After spending the better part of a month flying to and from medical school interviews, I have one overriding question: Why does flying suck so much?
Flying used to be fun. A trip flying the friendly skies was an event where the airport was an exciting place, you complimented the pilot on a good landing and the flight attendants smiled and said “sure!” when you asked for the entire can of Sprite.
When did that vision die? When did airlines become cattle car operators with a dull coat of paint, and when exactly did we allow our fear to scare us so badly it’s recommended we arrive at the airport two hours early to sit through Security Theater?
And it IS theater.
People instinctively don’t like leaving the ground or being threatened with mass death by fireball, so it’s the job of the almighty TSA to make us feel safe. They have done an excellent job of doing so, chiefly by replacing your fear with such blinding rage and frustration that you can’t experience any other emotion.
TSA has created a screening process that consists mostly of waiting in line followed by a 4-second MRI of my testicles. This ego-deflating image is promptly sent to a remote employee in Arizona who just got back from lunch with the guy who remotely photographed your car last week as you sped through the work zone. Thus screened, TSA assures us that no one is going to take over the cabin with nail clippers or an excess of toothpaste. Thank god, because I spend every airborne moment terrified that a crazed communist armed with a pair of cuticle scissors is going to hijack the plane and cut the sides of my nails too short before demanding that President Harrison Ford release General Raddick from prison.
Once you actually clear security, you get to go board the aircraft. Boarding is an exercise in group psychology – how much BS are people actually willing to go through for a miniscule edge in overhead compartment space? (The answer: a lot.)
Actual boarding only occurs after twenty minutes of waiting around while all the special people board, leaving just the scrubs like you behind. I flew on a national carrier last week that had six separate “preferred” classes before they got to economy class. Six! They had first class, platinum, gold, silver, star plus, and plus classes – then the 94% of the plane still waiting around with cooling seven-dollar coffees got to board.
Besides making you feel like the value equivalent of a raccoon sifting through the neighbor’s garbage, the process is infuriating because you paid 200 dollars for this ticket, six weeks in advance, and you still ended up in 28B wedged between the fat guy who smells like a locker room and the dude who hasn’t stopped talking since 1976.
The amazing part about all this waiting around is the airlines still can’t find a sane method for boarding the plane where you can get people on and off the plane in under twenty-four hours. Instead, many carriers opt to board from the front of the plane back, which is akin to filling a swimming pool with a gas can. According to the airlines, boarding from the back of the plane – the obvious response – doesn’t save time because people are either idiots or greedy; either way, the simple solution is to just tell people what they can and can’t do with their way-too-big luggage. TSA already proved that people will do just about anything someone with a fancy uniform tells them.
Once you’ve boarded, watched the lady with the ninety-pound bag wedge it up into the overhead bin, and made your peace with the discomfort you’re about to experience for the next two hours, you have to sit through a 20-minute taxi drive to nowhere. To distract you from the absurdity of rushing to board a tin can in order to wait on a cement plateau, the flight attendants present Part 1 of the Weirdest Holdover From The Glory Days of Flying: the safety demonstration.
No one has paid attention to the four exits on this 737, two over the wings and one at each end, since 1993. No one is listening to the presentation about affixing your own mask to your face before helping those around you. Everyone knows this. Everyone also knows that if your plane crashes, you are dead. There is no safety feature that will save you from a plane crash, because if you survive you were simply lucky to avoid being hit with anything moving at a net velocity of 400 miles an hour.
After the show, you finally take off. Since you can’t stand up until you reach cruising altitude, you immediately feel the urge to pee. The baby behind you poops, and then starts to cry. Just as you’re finally settling down with your book/work/Kindle-you’re-pretending-isn’t-an-electronic-device-because-of-that-ridiculous-rule-against-devices, the pilot clicks on in Part 2 of the Weirdest Holdover From The Glory Days of Flying.
The pilot, who wants to be talking to you even less than you want to be listening, resignedly tells you that the weather outside is minus 42, which all things considered is pretty good at your cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.
Do I care how high up I am or how cold it is outside? No. You could put the plane in the Kennedy Center, turn the engines up full blast, and scroll a Broadway stage set of clouds past my window on a treadmill and I wouldn’t know the difference. The pilot telling me that we are at 29 or 31 or 40 thousand feet holds exactly zero relevance for me. Maybe it did back when we discovered how to fly, but after spending the last 90 minutes experiencing the soul-sucking exercise that is clearing security and boarding a plane, I don’t much care.
The only thing about the pilot’s spiel I find interesting, besides the compelling question of “why are we still forcing people to listen to this,” is how no matter how late the flight takes off, you always arrive “just a few minutes early.” This is, of course, making the grand assumption that you weren’t delayed seven hours by a faulty aileron sensor. But if you were just a little late, the pilot – ostensibly through sheer willpower and skill – manages to touch down just ahead of schedule.
This of course begs the question WHY THE HELL DON’T WE ALWAYS FLY THAT FAST?! Don’t tell me about fuel economy or cruising speed. The airline just spent the equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon spill to preserve your on-time numbers. Assholes.
This piece is longer than it should be already, but suffice to say that at some point a pissed-off flight attendant walks by, slams some peanuts packaged during the Vietnam War down on your broken tray table and continues on, ramming your elbow with the 350-lb drink cart in the process.
But hey, we’re safe! Right?
5 thoughts on “Why Does Flying Suck So Much?”
Whoa. You got peanuts?
I love your description of how troublesome it is to travel by air these days. Very well written post. Thanks for sharing.
Natey, this is awesome.
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