Wednesday, March 7, 2012

US 762

It was four o'clock on Sunday morning and my mind was occupied with the day ahead as I waited for the airport shuttle. Through the haze of half of a night's sleep I was puzzled by the flight schedule planned for me. Why must the flight from Vancouver to Tel Aviv go via Phoenix and Philadelphia? Could it be that some alliteration-addicted air-traffic controller dictated travel through the only two major American cities starting with the phonetically unnecessary letters "PH"?
It seems to me that air travel these days could only be enjoyed by a paramilitary masochist. My journey that Sunday culminating on US Airways 762 left no doubt. As a relatively experienced traveler, I still found it irksome to be viewed with suspicion and cross-examined by everyone from the parking attendant to the check-in clerk to the baggage handlers. And that was just the beginning. Next I lined up with my fellow travelers in order to run a veritable gauntlet of humiliation. The squadron of surly security personnel forced me to remove my shoes, belt and jacket, put all liquids in plastic bags, and surrender my sharpened pencils, all the while eyeing me with a bold accusatory look that communicated, "Who are you, really?" I wanted to respond, "Sir, the reason I am shaking is because I have Parkinson's, not because I have something to hide!" But before I can say a word these soldiers of safety "requested permission" to peer through the recesses of my personal carry-on luggage.  That was followed by offering the choice of a pat-down of my private parts, a strip search, or standing with my arms appropriately held up high while standing in their latest techie toy, the screening machine.  That wonder of science puts to shame any preteen boy's fantasy of super-powered glasses that see through walls and people’s clothes. As I stood there trembling and embarrassed in the surrender position, I imagined all the physiological flaws undergoing carefully trained scrutiny.
But even after managing my way through security I was then confronted by the authorities aboard my plane who were somehow appointed to "keep me safe"; the flight attendants. I think that air marshalls have given way to this tougher breed. Images of attractive young female stewardesses who work as part-time models or movie stars have long since evaporated. They have been replaced by flight attendants primarily comprised of authoritarian men or post-retirement women. Our flight, being on an equal opportunity airline, included both.
Travel by air used to be enjoyable. Of course, that was 25 years ago or more. Back then the check-in process was short and security clearances were either nonexistent or perfunctory. Business travel was modestly more expensive but meant being welcomed by pleasant reception staff into a well-stocked airport lounge in which to work and while away waiting times. We expected meals during the flight complete with cloth napkins, real cutlery, China plates and hot delicious dishes with exotic titles.

Today, if any meals are served at all, whether at an additional cost or otherwise, they are hastily dropped on trays about the size and strength of an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, accompanied by plastic utensils.  Meals come sealed containers in which sit an indescribable serving of what purports to be either "chicken or fish". Like prisoners in a small cage we are compelled by the often repeated order to "stay seated with your seatbelt buckled" throughout the flight.  Upon with any trip to the toilet being carefully timed to avoid a lineup lest some congregation of disgruntled inmates hatch a plot to rush the cockpit with unreasonable demands for personal entertainment devices that actually work or seatbacks that actually recline more than 2 inches. Yes, more travel may be affordable, but it is more like punishment than pleasure, especially for someone with Parkinson's disease.
Despite spending over 24 hours in airplanes and airports this past Sunday and tense times when supposedly anticipated turbulence tested my bladder control, we arrived in Tel Aviv, exhausted but forty-five minutes early due to a favorable tailwind.

Travel in our post-9/11 world has been taken captive by our demand for "security". Smiles have often been supplanted by sneers. Service has suffered at the hands of cost-cutting accountants.  And I find myself anticipating traveling again seven weeks from now.  Doing 25 flights in 75 days is beginning to leave me wondering about the sanity of my upcoming adventure.

1 comment:

  1. It's okay. Crazy, for sure. But we will do it together. :)