Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘flying’

When Terror Got Personal

When I stepped into the shower that bright September morning ten years ago, my only thoughts were of the new job I was starting that day.  The television was running in the background, and Matt and Katie were yukking it up over some silly thing.  It was a good start to a big day.

When I stepped out of the shower, the world had changed.  I heard Matt and Katie talking about something odd, so I stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and dripping wet, to take a look at the TV.  And there was the first tower crowned with billowing smoke and flames.  Wow, I thought, Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center!  What a terrible accident! 

As I stood there transfixed, listening to the confusion on the Today Show set, I watched in horror as the second plane flew into the towers.  This is no accident.  At that point, I knew we were under attack.  Oddly, I still had a job to get to, so I frantically dressed and headed to work, listening to the radio as journalists tried to disseminate exactly what was happening.  When I walked in, a co-worker said that the Pentagon had been hit.   Another said a plane came down in Pennsylvania.

This was personal.

A little while later, all the employees were gathered in silence in the break room, staring at a tiny television screen.  The footage was of the top of the south tower, and as I watched, I realized the top appeared to be twisting slowly.  I remember crying out, but even then, my fear was of the top floors breaking off and falling.  I couldn’t comprehend that these behemoth towers could actually disintegrate totally in such a short period of time.  But as we watched, the top began to sink into the smoke, and down she came, in a terrible groan of despair and death.

This was personal. 

Before that morning, terrorism was something that happened to other people, in other countries.  It was certainly sad to see buses exploding in Israel, bombs going off in Northern Ireland, mayhem in Asia.  But it wasn’t “real” to us.  It was something we watched on TV and we thought (you know it’s true) Thank God that doesn’t happen here. 

My husband was working at a trade show in Salt Lake City that second week of September.  I was home alone, glued to the news shows, crying endlessly and feeling frantic at the thought of him boarding a plane to fly home once the airports reopened days later.  Ever the pragmatist, Hubby pointed out that his convoluted route through Cincinnati to our upstate NY city on commuter jets was probably not a major terrorist target.  He also explained that, even if he could find a rental car, the 1300 mile drive would surely be more dangerous than getting on a plane.  He was right, of course.  But an even bigger shock (ha-ha) was that we were having a serious conversation about which mode of travel in the United States was least likely to be targeted by terrorists.  Our world had changed.

A few weeks later, we had another serious discussion over Hubby’s travel-filled job and our vacation plans.  Should we change our plans?  Avoid the traveling we both loved?  Find a different job that didn’t involve frequent flier miles?  We agreed that we didn’t want to make those choices.  Giving up meant the terrorists succeeded in their plans – they terrorized us into changing our way of living.  Hubby and I looked into each other’s eyes and we agreed to keep flying, as much out of defiance as anything else.  Not only that, but we would agree, whether flying alone or together, to go down fighting if anything happened on our flights.  We promised each other that, in the freak chance that one of us died on a flight targeted by some crazed attacker, the other would know that we stood up and fought. 

Was that a bizarre conversation to have?  On September 10th, 2001, it would have seemed totally crazy.  But after 9/11, I think it made sense.  It gave us a deeply personal commitment to hang on to in a suddenly dangerous world. 

When I fly these days, I have to remember to wear slip-on shoes so that I can remove them easily to be screened for shoe bombs.  Shoe bombs.  Seriously?  Well, yes – seriously.  That’s personal.  I have to carry my passport to go to Canada.  Canada!!  That’s personal.  When I’m traveling, I watch for abandoned pieces of luggage, suspicious backpacks, odd behavior – all as a matter of course.  A machine that sees through my clothing so that I can get on a plane?  Sure, no problem.  That’s personal. 

The world has changed.  But even more important – the world has gone on.  Our American spirit didn’t collapse with the Twin Towers.  We still go to ballgames and work and church and picnics and concerts and parades and weddings and baby showers.  Terror became personal, terror changed our world, but terror did not win.

Tempting Flying Fate

I just returned from a week in North Carolina.  It was ridiculously lovely weather, and we had a great time.  Since Hubby had been there for more than a month with his truck, I planned on flying down and then driving back with him.  Seven hundred sixty-three miles from door to door.  We drove it in eleven hours and fifty-five minutes yesterday.  Last weekend, it took me twenty-two hours to fly there.  Not a misprint, folks.  Half a day to drive.  Nearly a full day to fly.  What’s wrong with this picture? 

“Traveling adventures” are drawn to me like moths to the light.  Think of something that can go wrong, and it surely will when I’m flying.  Missed connections.  Freak storms.  Presidential visits that close down airports.  More freak storms.  Getting to Boston from Kansas City via Minneapolis.  Did I mention freak storms?

But it wasn’t an act of God that waylaid me last week.  It was a brutal combination of mechanical problems and holiday travel.  And, most importantly, a jinx.  I jinxed myself.  I knew it as soon as the words were out of my mouth – I invited disaster, and disaster accepted the invitation. 

