I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m no longer a fan of commercial air travel. I enjoy the adventure of traveling and there was even a time when I preferred airline flights to most other modes of transportation, but these days I only fly when I am forced to for a business trip … or when I the rare need to be strapped into an uncomfortable seat next to a talkative overweight stranger with hygiene issues, so mostly business trips.
I used to really resent the whole standing in line for the opportunity to partially disrobe and subject myself to the TSA’s unreasonable search and seizure thing. Over time I’ve learned that, much like listening to your wife talk about your relationship, it’s causes much less anxiety if you just forget that you’re an grown man with rights and endure it. Wait … did I just say that out loud?
Recently I’ve grown to resent the airlines themselves. I’m not sure when it happened but during my lifetime a commercial air travel transformed from a pleasant event where you were treated like a customer, served complimentary meals and beverages by a stewardess into a flying third world bus where they stuff as many people as possible into a jet where you may be offered a sip of soda and a bag containing three stale pretzels from a surly flight attendant.
In addition to the loss of comfort and services the airlines have reduced the number of flights available to ensure every flight is filled to capacity and they’ve started charging for checked luggage so that everyone has a “carry-on” the size of a steamer trunk on wheels, ensuring you’ll be late even “in the unlikely event” that you should arrive at your destination on time because it takes forever to get on and off the freakin’ plane.
Just this week I experienced another airline adventure while retuning from an otherwise pleasant business trip back to my old stomping grounds in Nevada. I was scheduled to fly from Reno to Salt Lake City,, and then on to Atlanta where I would catch the last commuter plane into Pensacola arriving at 10:30 p.m., a long but not entirely unreasonable trip home.
After enduring the usual TSA indignities in Reno, the flight to Salt Lake was relatively uneventful, and I arrived at the gate for my Atlanta flight in pretty good spirits … meaning I had time to grab a beer before the next flight. That’s when things started getting weird, and when you’re flying, weird is rarely a good thing.
The pilot announced that because it was so hot in Salt Lake and our flight was full, if he took on a full load of fuel the jet would be too heavy to get off the ground (never a good thing) so he had decided to partially fuel the plane and add an unscheduled stop in Kansas City to get the additional fuel required to make it to Atlanta.
I’m not an airline pilot, and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express, but I wondered why they would schedule a 757 for that particular flight if it could not lift off from the Salt Lake runway with enough fuel to reach its destination. I’m also not a navigator, but I also wondered why a flight from Utah to Georgia would stop in Kansas City for fuel … maybe they didn’t have a fuel coupon for the Oklahoma City or Little Rock airports, but it sure seemed out of the way to me.
When we landed in Kansas City, the pilot estimated that we’d have our fuel and be back in the air in about 25 minutes, so I figured I still had a shot at making my connecting flight in Atlanta. When we actually got airborne over an hour later, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be sleeping in my own bed that night.
Sure enough we arrived in Atlanta too late to catch the last flight to Pensacola, so I was herded, along with the other tired and frustrated passengers, onto a shuttle bus and driven to a nearby hotel where a single desk clerk checked about a hundred of us into complementary rooms … eventually.
By the time I got to bed, I had almost four hours before I had to get back on the shuttle to the airport for the chance to get unreasonable searched by Atlanta TSA agents before finally boarding a plane home.
The good news is I made it home … eventually!
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist.