Friday, March 30, 2012

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Sunset at Cleveland Hopkins International
No g-ddamn Internet on this flight.

Direct-freaking-TV ($7.99 for a five hour flight), but no Internet. Thankfully, the babe-in-arms is sleeping and the middle seat unoccupied or this truly might be a flight from hell.

There aren't even air phones on this thing.

And, because there's no in flight audio, that means no Channel 9. "Channel 9: From The Flight Deck", air-travel audio Ambien. The soothing sounds of pilots and controllers as they dispatch their daily duties. Dozens of flights being routed over American civilian airspace; oftentimes with a bit of wit and good humor.

It's one thing to know all the routes, to be able to look out the window and tell instantly what your flight level is (looks like we're cruising along at flight level 330, or 33,000 feet as the Boeing 737 flies), but it's another to know what your fellow passengers don't know, secret inside knowledge. That adjustment to the right was for oncoming traffic, a company wide-body given deference. Or knowing where "the weather" is. Better still is knowing how long you have to be bounced around in a tin tube like a pea in a pod before some merciful controller will let the pilot climb up above the clouds to flight level 390.

It's like being in a secret club, and a club that always knows where they are: ground control - you're 4th in line for runway 10-Left by way of taxi route papa-bravo-kilo, just follow that Southwest blue-top; NORCAL Departure, take a left turn, follow the San Mateo Bridge and go on over to Modesto, Salt Lake Center, the bumpy weather is at flight level 280 to 310, go ahead and speed up to MACH 0.85 and we'll try to get you a shortcut over Billings.

I turn off my useless iPhone, far out of range of any possible signal (just like home!), in favor of the longevity and utility of a 3rd generation iPod "Classic".
"..well the danger on the rocks has surely past, still I remain tied to the mast.."
Cocktail prices have gone up to $7 per, and there's no free food at all on domestic flights. Snacks are hotel-mini bar prices, $3.99 for a can of Pringles, $9.49 for a chicken salad. I settle on a hot sandwich which means $7.99 for an "Angus" burger served from a convection oven built into the cart, cooked well done and then some. Insult is piled upon insult is piled upon insult. The tomato is watery as sure as it was grown indoors. A Monsanto monstrosity, a Franken-fruit with virtually no character. The mayonnaise is Hellmann's "Light" Mayo. I don't want "Light" mayo, thank you. I want egg yolks and oil, like ${DEITY} intended.

Does Angus mean anything to anyone anymore, anyway?

I should have gotten the Tapas Platter ($8.49). It's hard for even an airline catering company to cock-up chips, crackers, olive, tapenade and cheese.

Up-sell, up-sell, up-sell!

I could have skipped this exercise in humiliation had I remembered to eat breakfast. But why not one more depraved Kabuki dance with the demeaning? Why not be poked, prodded, and sold to? Leave your shoes in the basket. PUT YOUR FREAKING SHOES IN THE BASKET OR ELSE YOU GET THE HOSE AGAIN.
"..could it be that I have found my home at last...home at last?.."
Starboard nacelle of a Boeing 737
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What happened to air travel? In Hell, Osama bin Laden is surely having a laugh.

I love travel, and I want to love air travel. The romance of getting on a gleaming jet and blasting through the sky seven miles above the ground, huge geological features writ small under your feet:
If you look out on the left you'll see Lake Tahoe... on the right, Salt Lake. There snakes the Mississippi River...folks we're beginning our initial descent, on your right is Wrigley Field...we'll be coming up over Lake Erie soon. There in front of you is the Terminal Tower, where we're going to take a right turn as we approach Hopkins.
All air travel doesn't suck, though. I can attest to that. It doesn't have to suck and it shouldn't suck. In civilized countries you get a snack and a bottle of Burgundy (Air France), or a Gewürztraminer (Lufthansa) or a Newcastle (British Airways). If you are lucky, you will be offered a cheap upgrade to first class aboard some Virgin America flights - all you can drink via touch screen and a free amuse bouche (mine was a sampling of olives and cheese). Japan Airlines gave me my first full-bore sneak of a beer, at age 15, on their 747 service from O'Hare to Narita back in 1990. I hope this hasn't changed much. Sushi, pickled vegetables, salad and rice were the standard meal. Breakfast was rice, a salad, and tomago - a sweetened omelet/frittata type egg preparation. You could have Sapporo or Asahi Super Dry.

