Broken wings: Why I hate air travel
Somewhere the Wright Brothers are weeping
I am on a flight from Chicago bound for Los Angeles to visit my musician son.
I occupy the middle seat. A three-hundred-pound man trundles down the aisle toward me. I pray to all the travel gods in the heavens above that he isn’t heading for the seat next to me. But to my chagrin, and his, he unloads his gear into the overhead and squeezes into the impossibly small seat next to me. We two large men are now bound to each other, shoulder to uncomfortable shoulder, like hogs in a pen, for the next four hours and twenty minutes.
I hate air travel.
I hate what it has become.
I hate everything about it.
I hate airport terminals, with their Mad Max arrival zones, where family vans, taxis, limos and hotel buses jostle and vie for those precious few feet of unloading space.
I hate scrambling out of the car, hoping that I haven’t forgotten anything in my frantic attempt to pack everything I own into my bulging array of carry-on bags.
I hate airport terminals, with so many spatially unaware people standing in the middle of the concourse, blocking all natural traffic flow.
I loathe, absolutely loathe, airport security. In the wake of 9-11, a historic, tragic testimony to failed airport security, the perpetrators of that incompetence now make us pay for their mistake every time we fly. We stand in endless queues, shuffling slowly, dumbly toward that moment when some dude looks at our driver’s license and ticket stub, waves some sort of ultra-violet wand over our papers, scribbles his initials and then sends us into yet another line to strip ourselves of phones, wallets, belts and shoes, shove them onto a conveyor belt, then stand in a tube where they examine our skeleton as if a subject of a stick-up while our pants slip down and our feet get cold.
Few things could be more dehumanizing.
And, yes, I know they have kept us safe from further attacks.But the price of that safety is misery.
Then it’s off to the incomprehensibly loud, hot, smelly gate areas where cheap, tinny speakers carry the blare of flight information delivered in the droning, cynical voice of the airline gate attendant while we, sad cattle in a miserable herd, desperately seek peace from their din and the overhead TV’s eternal CNN via pitiful iPhone ear buds. We sit in bad seats, hoping to find a place to charge our phone while wondering how such a large, expensive space could have so few outlets. It is as if some sadist designed the space specifically to make as many people as possible feel continuously wretched forever.
Then, because we haven’t stood in enough lines, we are mustered into boarding groups. Now, we waddle dumbly down the loading ramp. Then, upon entry to the cabin, we engage in modern America’s most ruthless pastime, the Battle For Overhead Space. We shove, jam and pound our possessions into small bins just so we don’t have to subject our belongings to the treatment we see out the airplane window as ground crews toss checked luggage like garbage bags into the guts of the plane.
And there is always, always someone who thinks they can magically make their oversized bag fit into an undersized bin. Who are these awful people? What sort of alchemy do they think they can perform to make a thirty-inch bag fit into an eighteen-inch box?
Then we plop down in exhaustion and exasperation, endure the take-off delays justified by all sorts of pilot lingo for “late,” while sitting in a space that violates every boundary of human spatial relationships. During the flight, we fight the endless, winless battle to sneak between crews distributing bad food in the cramped aisle and our need to somehow get to an awful-smelling bathroom.
I am on the last leg home to Madison, connected from Dallas. I have a window seat next to a military guy with a sleeve of tattoos who is surreptitiously sneaking vape puffs.
Outside, I watch two thunderheads somewhere over Missouri exchange hundreds of volleys of lighting. It is completely and utterly beautiful. The military guy says it reminds him of the Battle of Fallujah. It is the one brief moment in the two days of flying when there is a moment of magic.
Frank Sinatra once urged you to come fly with him. To float down to Peru. How wonderful it sounded. How romantic it must have been. How fortunate for Frank that he died before flying became what it is today.
Somewhere the Wright Brothers are weeping.