Friday, May 9, 2014

The Puzzlement of Domestic Air Travel

In the past 16 months, I have flown to Florida, Rhode Island, and most recently Minneapolis, Minnesota.   There are some things going on in the domestic airline industry that give me pause.   I'm not saying that these things are good or bad.  I guess they make me enter into my own internal debate regarding their merit.

In no particular order:

Southwest Airlines.  They instituted the "revolutionary" practice of taking beverage orders as though there were 10 of us enjoying a leisurely restaurant get-together rather than roughly 120 of us hoping to get from point A to point B on time and unscathed.  The flight attendant takes orders on this inadequate-looking pad of paper, then he/she disappears for what seems like hours before serving the drink from an equally inadequate-looking tray.   Not particularly adaptable to turbulence.  Ideally, the drink would be consumed along with the snack, but, alas, no such luck when the purveyor of the snacks must wait until the entire unwieldy beverage service has been completed before even beginning their distribution.    I don't believe anyone has been able to tell me the advantages to this system, but since Southwest has been doing it this way for years, there must be something good about it.

Puddle Jumpers.  All I will say about these is that, in this age of high security and with terrorist acts being committed with alarming regularity, I find it strange that a plane holding upwards of 50 people would be allowed to deplane right out onto the tarmac.   Each time this occurred on my journey to and from Providence,  a scenario flashed in my mind of a deranged passenger breaking off and sneaking into a service vehicle unencumbered and free to then wreak havoc with some larger airplane.  If my simple brain can picture this, what in the world might a terrorist think up?  The gates in which these planes land and take off are bare bones in terms of equipment, and we now know that the pilots who fly these planes are woefully underpaid.   Enough said on this topic.

Connecting Flights......  will be the death of all of us some day.  It would seem that the latest trend in domestic air travel is for a flight to remain at the gate for an undetermined amount of time waiting for passengers from a late connecting flight to arrive and board.   I have no doubt that I would be extremely grateful if I were ever to be one of those late passengers.  What I know for sure is that when I am one of the other 90% of the passengers sitting in this plane for upwards of an hour, waiting and waiting and waiting some more, I just want to strangle someone.    And I think to myself that this practice has turned the airline schedule into a giant doctor's waiting room.  All it takes is for one plane to be late and the rest will fall like dominos.  So much for the on-time schedules that airlines love to brag about.

Luggage carousels.  This phenomenon is one that occurs only in specific airports.  Up until this week, I thought it only happened in Buffalo, but it seems that Minneapolis has subscribed to this practice as well.   Three planes land at said airport.  Said airport is not a huge airport, and traffic is rarely overwhelming.  It is off hours.  Passengers proceed to the luggage claim area to find four operational carousels but only one that is actually operating.     Luggage from all three arriving flights is loaded one after another onto one carousel.  It's anyone's guess as to which luggage from which plane was unloaded first.  Maybe the airport employees are having themselves a race with our luggage...   I'm not big on carry-on luggage.  I need too many liquids and I can't be bothered with that 3-1-1 rule, or whatever it is.  So, the handling of my checked luggage is somewhat important to me.   I try not to think about what went on with my suitcase before it made its appearance on that carousel.

All in all, I'm not about to give up on flying.  It's too efficient - when everything goes without a hitch. But it's a gamble, make no mistake.    And life is getting more interesting for the oddsmakers with each passing year.

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