Friday, December 11, 2009

greetings, happy holidays, and anxieties about airplanes

happy holidays! Tis the season to be jolly!

Writing makes me jolly, so I have decided to start one of these doodads called a blog. It will give me a reason to write. I don't really care what I'm writing, as long as I am.

About two weeks ago, I flew home for Thanksgiving. It was a fabulous time, and I was glad I got to go back to my roots after almost a semester in school. Preparations also began for Christmas.

Christmas decorations warm my heart.

On the way back to school, I started thinking about all the annoying things that go hand in hand with flying. I love traveling. love being other places. Seeing the world. I love the part of flying that is actually "flying." You know, the part when you're in the air. I But I don't like everything that goes with it: crowds, security, dozens of lost hours, luggage issues, etc. So, on the plane ride back to Nashville I started writing a little something that turned into a lot of something, and it goes like this:

Anxieties about Airplanes: Frustrations from a Frequently Frazzled Flyer

I. Getting to the Airport

These days, airlines recommend that you arrive at the airport around two hours early for domestic flights in order to ensure you don’t miss your flight. Here’s the deal: you don’t want to be sitting at your gate two hours early but you don’t want to miss your flight by being two minutes too late. There are several factors to when you should leave for the airport, the most obvious one being how far you live from the airport. However, you must take into consideration whether you will be traveling in standstill traffic. Another important consideration? Your ride. If you’re driving, you’ll probably end up parking far away and taking a shuttle, tacking on an extra 20 minutes to your travel time. If you aren’t driving, and your friend or family member is kind enough to take you, you must ask yourself: is this person perpetually late to things? In this case, ask this person to take you earlier than you expect to leave. Then they will get there when you need to leave. Another question: how does this person drive? Would they be willing to break a few speed limits to get you to the airport on time? OR do they already take too many liberties, meaning… will you find yourself pulled over on the shoulder of the road watching the seconds tick by as your friend attempts to get themselves out of a ticket? This happened to me. Fortunately, my ride did not attempt to argue with the officer, and we moved on quickly.

II. In the Airport

Okay, you’re at the airport. Somehow. You made it at least forty minutes before departure, so your bag is checked on the same plane you’re flying on (after a hefty $20 fee) or you’ve decided just to carry on. Next stop? Security. You’ve managed to take off your shoes, jacket, remove your laptop from its case, and send every sort of metal thing on your body on through the x-ray dealy machine via the conveyor belt. You walked through the security stick things without a problem (and if you’re lucky, you get to go in that box thing that puffs air all over your body and gives you goosebumps). Phew.


Ding Ding Ding! You’re a lucky winner! You’ve been chosen for an additional security check. You know what this means: a TSA officer gets to run their hands all over your body to make sure they didn’t miss anything in the first security check. Oh, baby. Almost every time I travel with my family, this happens to one person. Usually my boisterous dad is the victim. I’ve been the victim several times as well. If this hasn’t happened to you, it will. They tend to select the least threatening looking people. When this happens to you, I would encourage you to make it as uncomfortable for the officer as it is for you. Just kidding. I’ve always wanted to but never do.

Once you’ve felt violated, you head to your gate. On the way, you might come close to getting hit by one of those carts that is for the “disabled only.” Secret: They aren’t only for the disabled, but for those fighting to make their plane before it leaves without them. I’ve ridden them before and it was quite a good adrenaline rush after stressing out about missing my flight.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea about me. I’ve never missed a flight—I just have come close to missing them. It’s not me: I’m a naturally timely person. I’ve just started frequently flying alone as a college student. However, that last 18 years of my life were generally spent travelling with my dad, who tends to run on the pacific time zone when our family lives in the central time zone.

Now that you’ve made it to the gate, your probably either rushing on board (if you’re late) or find yourself with some time on your hands. So, you repurchase the things you had to throw away before you entered security (liquids, namely) and sit down to relax. Once you get comfortable, you hear a lovely voice on speaker system that informs that your flight has been delayed, or worse, cancelled.

It happens to the best of us, and usually on international flights. I can recall two specific experiences.

This past summer, I traveled to Europe with thirty-seven others on a class trip. Our destination was Rome, but we were flying from DFW to Chicago and Chicago to Rome. Everything went smoothly and as planned from DFW to Chicago. The future looked bright in Chicago: we boarded a few minutes late but everything was okay. After we boarded and had gotten situated on the plane, an unexpected voice came on the speaker (voices on speakers rarely mean good news).

“We’re sorry, but they’ve found some mechanical problems with the plane, so we’re going to have to ask all passengers to exit the cabin."

