Saturday, February 03, 2007

I Earn Frequent-Flyer Miles

I have returned to Boston again. Traveling so much in a short period leaves me tired. Of course, it doesn't help that I think that the airlines are basically evil.

Now, I am not one of those people who romanticizes air-travel in the past. You know the folk who remember when “flying was fun.” When was that? You mean when Orville and Wilbur were your pilots? Flying has always been stressful. I think mostly because humans aren’t supposed to be in the sky.

That aside, the airline companies and the FAA are both way out of control. I simply don’t believe that airlines can’t be profitable. Air traffic today is greater than pre 9-11, so they can’t hide behind that anymore.

If they are really so financially strapped, it is time to nationalize them and get rid of private business all together. No more corporate welfare for these corrupt companies. The CEO’s of these allegedly failing businesses make more money than Puerto Rico’s annual budget. I never obtained an MBA, but if a company is losing money, that might be the first place to cut some corners.

Instead, though, they cut services left and right. On all of my flights, I had the option to buy a “snack” (stale cookies or staler pretzels) for $2. These weren’t bargain-basement airlines, either. If you fly Jet-Blue or Ryan Air, you expect such things because you paid $18 for your ticket. A “full-service” airline, though? Exactly what is the “full” part of that service? Does not burning us with lye now count as “full service?”

Northwest had the even more astounding policy of charging an additional fee for certain seats in the plane, like the exit rows. Being an “elite” member of the frequent-flyer program (soon to expire – gasp), I could opt for these seats as well. So, basically the airlines are creating a class-hierarchy within the coach cabin. Passengers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your roller-bags.

Keep in mind that airline fares are peculiar as a service because you and the person next to you might have paid radically different prices for the exact same ticket. Can you imagine going to a barber and paying $10 more than the person who came before you for the same haircut? Or being charged a fee for that haircut, but finding out that the barber had “oversold” his time? We accept these policies, however, as necessary for airlines.

I remember, in the mid-nineties, Congress and President Clinton threatened legislation (dubbed the “Passenger Bill of Rights”) that would have required airlines to treat their passengers as slightly more than cattle. Oh, how the airlines protested! While under that threat, however, somehow they managed to improve! Once that fear went away, the airlines went right back to business as usual.

Of course, nationalizing the airlines would just put them in the same hands as the people who are already bungling security. Yes, we all want a safe and secure air-transport system. That doesn’t mean, however, that being reactionary makes us safe. Instead of addressing the economic inequalities that fuel terrorism across the globe, our government has decided that they can magically prevent all terrorism. Okay, I am particularly annoyed by the 1-1-3 rules.

For those who haven’t flown recently, you may not know the meaning of 1-1-3. If you have flown, then you have heard the same announcement over and over every ten minutes. Every (1) passenger is allowed a one(1)-quart zipper-topped bag of liquids or gels no greater than three (3) ounces. This rule emerged as a compromise from the briefly enacted 1-0-0 policy. Some law enforcement agencies in Britain uncovered a potential plot to destroy an aircraft by mixing an explosive cocktail on-board. As a result, they panicked and made an impossible policy.

Now, I am no explosives expert, but it seems to me that a clever person determined on bringing down an aircraft would be able to accomplish his goals with certain materials less than three ounces. Or, potentially, they could have several people bring on-board dangerous liquids, in three ounce sizes, that would amount to the necessary amount.

So, it seems to me, that the 1-1-3 rule is all glitter and no glam. We are as unsafe as ever. The airline safety authorities, however, want to look like they are doing something to make us safe. If we feel inconvenienced, they figure, then they must be on top of things.

It’s just like the deal with the shoes. Do we even remember why they started the shoe thing? FOUR years ago, a single (one) loser named Richard Reid unsuccessfully tried to make his shoes into a flaming weapon. Apparently Reid figured he could combine his contempt for human life with all those episodes of Get Smart that he watched in his parents’ basement.

The 29-year-old’s pyromania hardly appeared the most successful or imitated form of terrorism. Yet, domestic flights now require that we all have some stocking-feet time before boarding. That way the technician can ignore images of our shoes as much as they ignore images of our carry-on baggage. Yeah, that solves the terrorism problem.

