A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Flights of Crappy

I hate flying.

I realize that's fairly common, but I'm not really afraid of flying, and I do it so frequently that I'm more than used to it. I've been flying on my own since I was thirteen, multiple times a year since I was sixteen, so I ought to be. Actually I lied, there is some fear involved in my dislike, but I recognize that it's irrational (most fears are).flying I know that the odds of being in a plane wreck are incredibly low, but then I think, by flying as often as I do I'm surely upping those odds at least a little. Then there's the fear that comes from looking out those tiny little windows and seeing the wing bounce all over the place. Sure sure, I know that for physics sake it's better that it do that, but I can't help but think it's about to break off at any moment. Or that one of those puny feeling plastic windows is just going to break. Or that the laws of physics are going to let us down (ha!) and decide to just drop us out of the sky. There are any number of perfectly natural, if irrational, reasons to be afraid of flying.

In spite of all that, the fear is pretty low on the radar. What really bugs me about flying is the extreme discomfort. In some ways flying with Matt is much nicer, because traveling with someone makes the trip easier. There is one key difference that makes it worse however: Matt is six foot four, and as such, gets automatic dibs on the aisle seat. Bastard.

When I was a kid I loved the window, but as I got older I preferred the aisle. It's not that I need the leg room, it's just that it allows me some freedom. Stuck in the middle, I inevitably need to use the bathroom pretty much incessantly, simply because my brain is perverse and wants me to suffer. Even if I do make Matt move so I can use the bathroom I pretty much need to use it again immediately as soon as I sit down because I'm STUCK AGAIN. And of course in the middle you're fighting two people for arm wrests instead of just one. At least because I know Matt I can lean on him, or feel less guilty about growling while fighting over the middle space (strangers look at you strangely and hit the call button if you so much as bare your teeth at them), but no matter what, the middle seat sucks.

It's nice when airlines take a little trouble to make flying more comfortable. There's not much they can do about the side to side room, so the middle person probably forever be screwed, but the last time I flew Continental on an international flight I saw an interesting solution to the upright problem. To fit as many people in as possible, seats are far too close together for comfort and that extra two inches you can get by putting your seat back doesn't really do much beyond pissing off the person behind you. On the continental flight however, the seats physically swung forward as you put your seat back, allowing your seatback to recline another several inches. It's AMAZING what a difference that made. Suddenly you can actually lean your head back, without fighting gravity. Brilliant. You don't really lose much leg room, unless you've got something stowed beneath the seat in front of you. These days I usually travel with my laptop stuffed down there and my backpack up above, which worked well since my laptop doesn't take much vertical space. I wish more airlines would do this, but I get the feeling that airlines just don't care.

carpetI know airlines are losing money around the board, and can't give quite the luxuries that they used to, but there are so many things they could do that wouldn't cost them any money at all. Running on time would be a nice step. We flew USAir this trip and it was dreadful. The only reason we didn't miss any flights (we had three) on the way to Oregon is because ALL our flights were late. There was no weird weather outside to justify it, they were just late. On our final flight we had a plane waiting outside and the pilot waiting by the desk. I went to ask when our expected arrival would be (since we were already running about an hour late at that point, and I'd just arrived from my flight which landed two hours late) and the pilot looked a bit shifty. "Well," he admitted, "I'm not sure where my crew is, so that depends." Ridiculous.

And if they're going to be late, the least they could do is try to be helpful along the way. Remember when they used to list during landing, all the connecting flights of people on the plane? Why on earth did they stop doing that? It doesn't cost them a dime and it would up my opinion of their customer service. It also would have been helpful, on those constantly late flights, not to have to stop and find out what gate we needed to run to. On the one really late flight, where Matt and I ought to have had about ten minutes to get to our gate (that's the one with the missing crew though so we really had an hour) it would have been nice too if they might have announced that our plane was delayed so we could have waited and let those with tighter connections go. They might also have mentioned those who had already missed their flights (about a quarter of the plane) so those people also didn't have to clog up the aisles. Sheesh.

It's not fear that's hurting airlines, fear of flying, fear of terrorism, fear of crowds or any other kind of fear. It's lousy planning and thoughtlessness. Honestly, put in a little effort, and those of us who have to fly will at least dread it a little less.

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