Flying is the Safest Way to Fly

In 1970 I had been living in the States for almost two years. The five years I had spent with my partner Ruth in the wacky world of entertainment was drawing to a close. We had sung our way around Europe; we had performed on the stages of the glittering carrousel of concerts, club dates, film and T.V shows. We had recorded albums for Polydor and worked with some of the leading musicians of that period. It had been a dizzying whirlwind and on the whole an exiting and rewarding trip. But the end was in sight; we had both burnt out in the rough and tumble of ‘show biz’ and the music industry. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world; but now it was time to regroup. 

I decided to take a much needed break and planned a trip back to see the folks in the U.K.

I took an evening flight from Boston boarding a BOAC Boing 707 in the early evening. The airport was quiet and the flight was only about half full. I was able to have an entire row of seats all to myself so that I could stretch out flat and get a couple of hours sleep. ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ was the movie; out of my porthole the Northern Lights were dancing. The steak was very good as was the small bottle of wine and the flight attendants ( they were known as ‘Air Hostesses’ in those days.) were most accommodating We departed and arrived on time. The flight was an absolute joy all for around $150.00 round trip!
Yes, dear readers you are right; things have not changed for the better!
The last long trip that I took by air was to attend a series of exhibitions of my recent paintings that had been organized by my publishers. The tour started in New York, then to Tokyo; on to Hawaii return to L.A. and back to Boston and a puddle jumper to Nantucket. It took a full week to figure out where I was and in which time zone.
I would need to see an awful lot of up front cash to persuade me to entertain this kind of madness again.

Nantucket island has two local carriers; Nantucket Air/Cape Air and Island Air. Either of these will fly you over to Hyannis where you can pick up a further connection to Boston if you are making an International trip.
The odds of actually leaving the island on time by either of these two is around fifty fifty. The vagrancies of the weather are such that it is almost impossible to maintain any semblance of punctuality. With luck you may get off at some point the same day but it is by no means etched in stone.
Step two can be challenging. Boston Logan has machines that can issue a boarding pass thus preventing having to stand in long lines to be dealt with by a counter person. Of course one has to be privy to the workings of these machines. I have to say that I have done my utmost to navigate the procedure but not once did I manage to fulfill all the requirements required to emerge with the boarding pass. It is less of a chore to stand in line rather than suffer the ridicule of an inanimate machine. It’s some how more cozy to be ridiculed by a counter attendant.
The next step is to go through security.
T.S.A came into being shortly after 9/11. Protecting the population from the scourges of terrorism suddenly became big business. Laws were passed; uniforms issued and new travel regulations rigidly enforced. Almost overnight airports became a potential battle ground; soldiers with serious expressions and close cropped hair do’s marched around carrying their weapons at the ready. The atmosphere of airports changed almost overnight from being a carefree, fun place where people were having a good time taking their kids on vacations or visiting relatives, to being an austere fortress of suspicion, regimentation and regulation. The pleasure of air travel had been sucked dry.

So one more time you stand in line. This time however one must disrobe. Not completely of course; this would constitute fun and that is not allowed. No, you have to remove your shoes, your jacket  and your trouser belt which means that one hand is holding up your pants. Any thing that is vaguely metallic must be placed on the conveyor belt to be x- rayed by a security person on his computer screen. Lap tops must be open and turned on and laid flat so that a special inspector can read your latest e mail and Facebook entries. Anything else that is questionable like cream, milk, or anything that resembles gunpowder is confiscated and you are taken to a special room to be further interrogated. The odds of you catching your flight are rapidly being reduced to zero.
For my sins I have a metal knee and a metal hip which presents a real problem. I have to have a special ‘Pat down’ by a TSA professional patter. Normally it is a young man who would rather be having a root canal through his ear without Novocain than be feeling around in the area of my private parts. ( on one occasion I asked it the rather dishy young TSA lady could do the patting. I thought a little levity may help. I was vigorously lectured on how this was a serious business and not a matter for jesting.)
Having been patted, my overnight bag stripped and a metal money clip which had somehow been left in the bag from a previous excursion confiscated and my metal knee and hip judged to be of the non explosive variety, I was told that I was free to board.
It is amazing that anyone gets to their gate in time to catch the plane before it leaves.
Once on the plane it is time for the fun to start. First thing is to learn how to walk either sideways or with a kind of shuffling gate that allows you to carry your bag without decapitating someone who is already seated. Having picked out ones seat it is time for the first embarrassment; fitting the overnight bag into the overhead compartment. The design of the airplane is such that this simple task becomes an exercise in logistical frustration. All bags are made roughly two to three inches too big to fit squarely into the space provided. So there ensues a strenuous and quite often futile attempt to wedge ones luggage into the overhead bin only to find that the door will not close and thus the whole process starts all over again. By this time the line of passengers is backed up all the way to the gate and inevitably the flight attendants are obliged to assist by taking the ill fated luggage and stowing it in the oversize luggage compartment in the nether region of the aircraft. This will mean of course a long wait at the foot of the luggage carousel  upon arrival at one’s destination.There is every likelihood that one may never see ones bag again.
The design of aircraft seating is by now a standing joke. Whoever it was who came up with the formula for the first aircraft seat failed to grasp the basic construction of the human body which would eventually be using it. Cramming two or three hundred people into a metal cylinder is not an easy task especially when they will need to be seated. Admittedly the first of business section do have superior seating but the fact remains that having to sit in what has to be a constricting position for extended amounts of time is going to present serious impediments to the normal bodily functions. Most airplanes these days have rows of seats three or four deep in the steerage area which is where the less fortunate passengers travel. These seats are guaranteed to render, even the fittest and robust, hard put to walk when the plane lands. In short, if one happens to be deformed or with a body capable of extreme pliability the seating accommodation works just fine.
Prior to the new regulations smoking was confined to the rear of the aircraft. Frankly although I have been known to partake of the odd cigarette, I never smoked on planes. It seemed to me simply rude and inconsiderate. Now that it has become ‘Verboten’ and a heavy fine attached to breaking the rule, I find myself considering sneaking into the bathroom, sticking my head down the toilet and flushing several times so that the smoke will be dragged down the shoot before it has time to escape. Isn’t that just about the same as with any regulation; it seems to be human nature to want to try and find a way to circumnavigate.
  I have a friend who is a commercial pilot. He told me that before the smoking ban all aircraft had to have an air purification filter installed. This would filter and recirculate the air in the cabin. It was an expensive piece of equipment and cost a ton of money to run which, on long flights, could really mount up. Now that a smoking ban has been introduced this expensive recirculation feature is no longer necessary; one breathes the same air as everyone else for the duration of the flight. There is little wonder that one leaves the flight with a collection of all the ailments of the rest of the passengers.
It appears that the smoking ban has had precisely the reverse effect than intended; the airline company however, has saved themselves the expense of installing and running the recirculating equipment. 
Flying may well be the safest way to fly but it is, at best, extremely unhealthy as far as breathing goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.