09 June 2008

American Scarelines

I have really come to despise flying, the automobile is a source of frustration and despair, rail is far too expensive and slow, and bus travel would combine all of the disadvantages of the other options, as well as additional discomfort, danger, inconvenience, and unpleasantness. I live a continent's width from many of my relatives, and my daughter's home is as near to the Gulf of Mexico as mine is to the North Pacific Ocean. In order to make the visits to which one at times is obligated one is doomed to use the airlines.

Air travel is cheap, I suppose, and this is its downfall. When it was not so cheap, it was much, much better. Air travel benefited from regulation, and airline companies benefited from charging fares that reflected the real cost of transporting humans and their possessions from point to point about the globe.

Far be it from me to begrudge any youngster a trip to Disneyland (ugh) or those with limited funds the freedom to fly the friendly skies, but I am really sore and tired today from the squeezing and pummeling I received on Northwest Airlines yesterday. I am not remarkably large for an American man, but neither am I small. (5' 11", 220 lbs.) When I sat in the seat on the 757 that was to fly us from Minneapolis to Seattle yesterday, my knees touched the back of the seat in front of me. My left arm overlapped the "arm rest" (interesting term for a thin rail of steel which does nothing to "rest" my arm at all, and much to injure it), my right rested against the inside wall of the cabin. (I was in a window seat, the first one on the four flights I took. Bast be praised.) The outside of my left thigh contacted the outside of my brother's right. The outside of my right thigh was pressed against the cabin wall.

If the person in the seat in front of me had reclined the back of his seat, we would have had words. I had not quite enough room to hold a copy of Harper's magazine before me. To reach the $2 bottle of water in my briefcase (you can't bring your own, it's a security measure) required contortions that would elicit applause in a carnival freak show.

Since the marketing departments of many airlines have decided to charge extra to check luggage as a way to keep the apparent price of a ticket down in the face of rising kerosene prices, folks are carrying bigger and heavier things into the passenger cabin. This makes loading the cabin a nightmare, bringing the general mood to a simmering level of dislike bordering on hatred, and causing a number of very unsafe conditions. As time goes by and people become even more aware of this situation, it will become a bottleneck in the trip second only to those idiotic runway delays that we always seem to endure. (Why don't they plan the departure times of airplanes so that they don't get stacked up waiting to take off?)

I don't care if the airline serves me food or provides a B or C movie (with a G rating) for me to watch. They may charge what they need to to pay for their fuel and check my baggage in the hold. They may restrict the size and weight of what I carry into the cabin, as long as I can bring a book, a sweater, and a small bag of food.

I will pay the price when I need to fly. What I want is very simple: I want enough room for my fat ass, my long legs, and my very ordinary arms and hands. I would like the cabin to be heated or cooled to a temperature in the vicinity of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. (Last night it was close to 80° F.) I would like to be able to recline the seat back and sleep without injuring or infuriating the person behind me.

I do not want to be forced into intimacy with my fellow passengers. I do not want to touch them involuntarily. If I need to rise to go to the restroom, provide enough leg and head room so that I can do this without injuring myself, or others, or forcing everyone in the row to leave their seat.

Why is this not available?

Are the geniuses that operate airlines so busy dealing with bankruptcy (don't try to win business by cutting prices) and labor relations nightmares (take care of your employees and they'll take care of you) that they can't see that an airline that would provide the service I've described above -- really provide it, not just say they do -- and then advertise it, would probably kick ass in the marketplace? It would certainly kick ass with me.

"Fly JingoJumbo, the airline for full-sized American people! Bring your lunch and your own entertainment, but be ready to have a really comfortable, pleasant time. When we say 'sit back and enjoy the flight,' you will be able to do just that. Round trips from Seattle to New York starting at $899."

Sign me up.

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