Friday, May 26, 2017

Adventures in Air Travel - Spring of 2017

Ah, flying places.  You never quite know what to expect.  There always seems to be a random element to it, this airport waves you through with a smile, that one picks your baggage apart to scrutinize your deodorant.  But it is still the Modern Magic Carpet that can pick you up in one part of the world and whisk you to another....with drinks in flight!

Lately there have been several high profile cases of passengers being handled roughly by airline staff.  In each instance there were extenuating circumstances.  It seems in general that it is crabby, disagreeable people who get themselves into difficult situations.  While this is understandable it is not an excuse.  The airlines and airport staff are trained quite specifically to deal with just this sort of situation and person, as cheerful and cooperative passengers are not the source of many issues.

So, in the aftermath of the United Airlines fiasco, what was the state of air travel in April and May of 2017?

Scene One.  A perfect trans Atlantic flight.  I had an empty seat next to me and the opportunity to stretch out and snooze.  An arrival sans jet lag, truly a modern miracle.

Scene Two.  Last time I went there Italian border control was a shuffling, milling mass of crabby humanity all waiting for a bored official to apply an entry stamp.  He chatted with his equally non useful colleague and did not even look at people.  Forty five wasted minutes.  This time?  Five minutes and through.  They still did not care a whit but at least they kept things moving.

Scene Three.  We got to our departure gate early for our return transAt flight.  This allowed us time for a bite of lunch and we sat across the way from our actual gate. There an ongoing drama was playing out.

The central figure was a stocky woman wearing a babushka style head scarf.  She was hoppin' mad about something, frequently gesturing at a KLM employee and shaking her fist.  At one point she spit on the floor.  The number of officials in the area increased quickly.  In addition to the two regular KLM/airport ladies there soon arrived: 3 guys in white shirts who donned yellow SECURITY vests and put on gloves. Also, a red uniformed airport official who directed bystanders elsewhere.  Finally, I think it was after the spitting part, four husky guys in deep blue uniforms that said KONILLIJKE MARECHAUSSE turned up.  My Dutch is sketchy so I thought this was the Royal Marines but in fact it was the Royal Constabulary, a fairly serious bunch who are the national police. I find this mildly disappointing, its a better story with Marines.

I give all concerned credit.  One of the "Marines" sat down and talked quietly with her for fifteen minutes.  Then the entire bunch - by now there were 8 or 9 officials involved - escorted her elsewhere.  Later discussing it with other passengers it seems that she was insistent on being arrested and taken to jail.  No doubt a story could be concocted to explain all this but it would be less plausible and less sad than whatever reality was on display there.

Scene Four.  Homeward Bound.  The guy behind us had his leg out in the aisle when the drinkie cart came through.  It bumped into him.  He yelled:  OWW!!!
The attendant of course was apologetic and said the obvious, that it was an accident. The boorish passenger replied in a voice loud enough for the entire airplane to hear: "Everything is an accident.  Even our birth!!!"

It is a good thing that our destination was near.  This guy kept carping at everyone and everything the rest of the way, in between pointing out that we were flying over the rather tony suburb that was his home.  My wife and I both made a point of telling the flight attendants that they had done well.  And this was even before they credited our account with some extra frequent flyer miles.  The official reason for this was that my in flight movie screen had not worked properly but I suspect the proximity of the crabby flyer made them a bit quicker and more liberal with this little "perk".

So what does it all mean?

I think it just means that more people of all sorts are flying.  Air fares are down a bit due to lower fuel costs, and at least Americans are enjoying a swell exchange rate these days.  More pleasant, cooperative travelers.  Also more people with psychological or neurological issues.  Also more garden variety jerks.

Maybe the favorable press on behalf of people who have been forcibly "de-planed" has emboldened some of the latter.  You hear stories of people just plopping down in a first class seat and pretty much daring the stewardesses types to make an issue of it. But for sure the jerks and the impaired are still a tiny fraction of the air traveling public.  Its just such a shame that in confined spaces one such can be heard and experienced by so many.

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