Walsh's Wonderings — Fly the friendly skies

Modern airplane travel has all the joy of a root canal without the pleasure of the drill. It’s a necessary evil we endure absent other options.

It begins with a notification that my flight’s been delayed 20 minutes. By the time I reach the airport, however, they tell me it’s back on schedule and will leave on time. This same thing happens on my return flight, and I can’t help but wonder how many people stop off to grab that extra cup of coffee thinking they have extra time, only to find the airline later changed its mind.

Then comes the rugby scrum that forms around the gate while passengers jockey for position as soon as the attendant begins the boarding process. Families press forward knowing they haven’t been called but hoping to sneak one past the goalie. Grown men and women shamelessly cut the line and argue whether paying for extra leg room allows them early boarding privileges. Getting on the plane quickly is more important than ever because it provides a crucial advantage in the battles involving the overhead bins and the armrests.

Now that we have to pay for checked luggage, people arrive on board stuffed to the gills with bags that can’t possibly fit in the overhead compartment — not that this stops them from attempting to crush them inside anyway. The first person seated also gets to claim the armrest, that precious inch of metal that serves as an unofficial demilitarized zone. It has an invisible line that extends to the floor to prevent unwanted leg encroachment. And like many demilitarized zones, they’re blatantly ignored.

Next up are the inevitable seat negotiations, where families and friends seek to inconvenience those who put some time and thought into their reservations. Worse are the ones sitting next to the emergency exits who don’t bother paying attention to the flight attendant’s safety instructions; I make a mental note of them in case we wash up on a deserted island after the crash and have to make hard choices regarding cannibalism.

During the flight, we’re treated to a form of Russian roulette: Will my seatback television screen actually work? If so, will my headphone jack? Without this critical distraction, I’m left to ponder how the airlines could cede control of the window shades to any passenger without a thorough screening process. Some slam it shut without a second thought, robbing seatmates of that beautiful sunset with nary a vote. Others open and close it like fluttering eyelashes.

When we land, the rugby scrum returns in the frenzy to exhume the compacted bags from the overhead bins in time to … stand around for another 10 minutes until the doors open. I’ve noticed that the warmer the climate from which we leave, the angrier the people are to arrive back in the cold weather.

By the time we reach baggage claim, we’re all harboring grudges. There’s the guy who took the last bag of chocolate chip cookies even though he’d already taken two bags of graham crackers; that’s the woman who pulled out a tin foil dinner of rancid steamed fish right after takeoff; there’s the kid who kicked the back of my seat like there might be a leprechaun hiding inside. We gather around the carousel to suffer the worst indignity of all: Those who arrived earliest for their flight get their luggage last.

By the time we stagger out of the airport, we’re left to wonder whether root canals are really all that bad.

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