Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Have A Nice Flight!

Everybody loves vacation!  Really, that’s what we work for, isn’t it?  To scratch and save some of our hard earned money for an opportunity to escape reality for just a little while?  For most of us with the “work to live, not live to work” mindset, those 2 to 3 weeks each year where we get to enjoy not working are the best 2 to 3 weeks of our year.  That’s as good as it gets, really.  The other 95% of our year sucks!  Oh there will be plenty who will say they enjoy working, or that may try and take the politically correct high road and say you need to enjoy each day to the fullest, but deep down, we all know they’re lying.  Stop lying.  Stop lying to yourself, you’re not fooling anyone.  Really, when it all boils down, life is quite simple.  Work sucks, vacations are awesome... and then you die.

Due to the unfortunate reality that we only get to truly enjoy 5% of our time, where that’s all we have in terms of availability for vacations, when you do finally save up enough money to take one, you want to enjoy it!  I mean you REALLY want to enjoy it!  The thoughts and excitement of that upcoming vacation can get you through months of monotonous and aggravating work, the carrot dangling at the end of the stick that gives you just enough motivation to get out of bed each morning, and do it all over again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, etc…

While some are fortunate enough to travel several times a year, others can only afford to travel once every few years, if that.  It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.  That’s reality, and as we all know, reality sucks, which is why we want that vacation so bad in the first place!  Vacations are the escape!!  Sure, recreational use of drugs and alcohol may come in handy in between vacations, but vacations… that’s where it’s at!!  So when the day finally comes, when your bags are packed, and you head off to the airport for your much awaited opportunity to not have to work for a week, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have high hopes and expectations.  You’ve earned this!  I mean, you’ve REALLY earned this!!

Of course in order to travel to your destination of choice, to minimize the travel time and maximize the fun, you must often fly.  We all watch the television commercials, where airlines show off their spacious interiors, filled with happy, smiling people, who look oh so comfortable.  We want to be those people.  We’ve worked hard to be those people.  We’ve paid a lot of money to be those people.  We can’t wait to be those people!   

Airline television commercials unfortunately are no different than fast-food hamburger commercials, where the companies have spent gobs and gobs of money to make their product look incredibly delicious.  In reality, airline travel is the hamburger that you really get.  Not the delicious television hamburgers, no, the real ones.  Where the pickles are falling out, the sesame seed bun is rock hard, and there’s sauce squirting out everywhere!

Airlines have it all wrong.  Our comfort is not their top priority.  Our experience has been sacrificed so that they can make a few extra dollars.  We’re not customers, we’re cattle.  And not the happy cattle out at pasture either, chomping away carelessly on grass.  No, we’re the cattle jammed into the back of a semi trailer rocketing down the highway with some other cow’s poop on our leg, on the way to God knows where.  The moment you set foot in the airport, you know this isn’t going to be good.

Despite having to provide ample advanced information online to “help speed up the process”, we still end up waiting in long lines.  That’s why they ask us to be there up to 3 hours in advance.  We line up for our boarding pass.  We line up to drop off our luggage.  Oh, I have to pay you another $50 per bag for the privilege of flying on your airline?  Gee thanks!  Because I haven’t spent enough money already, and I’m not even on the plane yet!!  We line up for security.  We walk through those fancy new X-Ray machines where they pretty much get to see us naked.  Okay, I don’t know if that’s true, but I just imagine there are people somewhere in a dark room watching us, snickering away as they eat a bag of potato chips.  We spend good money on bad food.  We wait in over-crowded areas with screaming babies, not enough seating, and weird foreigners until we can board the plane.  Are we having fun yet?  Did we really pay money for this?  We re-assure ourselves that it will all be worth it.  Yup… it will all be worth it.

When they finally announce that it’s time to board the airplane, we breathe a sigh of relief.  We feel that our vacation can finally begin.  We finally get our chance to be one of those happy, smiling people that we see in those television commercials.  Ahhhh…. this is going to be fantastic!  The life of luxury awaits.  They call our row number, scan our ticket, and we make our way down the long jetway to the airplane.  Upon entering the airplane however, we notice that something isn’t quite right.  We see a long line of people ahead of us, all jockeying for position, trying to shove their oversized carry-on bags into the overhead bins.  Oh I get it, they didn’t want to pay the $50 checked luggage fee, so they thought they’d beat the system and make their needs more important than everyone else’s by taking up the space of three normal sized carry-on bags by jamming in their one enormous hockey bag.  Thanks so much, that’s very considerate of you.  Too bad those 15 airline representatives you passed along the way didn’t happen to notice, or perhaps couldn’t be bothered to enforce the maximum carry-on size regulations.  That’s just lovely.

