Friday, March 27, 2009

Air Traveler Dysfunction

(News-Herald, March 26) My daughter came home last week, having completed the great trans-continental commute once again. My family has logged more air miles in the last couple of years than in all the preceding decades.
When I’m at PIT it’s usually to meet someone who is coming in after 11 at night, which means there are only a couple handfuls of flights arriving at the same time. PIT late at night is a quiet, quiet place. I made better-than-average time on my late-night cruise to the Pittsburgh airport, so I had plenty of opportunity to think about air travel as I rattled around that empty slice of concrete realty.
The effects that rippled out from 9/11 have been discussed at great length, but I’m not sure we’ve heard much about one group that must have been hurt badly in these high-security years—the people who built shops and restaurants on the wrong side of the security fence.
PIT has a great little mall. How many families must have dropped a bundle waiting to see someone off in the old days? Now those days are gone.
Some airports have been hit harder than others. If you’re a traveler, PIT and Philadelphia and Denver are all pretty nice on the inside with plenty of good places to eat and shop. Denver looks a lot like the inside of Pittsburgh, only strung out in one long cardiac-inducing stretch. Chicago has a really cool light sculpture underground. Las Vegas has a nice view and plenty of gambling right in the terminal while you wait, just in case you don’t feel the airlines have sucked up enough of your money.
No airport I’ve seen has been ravaged as badly as Los Angeles. LAX has been turned from a neatly-arranged airport complex into a mess of seven separate terminals. Heaven help you if you are connecting through LAX and have to change airlines—you must leave the airport and come back in through security which, depending on the airline, can be a horrific mess.
Airline service can be as predictable as a roll of the dice. Last Friday we waited with my daughter’s fellow-travelers as the luggage was unloaded by, apparently, one arthritic old gentleman whose prosthetic arm was nailed to his wooden leg.
One would think that baggage handling has become a simpler line of work since travelers now routinely try to jam the contents of a small U-Haul trailer into the overhead compartment, the better to avoid the additional costs for checking any luggage larger than a toothbrush.
The attempt to avoid checking luggage has led to larger loading stampedes. Everyone’s seat is already assigned, but there is only so much room in those overhead compartments, and travelers are determined to get every last family jewel jammed into that space.
Airports are not the place to see the milk of human kindness rise to the surface. Air travel seems to give an extra boost to that part of the human brain that believes that other people are not real and need not be considered. It’s no wonder that terrorists can blend into an airport crowd; on an airplane, almost everyone is a possible sociopath.
My son is large and imposing-looking and in his trips other travelers seem reluctant to mess with him. When they traveled together, he was the one-man flying wedge that carried his sister and himself to the next gate through crowds of people (unconscious, as only a terminal-dweller can be, that the space they occupied had any purpose other than for them to stand and stare blankly). This is good, because my daughter, who is now a graduate student, has been mistaken more than once for a high school freshman (“Aren’t you brave to travel alone,” cooed one kind elderly lady just last week.)
The rudeness of fellow-travelers, combined with the odd combination of frantic rushing with tedious waiting, can be a great economic booster for the flying biz. Getting home a few hours later can seem like a great way to save money until you are sitting in a terminal for interminable hours over a brain-numbing paperback novel—that’s when an extra fifty bucks to get home at a decent hour seems like a wise investment.
I can imagine the perfect marketing strategy for flights out of Franklin. After someone drags the car to PIT, parks it and contemplates the cost of leaving it there, struggles through security, and is jostled through that massive concrete cave by surly selfish travelers—that’s the time to hit him with the sign saying, “NOW does it seem too expensive??”


Dittman said...

I was just saying yesterday as I drove back from PIT how much I missed the days when you get beyond the security line to meet travelers. Air travel is like traveling in a flying greyhound bus these days - I always get seated next to the obese woman in coin slot revealing sweatpants who brought her own salami for snackin' - I avoid it as much as possible.
It's a terrible experience and I would fly out of FKL, if it didn't add ~$200 to the price of my tickets...

Todd Richards said...

I guess I understand how much people can't stand flying now. Just before 9/11 I was in the air every free momment away from work I could get. I mastered the art of flying with "defense", meaning only having a carryon, having my tickets handy but secure, and using public transportation to get to the airport. The last one there I know isn't really an option for Franklinites (is it? Is there a land-shuttle?) but the rest might be.

As for the rest, including the prices (groan!) Might I suggest looking for flights around? Akron has a great airport, much bigger than - but feels the same as -Franklin, it has similar airlines and cheaper prices (ok, there might be an extra transfer in Detroit but I was never on the ground there longer than it took me to get to my plane). Parking is less than $15 a day (the price depends on how close you get to the terminal, and trust me - it's not that far a difference) and it only takes about an hour and forty minutes from Franklin - Max. Remember, before the age of 65MPH, how long it took you to get to PIT....

I for one am not complaining about the recession - at least in terms of airline prices - I went to Mexico for just under $300, buying tickets last minute in January, and have had similar experiences on other flights recently.

So, anyone leaving from Cleveland?

Dittman said...

The FKL airport is running a big promotion right now to fly to Cleveland (for, I think ~$100)and avoid the hassle of driving 85 miles. I just can't see that being successful at all.

Dittman said...

125 miles not 85.

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