Oh, and by the way, Richard Reid had a fuse sticking out of his shoes when he went through security. Did security really need him to take them off for the x-ray to figure out his plans? I mean, I haven’t heard of Nike marketing their new cross-trainer with built in fast-burning-flint.

Maybe I am just bitter because I am a nervous flyer. Nothing like being all twitchy to raise a few eyebrows as you head towards the metal detector. Combine that with my goatee and gravitas and I become the perfect target for airport screening. By the time I get through security, all I have left on my body is my strategically placed one-quart zipper-top bag.

One day, it will eventually come to this:

    Security Guard: Do you have liquids, aerosols, or gels?

    Me: No.

    Security Guard: What’s that in your mouth?

    Me: Saliva.

    Security Guard: It better be less than three ounces. We scanned your brief case and saw a 32 inch flat coil with a metal end.

    Me: You mean my belt? You made me take it off before I went through the line. Remember?

    Security Guard: A belt? Didn’t Richard Reid wear a belt? Get him!

I have a solution that solves all of these problems. With one simple policy change, I can resolve security concerns, the airlines’ lack of services, and my own flying anxieties.

Instead of harassing us and pretending like they can tell the .0005% terrorists from the rest of the flying public, just drug everybody before boarding. Put us all into a chemical-induced coma before the plane even leaves the ground. We can just sleep through the whole flight. With enough drugs, we won’t even notice the lack of a complimentary beverage service. If a terrorist happened to sneak aboard, he will feel just too darn good to commit any evil acts. It’s win-win.

We can implement this plan immediately. Between the liquor and Xanax I take to fly, I have been single-handedly field testing this program for years.


Earl Cootie said...

I think Airport 1975 was the first PG-rated movie I saw without the Ps in attendance. I haven't flown in about five years. There is no correlation between these statements. Just sayin.

Doug said...

The answer: don't fly. Without our money, things will change.

In "The Fifth Element," they put all passengers to sleep for the flight. A side-benefit of this is that the passengers were stacked horizontally, thus saving space and allowing for more passengers per flight. Brilliant, I think.

By the way, welcome home. :)

Rebekah said...

Drives me nuts when you say what I want to say, only better. Why are your rants funny whilst mine are just whiny?

A puzzle.

Torn had the best idea for airline safety; everyone just get on the plane in a hospital gown. After the cavity search, where is a place left to hide?


vuboq said...

my cat just vomited.

airport security is ineffective.


marlan said...

Glad you returned without losing your baggage, so to speak. Always amusing. Which Midwestern city did you visit, btw? If you had come to mine, and I missed it, I would fret.

Steve said...

Yet another most excellent post, GayProf. I'm one of those people who think flying was less of a pain in the ass in years past, and I blame the terrifying terrorists of terror for fucking it up for the rest of us. Anyway, flying is a hassle now, but I still enjoy it. Oh yea, can someone please explain this: when Chris & I were flying home to my parents' for Christmas, on more than once occasion, we heard announcements stating something to the effect that this or that flight was delayed "because the crew has yet to arrive." We really heard that a couple of times. Partying too hard the night before? Slept through the wake-up call? WTF is all that about?

B. said...

Why hasn't someone thought of this before?

It seems so obvious.

I guess that's true for all great ideas.

tornwordo said...

The second label is funny. Hospital gowns for everyone before boarding! Can't hide anything with one of those on.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I took a short flight (50 minutes) in Spain last year on one of those little budget European airlines; it cost less than $100 round trip. We were served a full and tasty breakfast (coffee, warm rolls, fruit, juice) on trays with real ceramic plates, glass glasses, and metal silverware. We took off on time and landed on time. This airline is having no financial problems whatsoever. It kills me that it's possible to do this right, and we screw it up so very much.

GayProf said...

Earl: Is that when you secretly realized that you wanted to be Karen Black?

Doug: Yeah, but people need to fly for business and such. We can demand more from airlines, though.

Rebekah: I can go with the hospital gown idea if, and only if, they pass out blinders. There are some people whose junk I prefer not to see.

VUBOQ: Was this a vomit in protest?

