Commentary

Walt Amses: Aches on a plane

Editor’s note: Walt Amses is a writer and former educator who lives in Calais.

You’d think the airline industry would be exempt from our current unraveling, if only because the general perception is that what’s going on up there couldn’t possibly get any worse. With maximum security level dehumanization, styrofoam-marinated cuisine, and stress positions that would enhance a CIA interrogation, all conspiring to create a pervasive, existential dread, airlines appear to have reached a nadir, their approval ratings rivaling those of Donald Trump, Congress and tick-borne illnesses.

Fear of flying doesn’t come close to describing the experience. If you’re not terrified at the prospect of getting on a plane it’s probably because you’ve never flown economy on a commercial flight or seen any of the news reports over the past several months illustrating how airlines treat travelers like domestic animals headed for a distant, probably terminal, terminal. The only thing missing is ear tags.

Beginning with dragging a bloodied, kicking and screaming medical doctor down the aisle of a flight awaiting takeoff to reportedly somehow murdering the world’s biggest rabbit, United Airlines has the inside track on winning the passenger abuse sweepstakes but other carriers are closing fast. American suspended a male flight attendant for picking a fight with a flier who took issue with him having hit a mother with a baby stroller while wrenching it out of her arms, nearly clobbering her child as well.

Not to be outdone, family-friendly Delta — in a dispute over a bought and paid for child’s seat that they wanted for another passenger — threatened to have the parents arrested and their children placed in foster care. The eventual compassionate compromise was simple throwing the whole family off the plane at midnight with few alternatives but to find a place to stay and spend $2,000 for a United flight the next day — no word whether or not it was the Dead Bunny express.

And if all this weren’t enough, jetliners appear to have become airborne venues for mixed martial arts as both men and women — perhaps responding to being confined like rats — are pummeling each other with increasing frequency as tensions erupt at 30,000 feet, adding an element of peril beyond air travel’s normal level of endless misery.

“When you book a flight, you become the problem. Like a cardboard box or suitcase, you take up room and since volume cuts into profits, reducing volume takes precedence, with seats barely wide enough to accommodate normal human buttocks in order to fit more people on the plane.”

 

While getting on a plane is tough, not getting on one can be even tougher, particularly if your flight and multiple others are cancelled at the last minute. After Spirit Airline did just that last week because of a labor dispute with pilots, Fort Lauderdale’s airport erupted in a near riot as 500 angry passengers screamed threats at Spirit employees before sheriff’s deputies quelled the disturbance, restoring order and detaining several combatants for disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and resisting arrest.

Although it’s difficult to cite one single reason for the uptick in turmoil and the subsequent cratering of airline PR right before the summer travel season, several culprits leap to the forefront, not the least of which is money. Since American Airlines and US Airways merged four years ago, their consolidation essentially reduced to four the carriers serving the United States: along with American, United, Delta and Southwest round out the roster. Private equity firms are also enmeshed with major carriers which means their quest for shareholder profit requires air travelers paying the freight.

Overbooking, baggage fees and buying a couple of inches of extra room so your extremities are still operable once you land are all the result of them trying to squeeze every penny they can out of everyone who boards a flight. So too is the preposterous notion that you need to pay an extra fee to sit together with whomever you’re traveling, which — if memory serves — used to happen naturally when you bought your tickets. Thinking about it makes it worse: It means there are employees who get paid to insure you sit apart unless you fork over the cash.

When you book a flight, you become the problem. Like a cardboard box or suitcase, you take up room and since volume cuts into profits, reducing volume takes precedence, with seats barely wide enough to accommodate normal human buttocks in order to fit more people on the plane. Coupled with the seat in front of you resting on your forehead and the tray table jabbing your upper torso, it may very well mean your nearest neighbor oozing over the armrest — depending on your temperament and how long you’ve been flying — might very well be the catalyst for mayhem.

The traveling proletariat — up to now — has consoled themselves with the one saving grace of boarding airborne cattle trucks: frequent flier miles offsetting future ticket expenses. Very soon they will have to seek consolation elsewhere since airlines are (or soon will be) awarding miles on the price of a flight rather than the distance covered. “Premier Status” passengers — which essentially means not you — will earn an additional two to six additional miles per dollar, depending on their “status,” or to which level of special they have ascended.

There once was a certain romance with air travel, lost luggage the biggest concern with no expectation of losing custody of your kids on the way to Disney World. Those days have gone the way of the passenger pigeon as airlines increasingly cater to the swells, content to treat those in steerage as nothing more than inconvenient meat sacks that occupy too much space.

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  • walter carpenter

    I thank god I have not been on an American airline in the last several years. If I have to fly anywhere, I’ll find a carrier from another nation that is halfway civilized so I won’t have to deal with being one of those “inconvenient meat sacks that occupy too much space.”

  • jan van eck

    The collapse in air-carrier service, plus the major delays in actually getting to your destination, are propelling a resurgence in private aircraft. I predict a large new market opening up for businessmen buying light private planes (below 4,000 lbs) as the carrier industry continues to become an unusable farce. While there is a residual of old aircraft out there to go buy, eventually that becomes unrealistic, and with new materials (specifically, carbon-fiber composites) and CAD-CAM CNC manufacturing processes, building new planes for private use becomes very interesting. At one point, Messrs. Stenger and Quiros were going to have a German “light sport” builder assemble machines at Newport Field; although that project seems to have died, the underlying principle is quite sound. I intend to do exactly the same thing; the runway at Springfield looks interesting. Stick around, folks; aircraft manufacture is coming to Vermont soon enough.

  • Dan Meerson

    Most if not all of these obnoxious practices can be avoided by flying on Southwest. Not perfect, but so much better than the other major airlines that I use it whenever I can. But you have to go to their website to book a flight; they are not listed on the sites that aggregate air fares (e.g. Travelocity, etc.)

  • Rod West

    Ha, when the world wakes up to the fact that high flying aircraft are one of the major causes of global warming, and taking a flight to visit an exotic place is contributing to that place’s eventual destruction, the airlines will get their just desserts!