Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fear of Flying

It's only now, having gone through a couple of weeks of intense therapy, that I have recovered sufficiently from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the event to begin talking about my recent travel experience.  Of course, the whole thing was my fault.  It was I who decided to attempt to journey from the land of Oz to the Big Apple, I who decided to attempt to use last significant stockpile of frequent flyer miles that I had to make the journey, and I therefore who found myself standing in an airport on Christmas Eve.

Now lest you fear that these are the ramblings of yet another demented and cranky old bastard (which of course, they are), let me set before you my credentials for service as a Road Warrior.  I began traveling by air as part of my employment back in 1979, and did so on a very regular basis for about 30 years.  During that period, I managed to visit about 46 of the 50 states (oops, I almost said 58 there), all but one province of Canada, and a number of foreign countries in Europe and South America.  There were in fact many years during this period where I flew in excess of 100,000 miles on multiple airlines, achieving a rather exalted level of frequent flyer status.  I have flown in everything from single engine private planes to 747's, and have participated in two emergency landings (one in a 727 when an engine fell off, and another in a Shorts 360 commuter plane when we landed wheels up because the landing gear wouldn't lock).  None of this however, prepared me for the trials and travails of recent travel to visit my daughter's family near NYC.

Of course the ADL (Anti-Destination League) was in full attendance at all of the airports involved. (For further information on this nefarious organization, you can read about them in this previous post.)  Being well-schooled in their tactics however, I was able to strategically position myself in the boarding area and charge forward to the jetway before they were able to properly deploy the boarding gate picket lines.  I was equally successful in evading them in the baggage claim area, as since this was a short trip I had all of my worldly possession tightly grasped in my hands throughout the travel process.  (I was in fact only required to bludgeon three fellow travelers during the entire trip with a backpack which I had lethally prepared for just such a purpose.)   

Regardless of professional preparation however, dealing with fellow travelers whose lack of spacial comprehension convinced them that luggage the size of a sea trunk could be hoisted into the overhead space was a bit off putting. (And BTW, while gate agents are looking at the size of luggage, they might also want to look at the material of construction; and declare that rope handled shopping bags no longer qualify as luggage.)  I was similarly caught off guard by the Christmas cheer of the airline staff, having long ago grown accustomed to the type of surly treatment normally reserved by conductors on Japanese subway cars.  I had somehow likewise forgotten that the seat back that I was attempting to recline on placed this surface well within kicking range of crumb crunchers flying with their progenitors, producing movements far more violent than either of the emergency landings previously mentioned.

Speaking of children, while I have never been a fan of government agencies and their regulations, I would nevertheless encourage OSHA and the EPA to investigate the noise level on today's airlines.  Oh, I'm not talking about that of the engines, which was comforting enough to put me almost immediately asleep, but that of the shrieking children with whom I shared this all too cramped space, and whose hideous screeching soon after takeoff re-awakened me.  I neither remembered nor comprehended that infants and toddlers could produce sounds only slightly below a frequency level that only dogs can hear at a decibel level far beyond that of a newspaper printing press running at 60,000 copies per hour.  It's far past time that flight attendants issued the hearing protection required for such environments. (Which reminds me that I must remember to sue Sony for the failure of their noise cancellation headphones to perform anywhere near what was promised.)    

But of course no tale of the trials of travel would be complete without a description of the performance of those gallant mall cop wanna be's, the agents of the Transportation Security Administration.  What then can we say about the TSA that has not been said before? 

*  That their idea of cost cutting and maintaining work-site cleanliness was to not have me place the shoes that they forced me to take off into their plastic bins, so that they would not have to clean the bins of the dirt that might be on them (Apparently dirt in their X-ray machine was not seen as a concern.) 

*  That their concept of thoroughness was to challenge me when I said that I didn't in fact have a laptop in the backpack that I was carrying (I didn't).

*  That their attention to detail was to berate me for having the 3 oz bottle of shampoo that their rules limited me to in my shaving kit and not in the required zip lock bag (evidently the 3 oz cologne with flammable alcohol in the same shaving kit was of little concern).

*  That with all of their new technology, they are in fact no more efficient than when they had simple metal detectors, let alone X-ray machines; and no more effective than a Big 10 football team in a BCS bowl game.  

Oh it's true that I eventually returned Kansas physically unscathed, as befits its state motto "Ad Astra per Aspera" (to the stars through the rough); but the psychic scars of my recent travel may linger for years to come.  It's strange to comprehend that it's only now after long years of travel and many harrowing experiences that a true fear of flying has begun to grip me.  It's not the technology however that causes my skin to pale and my heart to race as I contemplate future travel in these 'Greyhounds of the air', but the collective insanity of my fellow travelers and the perverse nature and ludicrous methods employed by the government that seeks to 'protect' me while doing so.

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