Steve: Oh, no doubt that flying is much more of hassle today than ten years ago. Today, the security is just absurd and not at all about real safety. I am not sure, tough, I would have called ten years ago "fun."

Marlan: Fret not. I had very little time to myself while in the Midwest. Even if in your city, I wouldn't have been able to meet anybody.

B. Yeah, but the downside is that we could potentially have people become addicted to flying.

Torn: True about not being able to hide anything. As I mentioned to Rebekah, though, there are things on some people that need to be hidden.

Pilgrim/Heretic: I know! There are lots of models of successful airlines. This is why I am annoyed that the U.S. government keeps plunging tons of tax dollars to keep poorly-run companies afloat.

Jen said...

Steve: We had the same experience at the holiday except our announcement went: "...the crew has yet to arrive due to bad weather out of Halifax". It seems that in this "cash crunch" the airlines are facing they put in more flights at peak seasons but have the same skeleton staff. Asking around with folks in the biz later it turns out that one crew might start their day in Halifax, hop skip and jump their way across Canada to Vancouver and make it half way back to Winnipeg or Toronto. Maybe soon the solution will be to have the attendants flying since there is nothing worth serving...

Earnest English said...

Oh Gayprof, I love you. I'm taking you home with me. Except that you'd have to take two planes -- and what if the Xanax and liquor hadn't worn off by the time you landed in the first airport. The next time I see someone stumbling in a midwestern hub airport, I'm gonna know it's you!

evilganome said...

I haven't been up in a plane in about 5 years. Which, when I think about it, is when I quit drinking. I don't think this is a coincidence.

Mike said...

I worked for an airline for close to ten years. Are they evil? Yes. The people running them are particularly evil. The people working them are evil because they're placed in a situation where they have to stand up for policies they fundamentally disagree with, for a public demanding a level of service no one wants to pay for anymore, for a company that slashes pay and benefits as a cost-saving measure during bankruptcy. Also, the person checking you in might work for another company entirely.

As for the late-arriving crews, there are several reasons for this. One, the FAA mandates a certain level of crew rest between flights, for your safety. You don't want a pilot flying a plane who got three hours and twenty-six minutes of sleep the night before. Second, the crew might be arriving on a flight delayed inbound from another city that is having bad weather or mechanical problems.

The economics of airlines is so thoroughly fucked up from top to bottom, the solution is either massive bankruptcies across the board, with about three airlines surviving, or re-regulation. The public likes cheap tickets, most regions of the country don't want their hubs to fail, and if you think the service is bad now, imagine it when there are just three carriers to choose from.

Laura Elizabeth said...

When you suggested nationalizing their airline industry I nearly lost it. Like it's not a freakin' nightmare now!

Ye gods I hate this government. Anyway...

I'm with you, I hate flying. Crammed into seats with no leg room (and I'm only 5' 8" - I don't know how tall men deal with this issue), the smells, the other passengers, the pointless security checks, the long waits... gods I hate flying. I'll do anything to avoid it. Which annoys me because it keeps me from traveling. I need to hit the lottery and get my own damn plane. And my own island. I have to get out of this gawd-awful country.

seekeronos said...

Nationalise airline service?

How frightening. What might make you think that the government could possibly do any better at managing air travel than the companies could... yeek.

Sounds a wee bit too socialist for my tastes; I mean, look at Amtrak. Virtually a ghost of a company even with nationalisation, that probably would have gone the way of the Dodo bird 50 years ago.

Let the free market sort out the winers from the losers, and if all else fails... there is always the option to save a buttload of gas by not traveling, or by using trains, buses, or maybe even a slow ship.

It might even lift Amtrak out of the mire, and introduce something like the German TGV or ICE trains, or JR's [b]Shinkansen[/b] (bullet trains).

I want to see all those Mag-Lev trains we were supposed to have been infested with in 2000, as shown in those 1970s Superman comics.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I have to fly Northwest because of where I live... it sucks. From having to buy your 'snack', to few in-flight magazines and no audio programming.... I'd really prefer being drugged.

This weekend I'm driving, but then I have two weekends in a row on them - thank goodness the flights are short.