NeuroTick's picture

    On Missing the Airplane

    I missed my plane last weekend. I explained to the ticket agent that a “long sequence of unhappy coincidences” had “conspired” to keep me in San Francisco, but of course the missing of the plane was entirely my own fault. I misremembered the departure time, misjudged the distance to the airport, failed to allow for traffic, missed my exit, and upon arriving at long-term parking, ignorantly attempted to sprint to the airport, a good two miles from the lot, before realizing that I would have to take the shuttle bus. I missed that plane so many different ways that I am in awe of myself. I suppose that if you’re going to miss a plane, you might as well miss it decisively. At least, you thereby avoid the pathetic, sweaty rush through the airport.

    Happily, there was another flight that evening. Unhappily, it required a stopover at 5 am, and I was seated in the Worst Seat On the Plane. Those of you who have ever sat in the WSOP know exactly what I’m talking about. Imagine that you are walking through a plane in flight, heading back through the aisle towards the bathroom. As you get closer, the sound of the engines increases from a low hum to a deafening roar. Steadying yourself, you put your head down and doggedly persevere down the aisle. Now a new phenomenon begins to assault your senses, that subtle but unmistakable odor of stale urine--turbulence confounds even the best of marksmen. Just as you reach the back of the plane, when you hit the line of people uncomfortably milling in the aisle as they wait their turns for the lavatory, look to your left. There are three seats. None of these seats recline. They are fixed permanently in the overly-upright position that you ordinarily need only endure during take-off and landing (and even then you can cheat by a half-inch or so). In the middle seat sits some poor schmuck, bolt upright and wide awake, unable to lean to the left or to the right, sleep-deprived, back-aching, near deaf from the engine’s roar, the very picture of airborne misery. You see, he is sitting in the WSOP. Avoid it at all costs.

    So that was bad. Very bad. But perhaps the worst thing about missing my flight was the lecturing and tsk-tsk-ing from the airline employees. For some reason, probably spite, when you miss your first flight, they also cancel your reservations on the return trip. When I arrived late, I had to plead with the airline representative not to make me fly standby on the return trip too. She took mercy on me and reserved me a seat on the return, even though there were no longer any seats available for the cheap fare at which I had purchased my tickets. (Who pays full-fare for a coach class ticket anyway? That’s like purchasing a burger, fries, and a drink without getting the Meal Deal.) However, at then end of my trip, when I went to the ticket counter to check in for the return flight (two hours early, I might add), the representative expressed stern disapproval that I had been booked on a seat. He kindly explained to me that booking me a full fare seat was like upgrading me to first class (except of course that I sat in the same narrow seats and ate the same overpriced, shitty food as all the other peons), a reward he implied that I did not deserve given my transgression. I believe he thought that in “rewarding” me this way, the airline encouraged me to continue my bad behavior.

    Of course, every representative I encountered knew of my crime. They’ve got it all in their little computers. Whenever I gave one my name, she would look at her screen quizzically, as if something didn’t make sense to her, and then innocently ask, “Did you miss one of your flights?” I would assent--there’s no putting anything past these people--and she would adopt a very serious, disapproving, even wounded, expression. How dare I miss a flight on her airline? I think they even let the flight attendants know when there is a trouble-maker aboard, for I failed to receive those smiles and greetings that I’m sure even Darth Vader would be offered were he to fly the friendly skies, having checked his lightsaber. I’m sure that my name is in some computer now with a big black dot next it, and I will never again be a valued customer on any airline. I’m the terrorist of tardiness.

    Frankly, the only reason the airlines can get away with treating its passengers so shabbily is because they have transformed us into sheep, flying sheep. Once upon a time, airlines treated their customers with respect: three course dinners on real tables and chairs, live music, wine from a regular sized bottle. But now it’s just orders and humiliation, all under the beneficent guise of “air safety”. Many heads of state, even in democracies, have the power to declare a state of emergency under which they have expanded powers. Historically, leaders have often declared states of emergency to provide themselves excuses for quelling dissent. Just so with the airlines. Sit up. Sit down. Buckle your belt. Stow your luggage. Shut your trap. They’ve domesticated us. If the disembodied voice of the all-knowing captain, everywhere and yet nowhere, is not the true manifestation of Orwell’s Big Brother, I don’t what is. I’m not talking about security measures. I don’t complain when they make me take off my shoes, throw away my bottled water, and get poofed by the bomb-sniffing-poofer. It’s all the rest, the seatbelt buckling, chair uprighting, electronics poweroffing, and general do-what-you’re-tolding, that gets to me.

