Wednesday, March 16, 2005


This week, I come to the assistance of the busy business traveler. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to be nice to the in-flight attendants – they control your lives completely while you are on the plane.
Actually, a lot has changed in the airline industry over the years. Mostly, everything is now a lot older than it used to be. Airplanes used to be clean, sleek, fast and efficient – so were the pilots and the In-flight Hospitality Facilitators (who used to be called stewardesses and stewards). But now a lot of airplanes look like rejects from to the Aeroflot fleet of the former Soviet Union, and most of the In-flight Client Comfort Engineers (also formerly stewardesses and stewards) look like what they would really like is a chance to sit down for a while.
Another thing that has changed is that airlines don’t lose luggage with the cheerful efficiency the way they used to. Seasoned travelers in need of new luggage were once able to depend on the airlines to send their luggage to Tucson, Arizona, instead of Bridgetown, Barbados – probably because of the similarity in the spelling – which meant that the old suitcases would be replaced with nice new ones by the airline. But for some reason, the airlines can’t be depended on to perform this service anymore, so those who travel with any regularity are having to supply their own new suitcases, which is really inconsiderate of the airlines.
What haven’t changed are airports. Ever since Orville and Wilbur Wright first managed to confuse each other about where their plane should take off from and where it should land, airports have become like large, disorganized holding pens for rootless human beings. There are actually people who live in airports. Because their passport was either lost, stolen, or sent to Tucson in 1973 in a piece of lost luggage, these people are now citizens of no country, forced to travel from airport to airport around the world in a sort of airborne version of “Waiting for Godot,” searching for a customs official who speaks their language.
The best place to be in an airport is in the “Arrivals” section. If you think you’ve got it bad, go to the arrivals section and watch people who have been on a 16 hour flight from Bangkok or Wagga-Wagga Australia, come staggering off the flight, carrying babies and carry-on luggage, either of which may or may not be theirs. Dazed and confused, these people now have to answer for their existence to customs officials, and they have to find their luggage.
In an attempt to cheer up weary travelers, the airports have devised a kind of giant parlour game called “Guess the Luggage Carousel.” The object of the game is to figure out which of the 250 metal merry-go-rounds will regurgitate the luggage that was loaded on the arriving plane at its point of origin. The game requires at least 1500 participants for it to be really fun, and given that planes land in international airports every 30 seconds or so, getting enough players together is never difficult. One solution is to station family members at as many carousels as possible to keep an eye out for suitcases that look even remotely familiar. This ensures that even though you will likely never see that family member again, chances are they will at least have one suitcase with them as they start out their new life.
A few people have learned to cheat at this game. They are the ones who travel with nothing but their carry-on luggage and a gold credit card. But the airports have devised a fun little parting event for them as well called the “Full Body Deep Cavity Search”, which involves activities most people would have to pay for to experience.
So if you are going to travel, bring luggage; tell your friends and family where you are; learn to sleep sitting up; but above all, be nice to the In-flight Service Attendants. They may not be as young as they used to be, but they can still dump a dish of hot chicken-and-rice in your lap with the precision of Olympic archers if they want.
Travelling under an assumed name, I’m Otte RosenKrantz
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