Traveling by air seems to get worse by the day. Yesterday I experienced a new variation in irrationality that made the travel experience worse than ever.
I was flying from Bangor. Maine to Columbus through D.C. After checking the monitor in Bangor and seeing everything was a “go,” I got a text message that the D.C. to Columbus flight had been abruptly cancelled for some unstated reason. When I was digesting that unhappy bit of news, I got the message that the airline had “rebooked” me on a flight leaving this afternoon, meaning I’d have to find a hotel room near Reagan National and spend the night. I’ve had that happen before. What made this “rebooking” even more ridiculous was that it had me flying today from D.C. to Asheville, North Carolina—away from Columbus, if you consult your map—then flying from Asheville to Charlotte, and then finally from Charlotte to Columbus. A three-legged trip, with all of the attendant risk of delays and more cancellations, that would get me in a day later than planned, with a hotel hassle to boot? That’s a “rebooking “ only in the most absurd sense of the word.
There were no rental cars available in D.C. for a one-way ride to Columbus, either. Fortunately, I drove to the Bangor airport, so the obvious answer was to drive back to Columbus. That’s why I’m writing this from a Homewood Suites room in bucolic Southington, Connecticut.
Sure, gas is expensive, and driving takes time. But given the airline shenanigans I’ve experienced lately, my circle of preferred driving range keeps getting wider.
When you travel a lot, you tend to notice the little things — like the fact that the routine pre-takeoff speech has been subtly changed.
Flight attendants used to tell you to keep your seatbelt fastened in case the plane experienced turbulence. Now, you’re instructed to do it “in case the plane encounters unexpected rough air.”
Why the change in the standard speech? I imagine the airlines did some focus group testing and determined that people reacted more favorably to the notion of “unexpected rough air” than “turbulence.” I’m of the opposite view, however. Turbulent air just sounds like air that is upset for some reason; it will calm down eventually. But rough air suggests some meanness and malice, like the air is eager to cuff us around a little bit. The fact that it’s allegedly unexpected just makes it worse, like a thug springing from a dark alley to knock you over the head.
When I’m on a plane I’ll take upset air over angry air, every time.
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.
Yesterday I flew to New Orleans through Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. As we landed at Dulles, the pilot announced that on the left side of the plane we would pass the space shuttle, still atop the special plane that carried it, piggyback, to D.C. so it can be displayed at the Smithsonian. Pretty cool!
Of course, I was on the right side of the plane. So, as the people on the left side of the plane oohed and aahed and took pictures with their phones, blocking their windows in the process, people on the right side of the plane craned their necks to get a crappy look at the shuttle.
This happens to me all the time. Whenever the pilot announces that my plane is passing something interesting — the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Grand Canyon, the mother ship of an approaching alien invasion — I’m always on the other side of the plane. Always! I never get to look out my window and enjoy the life-defining sight.
What’s the appropriate etiquette in that situation? Elbowing your way across the passengers on the other side of the plane to get a better view? Asking the lucky folks to talk a picture with your phone to dimly capture the moment? Insist that the pilot loop the plane around so that, for once, you can see the landmark from your side of the plane? My choice is always to sit in grim-faced silence, cursing my luck — and then hoping that the pilot stops being a tour guide and gets back to the job of getting to the destination and putting the plane safely back on the ground.