The Unfriendly Skies
There's something about flying that brings out the best and worst in me. You see, there are some things I actually enjoy while hopping aboard a plane. I love the fact that I can read a book and finish it without interruption. Or hop on wifi and continue writing and compulsively checking email even though I'm 31,000 feet above the earth. And, I'm one of those people who is happy to converse with the passenger sitting next to me if they seem like they're open to conversation and have an interesting story or vacation anecdote to share.
What don't I like when traveling by air? Let's see. I hate security lines - but have already waxed poetic on that experience recently over at Associated Content. Once I've made it through security, and plunked down $30 on gum, magazines, a neck pillow and fuzzy socks, I dragged my bags to the gate and waited for the customer service to rep to arrive so that I could claim my seat on the plane. Except, here's the problem. Those rude customer service reps who get to the gate about 20 minutes before your departure, can literally drive you to the point of insanity. In fact, I recently felt like a caged animal as I waited to find out if I was going to get a decent seat on the plane - I had received the "See your gate operator" message on my boarding pass which meant that even though I had a legitimate ticket, I was going to have to wait until the customer service representative was good and ready to select a seat for me. In hindsight, had I been nicer, I might not have wound up with an aisle and no place to rest my weary head for five solid hours.
And speaking of attempting to sleep, I do not like trying to sleep on a red-eye while sitting next to a rowdy group of boy scouts from another continent. More on that soon.
I hate turbulence. No matter how many times people have told me that it's only dangerous when you're taking off and landing, I can be found white knuckling my armrest or playing with my grandmother's ring while glancing up at the ceiling and praying silently to her to watch over me.
I do not care for people who move my things around without my permission just so they can squeeze their massive carry on bag into the overhead bin while I was forced to check mine at the gate five minutes before our plane was scheduled to take off.
Recently, I experienced the best and the worst about air travel. The best was the grandma I sat next to on the flight out to Los Angeles - who shared where her family was heading on their summer vacation - Hawaii!!! She told me she was taking a cruise with her grandchildren, son and daughter in law and informed me that Norwegian Cruise Line is the only ship that offers summer cruises to Hawaii. A great travel tip for all you summer vacationers!
Another pleasant passenger encounter. I sat next to a woman from Gibraltar (never met a woman from Gibraltar that I didn't like) who was traveling throughout the United States as part of a choir. She told me all about where she had lived (near Portugal and Spain), shared stories about her daughter and her current trip to Italy (where I had spent my honeymoon more than a decade ago) and also told me how she was amazed by the scenery of Northern California. Another travel tip: If you've never been to San Francisco - it is one of the most beautiful cities in our nation - filled with wineries, mountains, the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, winding roads and really nice people.
And now for the unpleasantries...
On my trip home, I encountered a customer service rep who was clearly irritated by those of us who walked up to his station only to be shooed away. He kept telling everyone to sit tight while he accommodated scores of passengers who requested upgrades while he kept nervous standby victims on the edge of their seat. And me? Well, I was one of those in limbo passengers who technically had a seat but they couldn't issue it to me until Mr. Customer Service made sure that several frequent fliers got the upgrades they were requesting.
After they had called Groups 1-6, I finally was handed a ticket and was then stopped at the gate when they told me I had to check my overnight bag. Check my bag? The plane was supposed to take off in 10 minutes - are you kidding me? I gave the flight representative my terror mixed with skepticism with a sprinkle of Jewish guilt look and he assured me my bags would make it on the plane because he'd put them there personally. I bid my bags adieu and made my way towards the aircraft.
As I found my seat - an aisle with absolutely no place to lean against - which meant my red eye experience would be spent in a semi reclined position where I couldn't for the life of me find a comfortable place to pass out. I then noticed a woman moving everyone's bags around so that she could put her suitcase in the carry on bin. Excuse me? I had to check my bag and this lady, who came on 10 minutes after me got by with her suitcase. You've got to be kidding me.
And then there were the eagle scouts. I suspect they were traveling for at least 24 hours since they came by way of Australia. That woud explain the fact that they decided to get rowdy at 4 in the morning and when I asked them to "keep it down," they proceeded to continue joking around and one of their friends who had stopped by to razz them, walked away leaving a pungent musky odor in his path. Yuck. Tweenage boys who don't use deodorant on a plane - clearly a recipe for disaster.
Next the turbulence hit with a vengeance. Every time I started to doze off into a REM like state, the plane began to shake and stir in the wind. While the woman next to me kept asking me questions about whether we were safe, I tried to maintain my composure while rubbing my grandmother's ring repeatedly. About three hours later, the turbulence ended and we were ready to land.
The wheels touched down a bit hard this time and we skidded down the runway and finally came to a grinding halt. And as I looked up at the sky and thanked my grandparents for watching over me yet again, I whisked out the door, hit baggage claim and thankfully, my bag arrived on the carousel.
And so ends yet another high flying airplane adventure. While I hate it, it's a means to transport me to some of the most exciting entertainment experiences I've ever had in my life (more on that later). Love it or hate it, air travel will always be a part of my life. And what will I do the next time I take a flight? Simple, join the frequent flier program and suddenly you'll be welcomed aboard the friendly skies - they may be a bit bumpy but if you get a good seat and land safely, who really cares.