Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Commercial air travel a real turkey

I don't think that, given a choice, anyone would really choose a week in prison over commercial air travel in the United States during the coming holiday weekend -- but with each passing year, determining the better choice is increasingly difficult.

Not that air travel was ever truly glamorous -- not in my limited experience, anyway.

But before 9/11 air travel wasn't the miserable, bleak, soul-destroying punishment it has since become.

I recall having a deposition in Columbus, Ohio in 2001 -- before 9/11. I booked a flight on Southwest, which I hated to do because Southwest does not fly to O'Hare. Still (we Chicagoans are very lucky in this, at least) I was able to take the Blue Line downtown and change for Orange Line. The Orange Line runs right into Chicago's Midway Airport, a Southwest hub.

But I had an early flight -- I think the dep was at 10:00am local time and we're an hour behind that in Chicago -- and I had to be gone before sunrise in order to make the flight comfortably. Unfortunately for me, the horizon was already pretty bright when I started from the Harlem stop on the Blue Line. Then I had to wait an inordinate amount of time for the Orange Line train at Clark and Lake. The upshot was that I was running through the parking garage at Midway (there were lines on the floor to direct train passengers in those days -- I haven't been there recently) toward my gate just a few minutes before the scheduled flight time.

I ran through the airport like O.J. Simpson used to do in the old Hertz commercials (I'll bet Hertz hates it when its former corporate spokesman is remembered) and got to the gate just as the door was being closed.

I think I went to the check-in counter and not the closing door to the jet bridge; I can't say for sure. Wherever I went, I remember being told that if I had tried the alternative, I would never have made the flight. It doesn't matter now anyway: If I tried that today, I'd be shot seventeen times before getting anywhere near the gate. If I somehow made it through, the entire airport would be closed down until I was hunted down.

But, in the summer of 2001, I made that flight to Columbus, on time for my deposition. It wasn't glamorous, but it was reasonably efficient.

Then came 9/11 and, soon after that, Richard Reid, the would-be "shoe bomber."

The next time I flew was after those world-changing events. Once again, I was flying Southwest, from Midway. I was going to join the rest of the family in Louisville, there for a baseball tournament with Middle Son. (I had to be in court that day and couldn't drive down with the rest of them.) Leaving from Chicago's downtown, Midway or O'Hare are equally convenient to the air traveler. (That should qualify me for a Chamber of Commerce award -- don't you think?)

It had been a busy day. I don't remember exactly what I was doing, but it was hot, I was wearing a suit, and I'd been walking all over the Loop on one errand or another. The last thing I wanted to do was take off my shoes -- and any sane person should have respected my wishes in this regard. The olfactory consequences were entirely predictable -- but, as I learned when I gave fair warning, the TSA were already, in 2002, a humorless bunch. Fortunately, the TSA agent with whom I was dealing on this occasion chose to tell me about the rubber gloves, as opposed to showing me.

Air travel has only gotten worse since. I've had occasion to watch conditions deteriorate because I have traveled a handful of times in the intervening years -- but not so often that I can't see the decline. The Curmudgeon family traveled as a group to Oldest Son's wedding in San Antonio in May 2010 (well, Oldest Son was down there already). Long Suffering Spouse hadn't flown for many years by that point; I think that was Youngest Son's first flight. I tried to warn them about what to expect, how to cope with the oppressive "security" and so forth, but nothing can prepare the uninitiated for the actual events. Sometimes I think the ultimate goal of the TSA is to discourage all law-abiding citizens from air travel. On that day (which surely will be soon) the government can simply arrest, on grounds of suspected terrorism, anyone who wants to fly.

And now we near Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. I give thanks I don't have to travel anywhere, particularly by air.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i think i'd rather have a tooth pulled than to fly anywhere...

smiles, bee

Jean-Luc Picard said...

With buget airlines, I'd choose the prison. Three square meals a day and a place to sleep at night.