    You’ve surely heard about “unruly” passengers who become “abusive” towards airline attendants and other passengers and have to be restrained. Well I say that these screamers, scratchers, squabblers, and latecomers are the heroic dissidents of the airplane world. These are the only people who are not afraid to speak out against the tyranny of the airlines. It’s time to join them in their liberation struggle. Airplane passengers everywhere, I appeal to you! We must commence a campaign of civil disobedience. From this day forward until we’ve toppled the oppressive forces of oppression, we will not buckle our belts when the safety light goes on, we will not stow our luggage safely under our seats, we will not listen to the safety instructions, we will not turn off our portable devices at takeoffs and landings. My fellow compatriots, I urge you to have no fear. Take carry-ons that won’t fit in the overhead bins. Smoke in the lavatory. Plug your own headphones into the airplane’s jacks instead of paying five dollars for the official ones, even if you do have to listen in one ear. And never arrive more than five minutes before your scheduled departure time. We shall overcome!



    I once missed a flight home from Costa Rica because I was not aware of airport policy: you have to check in for international flights 1 hour before departure.  (I arrived at the airport slightly under an hour before my flight, thinking I had plenty of time.  Imagine my surprise when the desk agent looked at me incredulously, as if the idea of checking in for a flight a mere 55 minutes minutes before departure was utterly ludicrous.)  It had been a stressful vacation due to some crossed wires with my friends about what our budgets were and what sort of activities to do; so all I wanted to do was get home. Somehow.  Anyhow.  I asked around, and at some point in the process managed to find out there was another flight that could get me as far as LA, with a change of planes in Panama.  I pulled out my credit card, and bought a new ticket.  There is something incredibly liberating about buying a ticket at the airport.  Makes you feel like you can go anywhere, even if you're just trying to get home.


    Then, there was the time I had two weeks between terms when I was studying in the southern England, and I under-estimated the amount of time it would take to get to Heathrow by public transport so badly that I arrived at the airport half an hour after my flight had been scheduled to *depart.*  When I walked up to the desk, I learned that the flight had been delayed.  By an hour and 15 minutes.  Because of fog.  That's right.  Fog delayed flights out of Heathrow.  You'd think they'd have figured out how to deal with it by now.  Which was rather fortunate, since the dorms were shut down for break and I didn't have anywhere to stay in England.

    I've never tried the credit card at the airport thing. Sounds like an expensive way to experience a sense of liberation. Have you considered running naked through a field?

    I took a flight from Heathrow a few years ago and also underestimated the public transit time. I still would have been OK were it not for ticketless travel. The Brits were a little behind on that one. I stood in line at the ticketed security check-in for 20 minutes only to discover that I had to go to the ticket desk and have a paper ticket issued. The security people didn't even know what ticketless travel was. Another 20 minutes and then back to the security check-in. They mercifully let me cut to the front of that one so that I could make my flight, but by the time I made it to the gate, I had lost my window seat and had to sit in the middle. It wasn't the Worst Seat On The Plane but not far from it. Six hours in a middle seat after only two hours sleep and with a wicked hangover is not an experience I recommend.

    Heh.  In case, the ticket-buying was an act of desperation more than liberation.  But I love knowing I could do it again, if  I wanted to.  

    My worst Heathrow security line experience was on a flight back from Scotland with my family a few years back, right after the "liquids" scare.  He had to reclaim our bags, wait around to confirm that one had been lost, re-check in the rest, and then wait in the 1hr security line -- all in a 90 minute layover.  Only reason we made the flight is that my mom managed to convince the other cross, frustrated passengers that we should go ahead of them.  I think she's half-Jedi.

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