Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Do They Look Like Pig Snouts… and Other Airline Musings

In the past month I’ve boarded no fewer than eleven airplanes. Might have been more what with connections and transfers and layovers but, quite frankly I am too lazy to cross my office to actually look at my collective flight manifests. Besides, 11 is already an impressive number, considering I did all that traveling in less than 30 days.

I’ve been on planes so old they still have ashtrays in the armrests, and planes so new they have ‘turn off electronic devices’ in place of the traditional ‘no smoking’ next to the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign on the underside of the overhead compartments. It was on that antique plane that I met Tina and that we fishtailed so wildly upon landing (see 2 posts back – A Shout of Sunshine). The apparent age of the plane is in part what caused my disquiet.

For luxury, comfort and amenities I vote for the Airbus 330 that I flew from China. While great for long flights I doubt the everyday traveler will see some of those conveniences. Conversely I hear that one airline wants to try out a ‘leaning seat’, a mere post to park one’s derriere, with no back and no footrest: a commuter plane in order to accommodate more passengers. I swear: air travel is getting more like moving cattle every day!

In the course of all this traveling, and indeed during past travels, certain questions cropped up. By the time I get home or near a computer I always forget to write about them but this time, I’ve made it a point to make notes specifically pertaining to air travel, so… wait no more, dear Readers! On with some air travel observations! Please note that, no matter what country and no matter what airline or carrier, these observations hold true: what one airline does, they all do. What one airline has, they all have. Therefore I’m not naming specific airlines.

I’ll get to the pig snouts in due time. I’d like to do this in chronological order, from boarding the plane to getting off at destination. The first comment surely has to go toward how passengers are welcomed aboard.

“Using the red access lane, we welcome our first class passengers on board.”

A few privileged ‘first classers’, sedately conscious of their elevated status promptly step up to the red lane, present their boarding pass and proceed down the gangplank, the first of the cabin’s occupants.

“Using the blue access lane, we now welcome all Preferred flyers.” One or two passengers will self-importantly take the blue lane, present their boarding pass and make their way into the plane’s bowels.

After that come Platinum, Gold and Silver members, Dividend Miles members, Skyline members, members of the military, people traveling with small children, and finally the rest of us slobs, seated in zones 1 thru 5, all instructed to use the blue lane. Depending on the airline, there are a few more class distinctions or passenger designations, but these should suffice to illustrate my point. Those needing help with boarding, such as the wheelchair-bound, get to board last. Poor suckers! By the time they board, there is no more room in the overhead compartments and all of their carry-ons have to be stowed belowdecks.

I’m usually a Zone 4 or 5 flunky. That leaves me plenty of time to wonder: what is the difference between the red access lane and the blue? As far as I can tell, it is just two poles, 5 feet apart with a tensa-barrier between them. The carpet is not cleaner on the red side, the air is not more rarified, the same gate agent scans tickets… there is, in essence no difference between the red and blue lanes other than they are so marked.

Of course I get a good chuckle in because, with all the breakdown of passenger classes, only one or two people qualify for each of the designations so, approximately every 10 seconds the gate agent is making another announcement, welcoming another group to board.

Why is first class boarded first? That just means that, for all that their fannies are supposedly more dignified than us coach travelers, they get banged into and stepped on more than those Zone 1 people who sit at the back of the plane. More specifically: they get banged into and stepped on BY those Zone 1 people who sit at the back of the plane. How is it that first class passengers tolerate being stepped on by commoners? Wouldn’t it make more sense to load us commoners first, make us suffer the long wait in the back of the plane and load those with rarified fannies last? That way they could stay in the lounge longer.

And what of those flimsy curtains that separate first and business class from the rest of the horde? Don’t they think we can see through that curtain? But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’ve got to wonder…

“The captain has turned on the seatbelt sign”.

What? The CAPTAIN has turned on the seatbelt sign? The BIG, BAD CAPTAIN wants US to fasten our SEATBELTS??? Why, we Certainly MUST capitulate to what the big, bad CAPTAIN wants!

Why am I reminded, each time I hear that admonition, about Father Knows Best and all those other mid-50’s TV shows where Daddy had all the power and Mother had only to remind the misbehaving child to wait till Daddy came home for his/her (usually his) punishment?

Why can’t we passengers just be told “The Fasten Seatbelt Sign is Lit.” Surely we are all mature enough to comply with such a directive without invoking the fear of a big, bad Daddy, aren’t we?

And speaking of Daddy. Remember when you’d go on those family vacations or Sunday drives? Father firmly in the driver’s seat, mother monitoring all action in the back, reminding us to sit still because Father needs to see out YOUR back windows to back up?

Why is it that, upon taxiing, the plane’s window shades have to be up and the cabin lights are dimmed? It is not like the pilot (The Captain!) is stretching his arm along the top of a mythical bench seat, looking over his shoulder through YOUR side window to properly gauge distance to prevent backing into a ditch or a tree, is it?

Upon actively pondering that question I decided to ask. The first flight attendant I approached fairly sneered at me: “it is so we can see if there is a fire or something wrong with the wing or the plane during takeoff or landing.”

Ummm… Sorry, Sneer Boy: during takeoff or landing, you and all other flight attendants are securely strapped in to your webbed gear at the back or the middle of the plane nowhere near a porthole, and you are in no position to check for fires or wings falling off. While I didn’t exactly sneer back at him I did leave him non-plussed, as with all the other flight attendants I asked. It seems no one really had a viable answer to my question. 

I think I speak for all passengers that, if the plane is on fire or we lose a wing we would just as soon not watch as we plummet down to earth at however many miles per hour. Likewise we’d just as soon be told that we should watch out for such conditions IF that is the true purpose for leaving the window shades up and dimming the cabin lights. Till I get a clear answer on this I’m going to maintain the visual of the captain carefully looking over his shoulder to back up, just like the Daddies of yore who ever so carefully shifted their hydramatic transmissions into ‘reverse’ and looked over their shoulder before backing the car into the street to start their fun filled, family vacation or Sunday drive.

Now, for those pig snouts. Were you wondering where they fit in?

Poor flight attendants! How many times have they intoned the safely preamble to every single flight you and I have ever been on? How many times have they waved their arms at emergency exits, demonstrated how to buckle and unbuckle seatbelts, how to use a seat cushion as a floatation device (even when the projected flight trajectory would take us nowhere near water), and how to put on an oxygen mask in the event of cabin depressurization?

In all the times they’ve done that, has any one of them noticed or remarked on the fact that those oxygen masks, but for being yellow, look exactly like pig snouts?

I’m out of room and I’m out of time, but I’m certainly not out of musings. I think I’ll write a ‘part II, because there is a rather serious issue I’d like to bring up and get into in some depth. In part II I’ll delver further into the topic of pig snouts and broach all my other musings… you’ll just have to read on to find out what they are.

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