Sunday, November 1, 2015

I'd Rather be Waterboarded...

I'd rather be waterboarded than ever set foot on another commercial airliner.  Why? Glad you asked.  Here's why...

When I first started flying on business back in the mid-70's, life was good.  The planes were new, clean and neat.  They usually took off half empty, were occupied by guys, mainly, in suits and ties, and the stewardesses (acceptable terminology back in that non-politically correct era) were young, slim, fit and gorgeous.  In fact, I formed some friendships with stews, ahem, owing to the fact that I often flew the same airlines on the same routes they flew.  I worked so much, and so often, that forming, and nurturing, such relationships was about the only hobby I had time for.    

I had a secondary one, though.  I actually kept a little book in my inside left breast pocket.  In it I'd record the name of the first time I arrived at each new city and each new airport.  At one point I'd flown into 177 different cities and more than 200 separate airports.  Ever heard of White River Junction, Vermont?  I've been there.  At one point I had flown into San Francisco an eye-popping 123 times!

Oh, the ticket prices were outrageous, but most of us were flying on business, and thus on expense accounts, so we didn't care.  I was outfitted with an Airline Travel Card, enabling me to charge my flights directly to my company. And my flight charges back then averaged more than $6,000 a month!  Round trip between LAX and NYC was $405.00. Not so much now, but back then, you could buy a nice new car for about $7,000, so 405 bucks was a princely sum. Enough that it kept Gypsies and backpackers and smelly guys with chickens on their laps on their way to Nicaragua from being in the seat next to you.  In short, flying was enjoyable. I recall those of us who were frequent fliers used to brag to our friends and neighbors about where we'd been and what we'd done and how much fun we were having.  And they were all jealous.  

No longer.

The Federal Government decided to get involved and deregulate the airlines. Remember when they broke up Bell Telephone?  No?  Then you need to Google it and learn. They decoupled Bell Telephone from its regional Bells in an effort to keep the Big Boy from screwing us Little People. However, now, more than 30 years later, they've re-connected themselves into regional Bells and prices have gone up!  It seems whenever the Feds get involved in something - anything - they screw it up. Remember that when they tell you that bacon is bad for you.  

Back to the airlines.  They unshackled ticket prices from Federal control, which enabled the bigger airlines to gobble up the smaller ones. From more than 50 major airlines at one time, we're now down to 4.  Remember Eastern Airlines? Northwest Airlines? Pacific Southwest Airlines?  Midwest Airlines?  They existed, and I flew them.  

And whereas the planes back then took off half-full, now there's not a plane that leaves the ground without an ass in every single seat. And some of those asses belong to people weighing 400 pounds.  One on each side of you.  The planes are likely old, dirty, smelly and cramped.  And the Flight Attendants (political correctness will kill us all!) are quite possibly the same ones who were tending to my flights 40 years ago. Old, decrepit, stooped over, underpaid and crabby.  And the bathrooms?  Don't ask. There's probably the next cure for Ebola growing in there.  

Why the big change?  Deregulation has resulted in super low fares.  It costs even less to fly coast-to-coast now than it did then.  And this has opened up the (non)friendly skies to virtually everyone.  And that has ruined it for people like me who harbor fond memories of the good old days.  Too bad. So sad.  

Now then, all was not sweetness and light for moi.  I happen to be infected with that particular form in insanity known as "acrophobia."  Now acrophobia means I'm scared of heights. Not a little scared.  A lot scared.  In fact, I wish I wasn't quite so tall.  And if 6 feet makes me queasy, think of how 36,000 feet affects me.  I never wanted to fly an average of one plane a day for several years.  That's right, kiddies, I averaged a plane a day, seven-days-a-week, for more than four years.  That works out to more than 3,000,000 miles, in this, an age just before they started awarding frequent flyer mileage points.  Just my luck.

I was so scared of flying that I made it a point to study each and every aspect of flying until I had convinced myself that it was enough, at least, to risk my butt each and every day.  I actually took flying lessons in an effort to beat my phobia.  At one time I knew how many rivets there are in a 727, and a 707, and a DC-8, and a 747, etc. I could tell you how far the wings could flex up and down before they broke off. I mean, we're talking about silver tubes hurtling through the sky at 530 miles an hour, filled with a couple hundred kindred souls, piloted by some nameless, faceless dude way up front, who you've never met, and never will meet, who could well be a serial killer. What's not to like?