Really! Really. Really? Okay, fine. All I can say is I’m glad I had thirty-some odd people to socialize with for the next five hours while we sat at the gate. The flight attendant said that they were going to get a new plane and we would board soon. Then she changed her mind, or they must have run out of airplanes at the airplane store, because she then informed us that they were going to fix the original plane. We ended up taking off for our twelve-hour plane ride about five hours after we expected on the same plane that we had previously boarded and was broken. As a result of this delay, we went straight to the Coliseum when we arrived in Rome, as we did not have time to stop at our hotel. Let’s just say we all looked pretty fine and dandy in our photos from our first day of travel.

The plane that caused all the trouble.

Friends passing time at the airport by sleeping.

Looking loverly the following day in Rome.

While that was not the most fun experience, it would’ve have been much worse if I was traveling solo. I enjoyed my time with my friends. And, after I finally boarded the plane, I kindly asked the flight attendant for a pair of wings—you know, the ones they clip to their shirts. They don’t give those away today like they did in the 90s movie Heavyweights, but I still like to ask whenever I come across a friendly flight attendant that looks like they might be willing. I got lucky this time (for the first time ever): she informed me that some people make fun of her for saving her wings, but she does it anyway. She gave me two pairs straight from the 80s! While they weren’t gold, they were vintage. I gave a pair to a friend and kept one for myself. Those wings remain on my bulletin board to this date. I’m afraid that if I wear them, I will lose them.

Delayed flights I can deal with and get over pretty easily—as you can tell, a simple pair of wings turned my frown upside down that time. Cancelled flights are another matter entirely.

After Christmas one year my family traveled to the beach in Mexico for a change in scenery and a brief four-day vacation. We were flying back late one night from Puerta Vallarta to DFW when we were informed our flight was cancelled. We would have to fly back early the next day, around 5 or 6 in the morning. Which meant we could either a) find a hotel for the night or b) camp out in the airport. We chose solution b. We immediately regretted this choice (or at least I did). The closest thing to a bed in the airport was a bench. The airport was a cool 65 degrees and we lacked blankets or pillows. We tried watching movies on laptops and hanging out. I may have slept for a good half-hour or so, but because it was difficult to sleep and I didn’t feel quite comfortable sleeping in a sketchy airport in the first place, I stayed up most the night. Others on our flight had chosen to camp out for the night as well: a couple of middle-aged American women snuck behind the bar and opened a few bottles of champagne. They had the right idea.

III. On the Plane

If and when you do get on the plane, the first thing you do is throw your larger piece of carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment. For men, it’s usually as simple as that: throwing it in the overhead compartment. However for people like me, it’s a struggle. Fitting that overflowing suitcase (that I didn’t want to check because it cost money) in wheels first proves pretty difficult. Usually I enlist the help of a kind man as they can tell by the look on my face that I am incapable of wielding that large awkward rolling bag over my head in the tiny aisle that’s definitely not made for the average American.

Okay, so the bag’s up, and you’ve gotten to your row. Alas! You are one row behind the emergency exit. You were so close to getting that extra two feet of leg room. In front of you there is an 80-year-old man and his wife who have already fallen asleep amidst all the noise, a foreigner who looks like they don’t speak English, and a couple of teenagers. As you eye your fellow travelers, you ask yourself “Are these people really capable of operating the doors in the case of a real emergency?” Probably not. Are they really going to read the handout next to barf bag in the pocket in front of them that gives them further instructions on how to help passengers in case of an emergency? You know, the one that looks like a kindergartner cut and paste a plane into a picture of the ocean. You know you never read it unless you’re bored, and that’s after Sky Mall Magazine.

After directing your attention to the flight attendants in the aisles and fastening your seatbelt, you take off. Finally, you can put on your headphones and relax. It’s time to fly. Everything is going swell, until about 45 minutes in when you discover you have to go to the bathroom. You have the window seat, which is fabulous for take off and landing when you get to see all of the land around you, but not so fabulous when you want to leave your seat. The two passengers next to you are sleeping. You try holding it for another 30 minutes—but then it gets to the point where it’s an emergency. You have to wake them up. Either you wake them up directly or indirectly. You decide to cough loudly. Doesn’t work. They shift a little, and now they are blocking your way out even more. You tap their shoulder and they begrudgingly let you pass by. Whew. You get back. You sit back down. You land (if the weather is good and they don’t have to circle the airport for hours). You exit the aircraft (after the Pilot turns off the seatbelt sign). If you checked an additional bag, hopefully it wasn’t lost. You greet your ride outside the baggage claim (whether it be someone you know, or a taxi cab driver, or a rental car) and the journey there is over.

All this being said, I hope you enjoy your travels this holiday season... May they be trouble-free! As for me... well, I will be driving home.



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