Saturday, March 29, 2014

Plane Talk

"Oh, I've slipped the surly bonds of a manner of speaking." With sincere apologies to John Gillespie McGee.

I love to fly (yes, this is one of those). Ah, the simple pleasure of getting on an airplane.... Yeah, simple.


Little has changed since I last wrote about the patient, friendly men and women charged with ensuring the safety and security of air travel. I arrived at DIA long before the sun rose (you can imagine how early I got up) and stood dutifully in line. Years and repetition have taught - put everything in the backpack, wear easily-doffed shoes and grab two bins at the earliest convenience. A squat fellow wearing a hideous toupee, his  blue TSA garb disheveled, strolled by our hundred-foot line and muttered "Look and see if you have pre-screen on your ticket." By the time I'd fished my boarding pass out and found that, in fact, I had that he'd wandered off without saying what virtue (or vice) that might afford. The scolding I endured at the eventual head of the line.... I was supposed to be in a different line! Seriously!? "There was a sign" the snappish woman informed me. I informed her right back that I watched several of her peers place the sign ten minutes and forty feet aft of where I'd joined in. Argue with the TAS - always a fabulous idea. I am ushered off - to a new line.

I begin the usual dance except.... "Leave your shoes on, laptops in your bags." The guy isn't very nice about it, as though deprived of the entertainment value airport security duty affords him. Wait.... What? I shuffle through a simple metal detector while others are doing the surrender position nearby. I await the "catch" that never arrives. It is a new program, a month or so old. I am not amused. It has made the TSA folks cranky. How can I tell? Point.

In Flight

I have been extremely lucky, of late. New aircraft, exit row seating, pleasant flight crews. Note that I did not include "smooth air." The flight to Charlotte hopped and skipped like an exuberant pre-teen for the last 90 minutes of the flight. It made my typical hunt-and-peck typing especially challenging. The leg from Charlotte to Tampa was ripe with people-watching opportunities, though.

Experienced travelers, even those ensconced in some literary gem (might I suggest...?) know the routine. Radical turns, lowered flaps and the faces of people on the ground visible.... We're probably about to land. Perhaps it is Pavlovian airline training - the flying pilot calls for the gear to be lowered (another sure sign of final approach) and every bladder in the cabin cries "Are we there yet?" What better time to leave your seat and visit the loo? A middle-aged woman pinballed her way up the aisle and fell into the lav, slamming the door behind her. The astonished (and very attractive - sorry, dear) flight attendant unstrapped from her seat (it faces backward so she'll have a greater chance to survive a botched take-off or landing - fabulous, huh?) pounded on the door and implored the passenger to "Hurry up." "I'm trying!" was the gritted-teeth response. Unbeknownst to her, she'd become what is known in the industry as "In Flight Entertainment."

Now, when ya gotta go.... Roger that. The door opens, the woman plops into a vacant seat and the wheels touch the runway. It took longer for you to read than for it to unfold in real time. That's not the end. As the plane turns onto the high speed taxiway from the active runway she gets up to return to her seat. And bumps into a guy who replaces her in the lavatory. He isn't the last person either - three other people leave their seats to hit the head before we arrive at the gate. We'd been in the air exactly 70 minutes. There was only one question to ask the FA - "What the hell did you serve on board today?"

I got my rental car, found the hotel (thank you, Android) and had a fabulous dinner with the girls and their husbands. Graham? We walked along the sea wall and chatted. With all of its challenges, modern air travel is wonderful. A perched pelican flapped away as the munchkin tried to make its acquaintance. He spent the next five minutes mimicking the frantic wing-flapping. "What pelican doing?"

The surly bonds of Earth ain't so bad sometimes.

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