Fear of Flying
I don't know how many people still enjoy flying, but I'm one of those who dread every moment of the experience. But I'm not referring to the traditional trepidation some people have about soaring through the air at 30,000 feet; I'm talking about the drill we must submit to before we ever get into our seats.
The thought of standing there with my shoes in one hand, my "papers" in the other, as I push my carry-on luggage along the belt toward the scanner gives me a feeling of captivity. When I enter the body-scanner and hold my hands above my head as the rotation device emits its rays through to my bones, I shudder at the thought of how much damage the radiation might be doing. Then, having passed the first few tests, I must submit to a frisk before having my small suitcase opened and checked for substances that might bring down the aircraft. That means shampoos, creams, and colognes that measure more than a few ounces.
Such "explosive" articles are swiftly taken away by security personnel and presumably sent to a government laboratory for analysis. (Or, if I may be so bold, taken home for personal use by those who will never have to buy a cosmetic again in the course of their lives.) Not only are we forced to endure all this undignified scrutiny, but we are often exposed to some of the most unsavory attitudes by those who resemble prison guards at a Georgia chain gang. Passengers complain of being rudely ordered to "move along," or being yelled at for objecting to some rather "intimate" inquisitions into their underwear. Sometimes, it appears that these prison guards are purposely prodding you in order to elicit an utterance that will provide an excuse for the warden to administer corporal punishment.
By the time you pass through the maddening gauntlet and get your feet back into your shoes, you're in need of a calming libation before heading toward the next trial.
Walking along with your valise-on-wheels, you scan the electronic departure boards to see if your flight has been delayed, rescheduled, or canceled. That will determine how much liquid refreshment is required before the next aggravation ensues.
You can't really be certain that you'll get to your destination until you're safely strapped in your seat and the silver missile has left terra firma. But before that happens, you'll hope to have space for your compactly stuffed bag in the overhead compartment. And here's where the passengers get a bad conduct report! How often have you arrived at your seat number and noticed that the space above it was already crammed with luggage from people sitting in other sections? That forces you to find another cubbyhole, or shove your bag under your seat. When you finally get into the straitjacket, AKA your seat in coach, the scratchy voice over the intercom squawks about the rules of flying.
Speaking of delays, my wife and I had one of those exasperating occurrences last year during a trip back to DFW Airport, from Islip Airport on Long Island. Since there are no longer any direct flights, we were supposed to make a connection in Philadelphia. That would have been possible if our flight hadn't delayed for an incredible six hours! Instead, we found ourselves in the "City of Brotherly Love" at close to midnight, and there was no love to be found. We discovered what looked like an enclosed city under siege, as people were scurrying around like in War of the Worlds. When I asked a uniformed woman, who was sitting next a screen at her desk, where we could get the next flight to DFW, she continued playing with her cell phone, without looking up. I repeated my question, to her obvious annoyance, and, still not deigning to raise her head, she replied that there were no more flights to DFW that night. Composing myself, I asked where we could get info about lodging. The cud-chewing employee, still concentrating on texting, pointed toward the far end of the terminal. My wife's diplomacy, and my fear of being arrested, kept me from going ballistic during the encounter.
When I called on the misnamed "courtesy phone," I was told to call a cab and find a hotel for the evening, as though that hadn't already occurred to me. Following that was a dizzying cab ride through the airport; at length, I realized that the guy was ratcheting up the fare on a couple of out-or-towners. I told him to pull over at the next hotel, giving him the sum on the meter sans tip.
The next morning, the ordeal began again.
I'm just glad that I'm old enough to remember the good old days, when you could have a pleasant trip with courteous attendants, without being groped, badgered, and treated with contempt by those whose salaries you're paying.