Now, I didn't actually fly every day.  I averaged flying a bit over five days a week.  But on the days I flew, I would frequently change planes at least once, and sometimes two or three times.  On one particular day way back when, I started at 5:30 a.m. in Columbus, OH, flew on to Cincinnati, then to Chicago, and on to Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. There, I worked an eight-hour day in a hospital, lecturing internal medicine physicians on combination antimicrobial therapy. Don't ask.  

At about 5:00 p.m., I headed for the airport, flew to Chicago again, then on to Louisville, KY, and from there on to Lexington, through a thunderstorm, just in time to rack out and prep for an early morning business meeting the next day. Not fun, my friends. Six separate flight numbers in just a bit more than 19 hours. Did I mention how much fun I was having?  At the time I thought I was.  Funny how you manage to ignore the very worst aspects of whatever you have to do until you don't have to do it anymore.  I imagine that's how lion tamers must feel.

Anyway, there are some pretty good carriers now. Southwest is a peach.  And Jet Blue.  I was on the very first JB A-320 that left Long Beach on its way to New York. This airline was re-imagined based on the failings of all the other carriers. Big, comfortable leather seats.  A video screen for every chair.  DirecTV.  On-time departures and arrivals.  Free snacks.  Cheap drinks.  Great airline!  But it still has to fly hub-and-spoke, just like every other carrier, so it's at the mercy of foul weather, clogged airports and all the other crappy airlines.  But United?  Blechhh!  American? Double blechhhh!  I don't like any of them.  Most of them suck!

And a bit more on airports.  You have to leave for the average airport hours before flight time to park your car (arm and a leg to do so), scramble to the concourse, fight your way through a long line to the Transportation Security Agent dummies who will gladly feel you up to make sure you aren't carrying a nuclear weapon.  These TSA-types used to work for companies like Wackenhut.  I actually was a security guard for that outfit when I was going to college.  I guarded a Banquet Foods processing plant in Marshall, MO.  Why they hired security guards, I don't know.  Who would want to steal some frozen chicken dinners?  Minimum wage all the way. No talent.  No smarts. Just an entry-level job that used to have entry-level people in it.  

Back to airport security agents of yore.  These dweebs were there to check baggage for obvious signs of evil intent. Nothing more.  We're talking $12.00 an hour, and those on the receiving end of that ignominious sum were probably overpaid.  

But then 9/11 happened.  The Democrats, never letting a crisis go to waste (thank you Rahm Emmanuel), they demanded that these min-wage bozos be folded into the new Homeland Security Department.  So they were bumped up in pay to $25.00 an hour, starting, and forced to join the union. And you know who union members vote for? That's right, my friends, Democrats.  In one fell swoop the Dems magically created a whole new voting bloc, and another bunch of dummies to do their bidding.  But these same room temperature-I.Q. TSA agents went from looking for knives and guns to looking for more than 4 ounces of breast milk, or pin knives, or fingernail clippers.  Oh, and they routinely cop feels of little girls, old ladies and, if they're of the (im)proper persuasion, nice looking guys, or girls.  Sick.

My personal belief is that if you're planning to fly less than 300 miles, say, LAX to Las Vegas, you're far better off to drive than to fly.  Figure an hour an a half before flight time to arrive and park and make your way through security to get to the plane, plus drive-time to get to the airport, plus a hour's flight time, and then another hour at the destination city to get off, retrieve your bags and make it to a cab or rent a car, plus drive-time to your destination.  We're talking five or six hours if you fly, versus  four hours if you drive.  And that doesn't factor in delays due to weather or tie-ups at your destination. And if you drive, you can always stop, grab a sandwich, take in the sights, take a pee, and enjoy the leisurely trip. And driving is much, much cheaper.  All-in-all, this is a no-brainer decision.

And so, my friends, and you are my friends, this has been my little brain-dump on how it was to fly in those wonderful days of yore, when the planes were empty, the stews were gorgeous, the bathrooms were clean, the ticket prices were sky-high (pun intended) and flying actually was peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable.  

Now?  I'd rather be waterboarded...

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