Some thoughts on airplanes this morning, from a guy who spent considerable hours on several of them over the last month:
Let's Pay Attention: Pity the poor flight attendant, who is required by federal law to give the pre-flight song and dance about how to fasten your seat belt and where to find the exits. Attendants remind me of ninth-grade teachers about to announce an exam. As soon as they hold up the plastic card and start the spiel, the assembled company picks up a book, fidgets with calculators, reaches for a piece of gum--anything to avoid listening. I always look for the nearest emergency exit as soon as I take a seat in a plane, and I'm sure many others do. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to the flight attendant, canned though the speech may be and bored though he or she may sound.
Let's Relax Silly Rules: Forty thousand feet over Kansas, I felt the urge for a magazine. But the rack in the cheap seats contained only some indecipherable publication about computers. So I marched up to the stewardess and asked if I could inspect the magazine rack in first class.
This was unspeakable blasphemy, evidently. "I can't let you," she said.
"You can't let me walk 20 feet into the front of the plane to look for a magazine? Why? Is God or the chairman of the board going to strike me dead?"
"I'm sorry, but that part of the plane is for first-class passengers only," she said. And no appeals were being entertained.
All right. At least I've discovered what the big shots get for their extra hundred bucks besides free champagne. But really, airlines. I bathe daily. I comb my hair. I am hardly going to strip the golden aura from the first class section by looking through its magazines. Service is one thing, and silliness another.
Let's Hear It For the Boys on the Truck: Don't choke or guffaw if you've lost or waited for a bag recently. I'm sure it still happens, all too often. But these were our happy experiences at baggage carousels in New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dulles International:
New Orleans: I was the third one off the plane, which usually means a 20-minute wait. But my bags were waiting by the time I got downstairs.
San Francisco: 150 passengers on our jumbo jet--usually a major strain on the system. But the bags were there in seven minutes.
Los Angeles: The airport's being rebuilt, which usually means baggage service goes kablooey. Not so in LaLa Land. Eight minutes from the time we landed, the bags were there.
Dulles: Seven minutes after the mobile lounge docked, so did the bags.
Here's hoping this is a True Trend. It would sure be welcome, wouldn't it?
Let's Make Turbulence a Thing of the Past: There we were, high over the Rockies, in the middle of "Tootsie," when the pilot lit the Fasten Seat Belt sign and announced that some bumps were ahead.
They weren't the free-fall variety, where you sink a couple of hundred feet and your stomach stays where you used to be. But they were annoying and lengthy--about 20 minutes worth of rumbles, shudders and side-to-side pitch-and-roll.
Why in the world can't pilots climb (or descend) 5,000 feet to get away from whatever's causing this? I would gladly accept the two-minute delays that a change in course might cause.
And Let's Ban Smoking in Planes: It might have seemed comic in one way. There were three adults, lifting up their seat cushions, trying to find a lit cigarette that a woman in the row behind them had accidentally dropped.
Luckily, the smoldering butt was found quickly and extinguished. But I shuddered to think how easily a fire could have started. Would our pilot have proved as heroic and able as that Canadian pilot who landed in a haze of smoke a few months ago? Why should any of us have to take that chance?
It's really very simple. If smokers can stand to be without cigarettes for two hours in a movie, they can easily do the same in a plane. The airlines should ban smoking on planes, now and forever. If they won't, the government should.