As you slowly make your way down the aisle, you can’t help but notice… hey, nobody’s smiling.  This isn’t like the commercials.  This isn’t like the commercials at all!  You place your carry-on bag in the compartment 4 rows in front of your actual seats, as you can see that the compartment above your seats is already overflowing.  You squeeze yourself into your seat, realize you’re sitting on your seat belt which you’ll shortly need to dig out, and then for those choosing to place their carry-on bag underneath the seat in front of them, due to the extremely limited space you contort yourself into strange and awkward positions in an attempt to cram your bag far enough under the seat that you won’t be harassed by the flight attendants as they walk by.  With any luck, that muscle you just pulled in your back will heal by the time you land.  If you’re over 5’-10” tall, your knees are jammed into the back of the seat in front of you.  The pain is tolerable, but it’s pain nonetheless.  It’s hot.  For some reason the air conditioning never seems to work properly when the plane is on the ground.  In the air you sometimes get a polar vortex blast of cold air, but on the ground, nothing.  You fumble to reach that little pinhole that sprays warm air in the general vicinity of where you’re sitting.  A bead of sweat slowly makes its way down the side of your face.           

Sitting uncomfortably in your cramped seat, you wait, and watch the chaos all around you.  You secretly pray that the woman holding the crying baby walking towards you in the aisle is not sitting behind you, or that the 300lb man a few people behind her doesn’t have a ticket for the seat right next to you.  Can you smell that?  Who smells like cigarette butts and curry?  I hope those stinky people aren’t sitting anywhere near me either.  You’re going to be in close quarters with these people for the next few hours, so understandably and shamelessly, you have every right to hope for the best. 

Once everyone eventually finds their seats, and you’ve determined that your seatmates are moderately tolerable, there’s a moment of calm.  That pinhole of warm air still washing across your face, you watch the flight attendants walk up and down the aisles checking to ensure your seat is in the upright position, that your seatbelts are securely fastened, and that your carry-on baggage is safely stowed.  They do the little presentation skit about the safety features on the aircraft, demonstrate how to use the seatbelt for anyone not intelligent enough to have figured that out already, and pretend to blow into a deflated life vest.  Nobody watches.  We’re all still partially squirming around trying to figure out which seating position is most comfortable. 

The airplane slowly taxis to the runway, and after waiting for a few airplanes ahead of us to take off, it’s our turn.  Our heart beats a little faster, and despite the annoyances that have occurred thus far, the excitement of knowing that we’re leaving for vacation quickly returns.  The throttle engaged, we feel the roaring thrust of the jet engines, and sink deep into our seats.  The nose of the airplane gently rises, and within moments we are airborne, watching the tiny cars of those less fortunate souls down below, on their way to or from work.  We smile, knowing we’re not one of them.  Most days we are, but not today.  Nope.  Not today.  Because vacation! 

Reaching the desired flight altitude, the airplane levels and the seatbelt sign turns off, indicating that while you should still wear your seatbelt at all times, it is now safe to turn on your electronic devices.  Ahhhh… we’re on our way… we’re on vacation… nothing to do but enjoy the ride.  In a few hours we’ll reach our destination, and all will be right in the world.  Your eyes closed, you listen to your headphones, as your mind wanders in anticipation of the sheer awesomeness that awaits upon your arrival.  Your escape from reality, your well deserved break from all the responsibilities and frustration that you experience on a daily basis, the moment you have been waiting for, that you have worked so hard to obtain.  Alas, that moment of bliss does not last long.  OUCH!!!  YOU LITTLE MOTHER F*&KER!!!  That 5ft nothing asshole in front of you suddenly reclines their seat directly into your unsuspecting knees!!!!  You selfish son of a bitch!!!

Nothing irritates me more than those who recline their seats.  With how closely airlines have crammed the seats together, space is already limited enough.  Severely limited.  A complete lack of space.  Sardines come to mind.  But come on people, we’re all in this together; let’s try to make this work!  I don’t recline my seat, ever, all for the greater good.  I don’t want to put the person behind me in a less comfortable situation, and I expect the same from the person in front of me.  It’s called courtesy.  That’s why it drives me absolutely up a wall bat-shit crazy when the shorter person in the seat in front of me puts their needs before mine, and without any regard to my comfort, reclines their seat into my space.  The seat doesn’t even recline that far, offering minimal additional comfort to those selfish few, but results in maximum discomfort for the person behind, whose already severely limited space just got that much smaller, and that much more uncomfortable.

I’m 6’-4” tall.  While I acknowledge I am slightly above average height, I’m by no means a giant.  I barely fit in the seat as it is.  By the time I get off an airplane, I have indents in my knees that won’t go away for another two days.  Flying is not comfortable for me, but I do it anyway because I love travelling.  Let me clarify, I love travelling for the foreign destinations, not the actual act of travelling to those destinations.  I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel several times a year, with most trips requiring air travel.  For some reason though, without fail, I always end up with a “recliner” in front of me.  Nobody else within eyesight reclines their seat, except for the person in front of me.  Why is it always me?  This triggers something in me that I’m not proud of, but it’s a truth I must face.  The moment the person in front of me reclines their seat, I turn into an irate 12 year old.  They’ve made me extremely uncomfortable, so you better believe I am going to do the same to them!

