Fear of Flying – With Apologies to Erica Jong

We are all scared of air travel. Face it, we are. And if we say we aren’t, we’re lying… or under the influence of any number of a variety of intoxicants. Oh, I’m not talking about the usual suspects: the gut wrenching turbulence, sudden turns or inexplicable changes in altitude, or even the landings that shake loose the majority of your fillings. No, as horrible as these may seem to those of us in the back of the cattle car they call a modern airliner, I am talking about something much more insidious.

Analysts today look at the airline industry and point to an industry that has been devastated by 9-11 and the subsequent decline in air traffic that forced multiple bankruptcies, downsizing, and layoffs. This is quite true. Too bad they didn’t also address an issue that has been plaguing the industry since deregulation. That is, of course, the view by anyone associated with the airline industry that the passenger is the lowest form of life and is regarded as a necessary evil.

From the moment you leave for the airport until you reach your destination you are forced to deal with, overcome, and avoid an ever increasing series of roadblocks, hurdles and challenges which at times rival anything thrown at you on a PlayStation II or X-Box video game. Whether it is the red caps, interminable check-in lines, security screeners, gate changes, flight delays, pedantic gate attendants, officious in-flight cabin crews, aroma challenged fellow passengers, you are essentially going from one crisis to the next.

A case in point. A friend of mine recently took a trip from Washington, DC to Reno, Nevada. Reno is a bit off the beaten path necessitating a change of planes in Phoenix. She took one of the low cost, no-frills carriers based out of the southwest. One might make reference to the old adage, “you get what you pay for” but not in her hearing, at least not while the wounds are still fresh.

Dulles airport in Washington wasn’t too bad for her if you overlooked the 45 minutes in the serpentine security screening line. Of course, then there was the fact that she was asked to step to the side for a more personalize inspection. Evidently a blond, 125 pound, 5 foot 4 inch Caucasian fit that day’s suspicious profile. When the wand kept on going off around her chest area, my friend suggested that it might be the underwire of her bra. The security officer bruskly demurred and told her that “they weren’t big enough” to set off the wand. I think you’ll agree that it’s always nice to hear from person’s frisking you that you should look into enhancement surgery.

Her flight itself was very smooth with no turbulence to speak of. Regardless of this, the seat belt sign stayed on for the entire five hour flight. After an hour or so passengers started getting up to go to the bathroom. This evidently drove one of the stewards aboard the aircraft into fits of apoplexy. Announcements were made every ten to fifteen minutes or so for the passengers to remain in their seats. These were, of course, ignored. Bladders compressed by the environment as well as cabin pressurization cannot be ignored. The steward finally got on the P.A. and announced in a very put out voice, “Fine, you win. But don’t come to me for help if we hit turbulence.”

My friend decided to brave the threat of turbulence and go to the bathroom. She headed to the front of the aircraft where one restroom was located (she was four rows away from it). Just as she got there, one of the stewardesses opened the cockpit door to give the flight crew coffee and chat a bit. My friend stopped dead in her tracks and started to back away. 9-11 being in all of our minds, an open cockpit door is not a good thing to be next to in case someone thinks you’re up to something. Just as she was backing away, the steward comes running down the aisle to yell at her for being near the cockpit. Never mind that the cockpit door should have never been opened in the first place or the fact that anyone in the three first class rows could have easily reached the cockpit first. But of course, no self-respecting hijacker or terrorist is going to want to be seen dead in first class!

Upon landing in Phoenix my friend makes it to the gate with plenty of time to spare. According to the electronic ticker board above and behind the gate agent she has some time to kill so she goes to the bathroom and gets a drink and arrives back at the gate with still some time to spare. Unfortunately for her, the time she read was departure time not last boarding time. The plane had closed its door and was still sitting at the gate waiting for whatever clearance it needed. It stayed there for 25 minutes. 25 minutes in which my friend argued to get on the plane without any success.

Then my friend has to go to customer service to book another flight. Things seem to be looking up, there are only three people in line ahead of her and two customer service representatives. Half and hour later, there are still three people in line ahead of her. It seems that each of those three people represented a tour group. An hour and a half later she finally is the next in line. And as she starts to move up to the customer service representative, the lady goes on break without saying a word.

Well they can’t get her a flight out that night, seems that all the flights had left by the time she got through the line. They put her up at the Hilton for the night. Hilton is evidently in cahoots with the airline because when she walks what seems three miles to get to her room and opens the door, it is occupied. Back down to the desk she has to go and get another room and forces the attendant to call the room to make sure no one is in it.

The next morning after getting up at 5a.m., wearing the same clothes as yesterday (her baggage made it to Reno the night before), feeling like death warmed over, she manages to book the next flight from Phoenix to Reno. This time she gets some coffee and parks herself at the gate afraid to leave even for a call of nature. Half an hour before the flight is scheduled to leave a announcement is made to the effect that the gate has been changed and it is all the way across the airport at another concourse.

Is it any wonder why we’re all petrified of flying?

By: Serge Obolensky

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