pocket on the backside of every airplane seat along with the airline’s in-flight magazine.  SkyMall vanished from the seat back pockets some years ago, when the company that published it went into bankruptcy.

screen_shot_20150123_at_7-38-05_pm-crop-original-original-38-05_pmI liked SkyMall, because it was the perfect reading material for the beginning or end of any airline flight, when all of your stuff is “stowed” in the area below the seat in front of you and you’re just killing time until the flight finally takes off or lands.  You could pick up that magazine, flip to just about any page, and find some bizarro product that made you wonder whether any real human being actually owned this stuff — and, if so, how much money they must have to use some of it to purchase things that could only be considered as complete luxury items for the idle rich.  You would look at the strange products and marvel about what it would be like to have enough money to actually purchase one of them.  Before you knew it, the plane was taking off or landing and you could return the SkyMall to the pocket and get back to your actual life.

The products offered in Sky Mall always raised a lot of compelling questions.  An enormous, telescoping plastic device that would vacuum up spiders from your cathedral ceiling?  (How often would you ever need to use it, and where would it be stored?  Is there some part of the country where ceiling spiders are a serious problem?)  An expensive Harry Potter replica wand?  (Was it intended for a child, who might break it or lose it, as children often do, or for a nerdy adult who liked the Harry Potter books?  How would you react if you went into someone’s den or office and saw such a wand prominently displayed?)  A sizeable Yeti statue for the garden?  (Who would want a statue of Bigfoot for their garden?  A gnome or a fairy, perhaps, but . . . Bigfoot?)

When you think about it, it’s not hard to see why SkyMall disappeared.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen any recognizable SkyMall item in anyone’s home or office.  And, if the products were designed for the idle rich, they’re really not likely to be back in coach on a United flight, are they?  But boy — SkyMall was the ideal disposable, briefly entertaining reading material for a boring plane flight.

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.

Chatterboxes

As we boarded our flight from Houston to Columbus last night, I noticed that an older guy in the row across from us was switching seats so a young woman could sit next to another young woman.  “What a nice gesture by that guy,” I thought.

By the end of the flight, I was cursing him.

These two high school students talked non-stop during the entire plane flight, in that kind of high-pitched, high-speed Valley Girl patois that you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  And believe me, I tried. They apparently were returning from some kind of field trip, and they were raring for a complete download.  It was an extraordinary exhibition of yakking.  I can’t imagine flapping my gums for a solid two-and-a-half hours, even if I had something important to say.  These two girls clearly weren’t concerned about that; no incident was too small, no event too mundane, no observation too trivial to escape their prattle.

How do you feel about holding hands?  I’d rather put my arm through the guy’s arm, wouldn’t you?  I don’t like it when they try to put their fingers through your fingers.

I really prefer rum-and-cokes.  I bet I had five of them.

I’m one of those teacher’s pet students who never gets into trouble even when I do something wrong.  One time I literally punched a guy and nobody did anything about it.  And I was like, whatev!  I’m a good student and I guess I get to do what I want!

Omigod!  My knee got so sore.  And when I looked down at it, there was a red mark on it!

The little snippets from the torrent came flooding over to our side of the plane, and by the end of the trip you could tell that everyone within a three-row radius was gritting their teeth, hoping that the flight would land before their brains turned to mush and restraining themselves from bursting out:  “For the love of God, could you please stop talking!”

But there were no outbursts, because people heading back to their homes in the Midwest are polite to a fault.  But when the plane landed, you could feel an inner cheer from our fellow travelers, and as we walked through the quiet terminal, on one of the last flights of the night, we all shared a single thought:  silence never sounded so good.