I dig my knees into the back of their chair and violently nudge them forward, repeatedly, to the point where I can see them physically being tossed about, head snapping forwards and backwards with each blow.  With their reclined inconsiderate heads practically resting in my lap, I blow into their hair, and breathe on them; fog up their glasses, trying to demonstrate that by reclining their seat, the back of their head is barely 12 inches from the front of mine.  Are you comfortable?  I hope not, because neither am I!  I’ll order a carbonated beverage from the flight attendant for no other reason than to generate burps, which I can then aim in the direction of their nasal cavity.  I pull out a single strand of errant hair.  All very immature, I know.  Like I said, I’m not proud of my actions, but despite the un-approving glances from my wife sitting next to me, using her slightly muffled angry voice directing me to stop, I can’t help myself.  This is war.  The onslaught continues, because hey, I’m not going anywhere, and I’ve got nothing but time.  The tantrum ceases only upon the seats return to its upright position, which usually does eventually happen when they realize this isn’t going to stop, and we exchange the customary dirty looks.  I shouldn’t do that.  I don’t like that I do that.  It’s the environment created by the airlines that has brought this out in me.

I get it, we all have the ability to recline our seats, and I could just as easily do the same, but just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.  The only, and I mean only, exception to this rule is when you’re on an overnight flight.  That is the only time reclining your seat should be permitted.  There’s an etiquette to airline travel, or at least there should be, where we all work together to minimize the discomfort and aggravation to the collective group.  It’s easy to be selfish, but we must all think of the greater good.  For those few hours, we should be able to make reasonable efforts to ensure our actions do not negatively impact those around us.  The airlines do not do this for us, in fact they seem to intentionally stack the cards against us as though there are hidden television cameras placed throughout the cabin and we’re all on some sort of twisted reality program where viewers at home watch dysfunctional human interaction as it’s finest.  All the more reason for us, airline passengers, to take it upon ourselves to optimize the flying experience for all. 

Don’t bring smelly food onto the airplane.  Keep your children under control.  Don’t kick the seat in front of you.  Don’t recline your seat into the person’s lap behind you.  Don’t encroach upon your neighbour’s limited personal space in any way.  Don’t speak loudly.  Don’t nudge each seat while walking through the aisle to the lavatory.  Don’t take your shoes off.  Don’t wear overpowering cologne or perfume on the day of the flight.  Be patient.  Don’t drink too much.  If you have a small bladder, don’t drink at all.  Don’t get in the way of the flight attendants during drink service.  Don’t stand in the aisle to stretch in a position that places your ass within inches of anyone’s face.  Don’t clip your fingernails or toenails.  Don’t repeatedly remove/return articles from your carry-on in the overhead compartment.  Basically, the more still you can be, the more silent you can be, and the more invisible you can be, to the point where people hardly realize you’re even there, the better.

Eventually you do reach your destination, the airplane lands, you taxi to your arrival gate, and chaos once again ensues.  Despite clear instructions to remain in your seats with your seatbelts on until the seatbelt sign is turned off, people once again show how stupid they really are by standing up to retrieve their overhead carry-on baggage ahead of everyone else, or trying to get to the lavatory one last time.  There is absolutely no reason why getting off the plane should be difficult.  Just be patient, follow the etiquette of letting those in front of you out of their seats first, and generally remain calm.  Eventually the herd thins, and you make your way off the plane, thank the flight attendants only because they said thank you first and you don’t want to be rude, walk the jetway one more time, and try to find faces you recognize from the flight that you can follow down to the luggage pick-up area.

The luggage pick-up area however is another area where human nature is not exactly at its finest.  We’ve all heard about or experienced the joys of the airlines losing our luggage, but for the most part the luggage does tend to arrive without incident.  For some reason though, many people feel the need to gather several rows deep right at the location where the conveyor belt shoots out the luggage onto the carousel.  They then push their way violently through the crowd upon seeing their suitcase, punting women and small children aside as though someone’s going to steal it.  Why not spread out?  There’s plenty of room, just take a deep breath, relax, and let your luggage come to you.  The luggage carousel was designed for that single purpose.  It will bring your bags right to where you are standing.  No need to push.  No need to jockey for position.  Nobody’s going to steal your precious t-shirts and socks.  We all want to ensure we retrieve our own suitcase, and make it a habit to check the luggage tags before leaving the airport, so the chances of someone walking off with your suitcase are very slim.  If this is something that you really lose sleep over, just buy a funky design/colour suitcase.  There are plenty designs to choose from.  Rest assured, nobody wants your weird giraffe print suitcase.

Really, you don’t get a chance to relax until you physically leave the airport.  That’s when the vacation can really begin, when all the worries and stresses just melt away.  Ahhh… vacation… the best days of the year, the memories that last a lifetime, the good times that make up for the bad.  These are the days you’ll look back on when you’re older and cherish.  Enjoy it as much as you can, because before you know it, you’re back to the airport, back on the airplane, and back to reality.  Dammit.

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