You know how that works – like when someone says “wow, we’ve painted the whole room without getting a drop of paint on the carpet!”  Jinx!  Within five minutes, you are guaranteed to spill half a can of paint, or drop a loaded paint brush, on the carpet.  “I can’t believe we got the baby to sleep so easily!”  Jinx!  Two minutes later, the little one will be screaming non-stop.  “The last few times we’ve left the dog alone, she’s been great – I think she’s over that anxiety problem she had.”  Jinx!  Half the sofa and most of the door frame will be destroyed when you get home.  And, of course, the ultimate jinx question… “What could possibly go wrong?”  Just dive under your desk when you hear that one – fate will be happy to provide the answers fairly quickly to anyone foolish enough to ask.

So what did I say that stretched a two-stop flight into an ordeal?  While being driven to the airport by a great friend, I mentioned that I had a couple of hours of layover time in both DC and Charlotte, making for a long commute.  That was safe.  And then it happened – before I realized it, I was saying the words “but the good thing about the extra time is that if there are any delays anywhere, I’ll have plenty of time and I won’t have to stress about it.  And the weather’s gorgeous.  Gee, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!”  So, not only did I invite fate with my bragging about all my spare time, I also said the “j-word” out loud, and laughed.  I can’t believe I was that stupid. 

But I forgot about my carelessness after an easy flight to DC.  I spent a relaxing few hours in the US Airways Club enjoying free coffee and snacks and a great magazine (how does Cher manage to look so hot at our age?).  All was calm.  I leisurely strolled to my gate, priding myself on the wisdom of purchasing that day pass to the Club, and I was looking forward to seeing Hubby after four long, long weeks.  I felt just a slight chill when I saw that the flight was delayed an hour, but I wasn’t too concerned – after all, I had all that buffer time in Charlotte before my next flight.  Still feeling smug, I walked back to the Club room for some more free coffee.  By the time I got there, the flight had been canceled. 

Canceled?!?  What do you mean, canceled?  There’s no weather anywhere.  How can the flight be canceled?  Excuse me, did you just say there are no more flights tonight?  It’s only 7:30 – how can there be no flights to your hub in Charlotte?  Oh, there are flights, just no seats? Thanksgiving travel.  College students.  DC emptying for the week.  Yeah, I get it.  So, first thing in the morning, right?  Excuse me, did you just say I can’t get to Charlotte until tomorrow night?  And can’t get to my final destination until almost midnight tomorrow?  What the hell?!  Okay, how about the next closest airport?  No good.  How about the next one past that?  No good.  How about Raleigh, almost two hours away?  Nope.  But you can get me to Greensboro.  220 miles from Hubby.  And you still can’t get me there until tomorrow morning.  Well, isn’t that special.  The tears mount, but they don’t fall.  No sense crying over something I can’t fight.  And I know the whole mess is my fault for incurring the jinx.

The advantage of being over 50 is that you have a firm understanding of how to tell the difference between things we can change and things we can’t.  May as well make the best of it.  I take my meal voucher to Five Guys at the airport and order up a fabulous cheeseburger with grilled mushrooms and A-1 sauce.  I take it with me to the shuttle that whisks me to the Sheraton Suites in Alexandria, Va.  The burger is still toasty warm after waiting in a long line of Charlotte-bound travelers trying to get rooms. 

My beautiful room at Sheraton Suites in Alexandria, Va. And I deserved it.

And the room is a delight.  A true suite, with a couple of flat-screen TV’s, french doors opening to the fluffy, white, down-comforted bed.  Off go the shoes, on goes the TV, and down goes the best burger in the world.  Lemonade out of the lemon I handed myself.  Morning wake-up call is on time.  Morning flight is on time.  Hubby made the true sacrifice, skipping a golf tournament and driving more than two hours to be there as I walk off the plane in Greensboro at 9:30.  We take a leisurely drive across half the state to our NC house, with a stop for breakfast.  At long last, I reach my destination. 

And the trip home to NY yesterday?  In a four-wheeled vehicle on America’s highways?  We pulled out of the driveway in NC right at 5AM.  At 4:55PM, we pulled into our garage in NY.  Two gas stops and a couple of rest area stops to change drivers.  No hassles.  Minimal construction.  No traffic to speak of.  Great weather.  Why?  Because I was smart enough not to say anything stupid before we left that might have jinxed us.  Lesson learned, mouth wisely shut (for now).

The Joys of Air Travel: Why We Relate to That Jet Blue Guy

The person who has received America’s attention and collective fascination this past week was Steven Slater – that Jet Blue flight attendant who wigged out, cursed a passenger, grabbed a couple of beers, and slid down an emergency exit slide in New York. 

