Wednesday, November 24, 2010
It's Not the TSA, it's Your Fellow Passengers
All the hoopla over the TSA and their tactics is getting just a bit ridiculous. Do you really think these folks really want to touch your junk as many have put it? I for one have no problem with the procedures faced at the airports and I do make a lot of trips back and forth from Alaska to Portland. I realize that there are a number of people that do have a problem with it, including some of my friends and too them I offer a little bit of sympathy.
My frustration derives from my fellow passengers and I would like to share a good example with you from my recent flight from or non flight as it turned out from Anchorage, AK to Prudhoe Bay, AK. As a North Slope worker I have to commute from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay on a bi-weekly basis. The normal procedure on the current contract I work, is to board an Alaskan Airlines jet at the Ted Stevens Airport on a Monday morning at about 5:40, and shortly after 6:00 am we are usually in the air making a stop in Fairbanks, AK before flying on to Prudhoe. The aircraft is normally a (COMBI) which is a 737 with the front portion dedicated to freight and room for I suppose about 80 or so passengers to the rear of the plane. On Monday, the 22nd, at about 5:00 am I had found a seat near my gate and sized up some of the other folks in the boarding area. Who doesn’t people watch while waiting for a flight? Out of the corner of my left eye, I noticed a very large lady meaning tall and large in build as well. She emphasized her stature by choosing winter clothing that from a distance that made "yeti," come to mind. We're talking the tall fur hat that would make the royal guards in London jealous. The lady was pulling an airport cart with a number of items stacked haphazardly and yes the thought of homeless street yeti did pop into my head. I also believed that she must be traveling with someone because no one could possibly think they would be allowed to haul that much stuff onto an aircraft. I sat waiting for Mr. Yeti to show up anticipating what he might be wearing.
The weather outside sucked, freezing rain had plagued much of the state but it looked as though it would not delay our departure. I somehow lost track and interest in the yeti and focused on the weather. The boarding process started and I was on my way to the tarmac. The thing about a COMBI aircraft is that you cannot board it using the normal covered means. You have to walk down a few flights of stairs and across the tarmac and board the aircraft just like they did in the 50's and 60's, by a portable stairway. This is where the flight turned on me. I made my way to the stairway and half way up the line came to a standstill. It wouldn't have been half bad had it not been for the freezing rain finding its way down the back of my neck. We all stood patiently on the ice covered stairway waiting for signs of life. After five minutes the line started to move and I approached my seat, 26D my usual isle seat on this flight. I stood in the isle looking for a spot in the overhead for my single carry on but there was no room. That conclusion came at the same time the once frozen rain, dripped of my head and off the end of my nose. It was now clear why most of us stood outside in the elements like milk cows heading to the milk barn. Seated in 26E, the middle seat next to me was none other than "the yeti lady" who had taken every available space in the overhead for her crap including her award winning hat, which actually took at least 1/4 of the space all by itself. Now understand that I am a large guy so I feel that I can say these kinds of things about others without feeling too guilty. Now seated in the window seat was another person that made Yeti and I look like a petite window models, so yeti lady was already crowed 1/4 of the way onto the area reserved for my butt. She looked up at me with those sorrowful yeti eyes and said, "Sorry the flight is full, I already asked." My comment back didn't seem to help matters at all. "Well maybe I can just sit on your lap" I said, while placing my bag into the next available overhead bin. Taking my seat, attempting to balance myself on my left cheek and looking like the logo from a Leaning Tree greeting card, I managed to get my seatbelt fastened and said, "Well this isn't too bad!" Yeti gave a half assed smile and said, "Would you mind, I forgot to turn off my phone, it's in one of my bags," pointing to the overhead. What came out of my mouth was nowhere near what I was thinking, which was, "While I'm up would you like me to find your yeti kibble as well?" I of course didn't say that but it crossed my mind. After digging through her stuff I found the little purse that contained her phone and handed it to her, then spent the next three minutes trying to put everything back. Taking my seat I once again do my balancing act and buckle up. From the back we probably looked like those Russian nesting dolls, you know, the hollow rounded dolls that fit one inside the other.
The captain explains that do to the freezing rain, the aircraft had to be de-iced twice prior to take off and we slowly started to back into place for our hosing so to speak. We sit quietly waiting for the equipment to arrive to de-ice the plane. Yeti has her phone out and starts to look at weather and says, "Huh, I am surprised we are even going to Fairbanks, the weather there is really bad!" Shortly after she uttered those words she began to struggle a bit for air. The flight attendant just happened to be walking by and noticed. Yeti managed to hiss that she was having an asthma attack and couldn't breathe but assured us she would be OK if she could just get her battery powered nebulizer from the above storage. At the same time she turned on her light and for the first time I noticed that her black sweater was covered with animal hair. Hhmmmm, and on cue, I hear the sound of a distressed cat which I had not noticed before, peering at me from a small carrying case located at her owners feet. The flight attendant spends a good five minutes moving stuff around and manages to find a little inhaler as opposed to the nebulizer all the while I am thinking, "Are you kidding me, you have asthma and you have to take your cat with you on a trip?" Yeti decides that the little inhaler will offer up enough relief for the short flight to Fairbanks. I was so relieved, I was wondering how it would all play out when the order came to turn off all electrical devices. She took a couple of deep draws off the inhaler and mentioned to the flight attendant that the weather was turning bad in Fairbanks. Now I know why a yeti has never been captured before, they have smart phone technology that keeps them informed! "This is the captain, we will be returning to the gate due to worsening ice conditions in Fairbanks!"
I wonder how long we will sit on the plane because to be honest, I am allergic to cats and I to start to feel discomfort in my chest as well as a little itchy thing going on which may have been psychosomatic but the urge to scream was not! Thoughts raced as I contemplated wrestling the inhaler from Yeti's large hands.
Fifteen minutes after arriving back at the gate the announcement was made that they had cancelled the Fairbanks portion of the flight and they asked all Fairbanks passengers to disembark the aircraft. I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front portion of the passenger area to allow the two ladies in my row to make a clean exit. I didn't want to be anywhere near the lady as she blocked the isle getting her stuff out of her private overhead storage with disregard to the other passengers. At least this time they would be stuck behind her in a nice warm cabin as opposed to freezing rain.
I stretched out in comfort in a row all to myself as I waited for the flight onto Prudhoe Bay direct, with no stop in Fairbanks or cats to get in the way. Life was good again right up to the point when the captain announced that the conditions at Prudhoe Bay had fallen below the minimum acceptable and we would be returning to the gate until further notice. Several hours later I did make it to Prudhoe in time to get one hour of work in at least. Like I said, the TSA is a piece of cake compared to some of your fellow passengers. Happy travel and have a great Thanksgiving!