The Airline Circus

I’m 35,000 feet above the ground on a flight to Boston. People have issues with travel; all the stress irritates them, but I personally love flying. It’s not so much the act of flying that I love, rather, the act of going to the airport, going through security, and finally boarding the plane has a certain allure. I don’t often travel, and I envy those who do. I could care less about where they go, I’m quite content in SoCal for the time being, but it annoys me that they take the whole process of traveling for granted. After reading what I just wrote, you have every right to assume I’m bit fatuous, which may very well be true, but let me attempt to convince you otherwise.

Even in LA, bumper-to-bumper traffic at 6:30 is a rarity. At LAX, however, this is commonplace. Pulling up to the airline terminal I don’t wonder where everybody is going, but why they’re going. They all seem so serious and paranoid, and it’s difficult to imagine that some are actually going on vacation…to have fun and relax. These corybantic travelers provide a stark contrast to the suited up business men, who are flying for work and work only. For them, waiting in the TSA line is part of their job, which means they neither love or hate it. When these antithetic groups of people congregate at the airport, something along the lines of a kermis takes place: the soon-to-be tourists pettifogging while the condescending business men look on. By surveying the scene the pandemonium becomes more bearable.

Even though I try to view the TSA stage of flying through optimistic eyes, I’m the first to admit that its by no means enjoyable. Once security is cleared, and head towards your gate, it’s as if you’ve landed on another planet. The shrieks of TSA officers is replaced by ambient airport music, the scuzzy tacky carpet is replaced by sleek stone floors. Instead of being forced to wait in the security line, people choose to wait in line for magazines and food. The vendors smile, and even the bathroom emits a polished feel. Finally, because everybody at the gate has the same destination, a peculiar nexus is present.

The interim between boarding the plane and taking off is pretty mundane, yet there are a still a few things to note. When the boarding begins, everybody goes into battle mode, wanting to be the first to board, the first to get that precious overhead space. Once on the plane, the vacationers pull out a multitude of things. Laptops, iPods, magazines, snacks, more snacks; it’s as if they plan on spending a week on the plane. The business men keep in simple: laptop or newspaper. Not both. They find their seat, sit down, and will stay seated for the duration of the flight. The vacationers will find their seat, only to attempt to swap it. The safety information video creates confusion throughout the cabin. People try to look bored and disinterested, but they know they should be watching. As a result, most of them proceed to stare at the chair, while watching out of the corner of their eyes.

Once the plane takes off, the people who have a window seat have their faced glued to the window. For a brief moment, they are winning the battle as everybody else looks at them with envy. As cruising altitude is reached, and the seat belt sign is switched off, the battle turns to the aisle seat people. Suddenly they have the power to move about the cabin as they please without asking anybody to move. Through all of this, the person in the middle seat (which usually ends up being myself) feels left out; no scenery and no cabin freedom.

The drink cart provides an interesting challenge for the traveler. Appearing too interested in the drink selection is not a wise idea; giving the impression that a measly can of Coke is important. This being said, an aloof attitude when choosing a beverage might offend the flight attendant; after all, it is free. One must choose their drink before the cart arrives, and when the flight attendant arrives, pause slightly before ordering. The paper napkin they place your drink on is one of the last symbols of luxury flying. From less leg space, to overpriced food, flying is not what is used to be. These napkins, however, are a token of the “golden age” of travel. Sure, they’re just a piece of paper, but they’re a piece of paper with the airline’s emblem printed on it, evoking a sense of corporate pride.

It used to be that everybody watched the movie provided, but today with iPads and laptops, this is not the case. And why should it be? Having a laptop or iPad ensures that you’ll be entertained for the duration of the flight. This has allowed airlines to move away from the luxury aspect of flying. With travelers entertained, they have no reason to provide luxury services, as they’ll most likely go in vain. And there’s nothing that can be done to change this. Do you really believe for a minute that people will forego their gizmos for a few extra inches of leg room? Of course not.

I realized that I may have veered away from my argument: why flying is enjoyable. To put it simply, it’s not, but the process is. All the steps involved in getting to your destination a part of the experience, and if we learn to accept them, the process becomes a whole lot more entertaing. And oh yeah, you can still call me crazy.

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