I have always been an Asahi Super Dry man.

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American passenger air travel: Too large to fail, but eminently deserving to do so. Everything about US air travel is wrong - from the rote half-sales pitches of the flight attendants ("..join the Mile-High Up-yours Club and get a Fly-it-Up-Your-Ass VISA Card today*!") to the dull recitations of bureaucratic legalese dictated by the FAA ("..please draw your seat belt tight and flat against your lap..").

I do not envy the people forced to recite such banalities day in, day out, one city to the next.
"..Under your seat is a flotation device.."
Water landing my ass. That seat belt will cut my body in half. One successful ditching in decades and it's caught on YouTube. Don't be fooled. Into the drink? You're gonna die.

As much as I love being in a strange city, even holing up in a hotel room, "Pan Am" it ain't (and eat a g-ddamned sandwich, Christina Ricci!).

Don't get me started on the pointless, torturous inefficacy of the TSA and their "Orwell's Worst Nightmare" peepshow machines (provided gladly via fat government defense contract by GE) and grope sessions (provided - hopefully - joylessly by TSA guards). It's enough to make one go full Falling Down, and it will be a surprise to absolutely no one who flies regularly when some passenger finally does.

So, let's look at who's doing it right: Virgin, the Europeans, Air Emerites, Singapore Air, Japan Airlines... and then let's do it right.

United, I give you an "F" for service.

And where's my freaking Channel 9?

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* Introductory rates apply. In 1 year, you're rate will surely skyrocket. This is a scam. Try my product.

3 comments:

  1. The end result was no surprise to anyone with flying experience, but to watch Continental get sucked piece by piece into the turbine blades of United’s maw was deeply dispiriting. Every time Kellner opened his cake hole to spout off platitudes about bringing Continental’s culture of customer service to United, I wanted to cry. It was so painfully obvious that the inverse would happen that I wondered if he’d ever believed what he was saying.

    Add all that to the TSA’s incredibly wasteful (and dangerous) security theater and the always-delightful Freedom Massages—a term I picked up from Jared Spool—and travel is no longer something I look forward to, no matter where I’m headed. Coming home to Cleveland is another matter, because I’m coming home. It’d be nice if the process of doing so were nicer, but I’ll put up with a lot to return to my home and family.

    I’m headed out tomorrow, in fact: off to SEA by way of ORD—oh, joy—and then a few days later back to CLE by way of SFO, coming back on the red-eye. (Like I say, I’ll put up with a lot.) I’ll keep my window shade up so I can watch the terrain and enjoy the occasional close encounter with another flight, and anyone who thinks I should lower it so they can better enjoy on-demand Fox News or yet another screening of “50 First Dates” can bite me.

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    1. Yep. All screens were set to Faux News. I immediately switched all of them to MSNBC.

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  2. Mise en scene: I was explaining to my Dad how if you book the B seat (or E seat) on a 3-aisle-3 (basically, the typical narrow body), in theory that will discourage people from booking the A or the C in that row.

    Of course, someone did indeed book the A seat, but fortunately no one got the B seat.

    I returned home in a mid-1990s Airbus A-319, United's mid-level workhorse (Continental uses almost exclusively Boeing 737s from late 1990s and the 2000s, making theirs "the youngest fleet in the industry").

    While the Airbus-of-a-certain-age lacks some of the amenities of the new, flashier Boeings, they do have the radio-in-armrest that the DirecTV enabled Boeings lack - and, at pilot's discretion, From The Flight Deck (Channel 9) was turned on.

    Pale shelter, but they did also give me a coupon for extra miles or something for being stuck with the shit seats. Maybe the read my blog. Who knows. This time I remembered to pack food (a bagel and cream cheese) prior to boarding - even though my "pro-traveler" Dad got me to Hopkins scant minutes prior to boarding (a whopping 35 minute procedure using United's new numeric cattle call).

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