I’ll confess – my first thought was “he’s my hero!”  Anyone who has dealt with the public (waiters, flight attendants, civil servants, customer service reps, etc.) has had days when they wanted to do what he did, even if just for a second.  We’ve all thought that we were about to reach our limit, and that we might just feel better if we told a customer/co-worker/employer exactly what we thought of them. 

But Slater didn’t just say “take this job and shove it.”  No, Mr. Slater went out with a lot more style.  First, he cursed the passenger who supposedly offended him.  Then he thanked other passengers who were more pleasant.  Then he grabbed a few brewskies (perhaps not his first beers of the day from the sounds of it), deployed the emergency slide, and leapt out of the plane.  I mean seriously – the movies couldn’t have designed a funnier way to go!  And after all this, he headed home, where he was ultimately arrested.

This scenario is one of those things most workers only dream of.  We sit at a bar after work and laugh about all the ways we could tell off our customers and walk off the job.  “One of these days, I’ll tell a customer to make their own stupid ‘not-quite-but-almost-rosy-pink-in-the-center’ hamburger!”  “I’d love to be able to start cursing back at these customers who think they can just scream at me over the phone!”  “If the boss tells me one more time that I’m not making quota, I’m going to tell him to do the job himself and see how he does!” 

As long as it remains just cocktail talk for a few laughs with friends, it’s healthy venting.  I don’t think any of us actually considers following up on our daydreams of going out with a splash.  Most of us are mature enough to understand the consequences of those actions.  Laughter and camaraderie relieve the stress of dealing with the public these days.  And when we relieve the stress, we can keep doing our jobs. 

At first I was shocked to read some of the online comments from flight attendants regarding how they have been treated by passengers.  What on earth gives passengers the perception that they have free rein to curse at, yell at, laugh at, or throw things at a flight attendant?  They’re just trying to do their job.  But they are increasingly performing that job in a volatile environment.  And flying can bring out the worst in people.

Air travel can bring even the nicest, most pleasant people to the edge of their nerves these days.  Remember when flying used to be a glamorous way to travel?  Today, the first line you hit is checking in, and it doesn’t even end with speaking to a smiling ticket agent anymore.  Now you wait and drag your bags along through the roped-off zigzagging line, only to have someone point you in the direction of a machine – get your own damn ticket from the kiosk, thank you very much.  You pay for your checked bag, knowing that your carefully packed clothes are probably going to be rifled through and left in a tangled wad in the suitcase as they check for dynamite residue of whatever. 

Then you march to the next long line, where you have to take off your shoes, take off your coat, take off your belt and jewelry, pull out your laptop, pull out your baggie with all your 3 oz. liquid bottles inside, and march through a metal detector, only to have to put all those clothes back on and repack your bags at the end of the line with plastic bins full of everyone else’s belongings rolling at you at high speed. 

By now, you and your fellow passengers are getting grumpy in a hurry (and not just the cranky Boomers!).  You’re tired, hot, hungry and thirsty.  And you still have to find the right moving sidewalk (aka: conveyor belt) to get yourself to the proper gate.  The passengers who didn’t give themselves enough time to get through the torturous lines are now sprinting down the moving sidewalks, careening into people as their wheeled baggage bounces along behind them.  I once let out a “Hey!” after some guy almost knocked me over in Detroit, and instead of an apology I got a “Kiss my ass!” in response.  Nice. 

Don’t even get me started on airport food, with few exceptions.  Washington International has a Five Guys burger joint that’s terrific (but you’ll be facing yet another line).  Charlotte has a nice assortment of places, and they have those great rocking chairs sitting all over to rest in if you have the time. 

When you’re finally ready to get on the plane (if it shows up on time, if the crew is ready, and if the weather is cooperating), you’re back in line again.  Even with assigned seating, it’s a rush to board, because everyone wants to grab the overhead bins for their enormous carry-ons.  Now that checked baggage has a fee, people are getting ridiculous with their carry-ons.  You can tell that some of these things weigh fifty pounds or more.  Despite the airlines’ best efforts to show the maximum size, everyone pushes the limit.  And heaven forbid if someone has to be stopped from taking their carry-on onboard with them – then the real battles begin.   

So yes, I guess I can see how passengers might be tempted to take their many frustrations out on flight attendants, even if it is the wrong thing to do.  And I can understand how flight attendants can look so haggard at the end of a shift.  They’ve been dealing with our vitriol all day (or night) long.  It has to take a toll. 

It’s fun to laugh at Steven Slater’s meltdown, but we all know his response to the situation was really immature, and he’ll have to face the consequences for his actions.  He’s not really a hero – he’s just someone who’s in a situation that we can identify with in these stressful times.

I always try to be polite when traveling, but I know I don’t always succeed.  The next time I travel, I will make a serious effort to be more kind to my flight attendants and fellow passengers.  A few more smiles and laughs might go a long way towards relieving the tension of air travel, and if we all give it a try, the skies might start being more friendly again.

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