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12 ridiculous things about air travel

If you cannot read this column please contact a flight attendant
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Let’s face it, when it comes to air travel, some things are done in an intelligent manner, and some things are handled stupidly. This column deals with the latter. My list is just a start; your job is to e-mail me your additions. This is probably the only time you will hear a flight attendant ask you to vent your frustrations on him. But in an effort to get all the stupid stuff out in the open, I say “Bring it on.”

Safety instructions. In every seat-back pocket on every commercial airplane is a safety card. Have you ever read it completely? I am not even sure the airline has read it. At the very beginning is a note that reads, “If you cannot read or see this properly, please ask for assistance.” Why print this instruction at all? If I can’t read it, then how would I know to ask? Similarly, many flight attendants say this while making the safety announcement: “If you can not hear this announcement, please ask for assistance for clarification.” Next time you hear this, laugh and think of me. And while we are on the safety issue, do I really need to explain to you each flight how to operate a seat belt?

Boarding procedures. There has to be a better way to board an airplane than from the front to the back. Airlines have spent millions analyzing other methods, but there are still long lines on the Jetway. I know there is a demand for frequent fliers to get their bags put away first, but it’s very annoying to wait for a handful of people to stow their carry-on, take out their laptops and iPods, and mosey over to their seats while 100 other people are waiting to get on the airplane. To make matters worse, the gate agent often gets on the plane and shouts at the passengers to quickly take their seats.

Luggage stores. Why are there luggage stores at the airport? I think you can assume that if travelers have made it that far, their luggage needs have been properly satisfied.

Seat belts. The airlines need to rethink the whole seat belt issue. When turbulence occurs, the seat belt sign goes on and the captain makes an announcement advising you to take your seat and buckle up. The flight attendants then come around to check. Most injuries to flight attendants occur during that check. They end up on workers’ compensation, the airline tries to fire them, and they in turn sue the airline. The whole thing costs a fortune. Then Mr. Gotta-pee dashes to the lavatory only to get yelled at by the flight attendant. He is a grown man and has probably assessed the risk and made a mature decision. Of course, if he hurts himself while attempting an illegal bathroom break, he will probably try to sue, too. I say: Get the passengers to sign a release form stating that if the seat belt sign is turned on and they are hurt walking around during turbulence, then they are legally on their own.

No Smoking signs. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that smoking is not allowed on board and never will be again. So why are there illuminated signs above every seat and ashtrays all over the airplane?

Right hand telling the left hand what to do. You might not realize this, but most in-flight managers and supervisors do not have experience as flight attendants. In other words, the people who are making decisions about onboard service and procedures generally have no clue what they’re talking about. This may explain why a seemingly straightforward service can get quite complicated at times.

Charge! Okay, charge extra for an alcoholic drink, maybe a meal and a headset, but keep things within reason. Some airlines are now charging for aisle or window seats, soft drinks and even water. What’s next? Overhead bin space and coin-operated lavatories?

Driving me crazy. If you have ever tried to pick someone up at the airport without parking your car, then you have undoubtedly been shouted at by the traffic cop. Some people have perfected the art of dodge-the-cop, but not me. Happily, some clever airport managers have designated parking areas where you can wait in you car for a cell-phone call saying your arrival is ready to go.

Reservations. Have you tried to get hold of a reservations agent lately? No? Here’s what to expect: a busy signal, a long wait on hold or a computer “helper” that constantly misinterprets your request. If you finally get hold of a person, he or she will hail from some country you have never heard of and will understand only 50 percent of your conversation.

Outsource what? Okay, I realize that the trend in American business is to outsource as much work as possible to foreign workforces. But I think outsourcing aircraft repair and maintenance is going too far.

Con artistry. Airlines in bankruptcy protection that continue to shower their top executives with riches and incentives deserve to be liquidated. This is nothing less that robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Any bankruptcy judge who allows this to happen should hang his head in shame.

“Buh-bye.” This annoying parting phrase is used by every flight attendant I know, including me. I’ve tried to come up with variations, but when I’m faced with hundreds of faces passing me at the end of a flight, I always end up “bubbing.”

So there’s my list of some ridiculous things that happen during air travel. What are yours? Please send your contributions to me. I will compile a list and post it in a future column, and there will be a prize for the top entries. I look forward to hearing from you.

Until then, “Buh-bye!"

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.

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