June 25, 2006

Some observations following a day of travel that could have been a lot worse than it really was:

1. The recently-renamed Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, New Hampshire is a joy to travel into and fly out of. Similar in size to Providence, I think, but the restaurant/bar there (I can’t recall its name) is better. They feature Smuttynose beers on tap, and being able to bide your time watching the Sox on TV while enjoying a couple-two-three drafts is not a bad thing at all.

2. Unfortunately, things started downhill as soon as it came time to board our flight for Detroit/Wayne County airport. A word here right up front: I used to love Northwest Airlines, and actually used to use them a lot – especially when I had the option of connecting through Minneapolis/St. Paul, the home of one of my all-time favorite British pubs (called the Lake Line Pub), which serves a fantastic beef stew and pint. I hadn’t flown Northwest for some time and was appalled at how their level of service had declined since the last time I had used them. Seems their methodology for boarding planes has been reduced to three stages: 1) anyone who needs assistance, 2) first-class, 3) every man for himself. Isn’t air travel stressful enough without having everyone from rows 6 and back lunging towards the gate like some half-a$$ed cattle call, especially when no one’s really checking how much carry-on luggage people are bringing aboard? I’m not much of a fan of anarchy, and Northwest’s lack of attention in this regard creates a situation that comes pretty close to it.

3. From the moment I sat in my seat at Manchester till the time I picked up my luggage at Phoenix Sky Harbor, the day was full of screaming, crying, wailing, and screeching infants. I sat in the row directly in front of a couple whose child screeched practically from the moment we took off from Manchester until we landed in Detroit. The couple tried everything to placate the child, but nothing worked – not even trying to talk like the infant or negotiating with him, both of which seemed kinda pathetic to me in a way. By the time we landed at Detroit, safe to say everyone’s nerves in our section were frayed worse than Rob’s Internet cable. And the couple didn’t even have the courtesy to apologize.

4. The original plan called for the same aircraft to take us from Detroit to Phoenix, but as soon as we landed, we were told that due to mechanical problems – I love to hear that, especially after landing – we were to go from gate A16 to A76, literally, from one end of a very long terminal (if you’ve ever traveled through Detroit, you know what I’m talking about) to the other, which means taking the monorail. After hearing a kid screech for the better part of an hour and a half, you can imagine my joy at seeing the monorail’s doors open to what can only be described as a airport day-care center. The car was filled with two families that included two infants, six or seven children anywhere between 5 and 8, and all the typical acoutrements one might find with such an arrangement: luggage, travel seats, children’s luggage, stuffed animals up the wahzoo, etc. As our rail car made its agonizingly-slow way above the terminal proper, I could only think of two things: 1) if I had a .44 caliber pistol in my possession, I would have gladly blown my brains out if it meant finding some peace and quiet, and 2) these people have to have a boatload of money to fly their families from one part of the country to another.

5. I know I’m going to generate some possible enemies here, but let me state for the record my belief that air travel should have a minimum age restriction. Look, I know we live in different times – heck, I didn’t take my first plane flight until I was 22 – and America is the land of unlimited possibilities and virtually-unlimited riches and unrestricted capitalism, but there’s something unsettling at seeing kids that age toting their Barbie or Discovery Kids! luggage through an airport like some juvenile jet-setter. I mean, if this is what parents are exposing their kids to at such an early age, what will they have left to experience when they’re grown up and out of high school or college? I mean, isn’t there such as thing as too much to soon? There’s no way children of that age can appreciate the privilege (never mind the cost!) of being able to do something most people on this planet will never – never – have the opportunity to do in their entire lives, and it just doesn’t seem right to me in some way. Am I alone in this? Am I wrong to think and feel this way?

6. Once we get to gate A76, I defintely need a cocktail to calm the nerves, so I grab a spot at a nearby lounge where I relax and keep an eye on my new gate. I’m part-way through a Sam Adams Summer Ale when all of a sudden I see a commotion and people scattering to the four winds of heaven. Hmmm, this can’t be a good thing, I think to myself. And it’s not. Come to find out our new plane also has mechanical problems – at least this time we find this out before we fly – and Northwest is now sending us all the way back to our original end of the terminal, to gate A26 – oh, and this time with a delayed departure time.

7. As I’m walking through the terminal (no monorail for me this time) I’m amazed at the number of young families – some with 3-4 kids and more than one infant – and can’t help but think how well the economy must be doing. I mean, there’s no way way anyone could look at the sheer number of people traveling yesterday of every age, color, and nationality, and not come away thinking we are living in a time of unmatched prosperity. Even with the increased cost of air travel, people are traveling and spending the dough to do it. It truly is astounding.

8. The luggage system at Phoenix Sky Harbor is the worst of any airport in the U.S. A word to the wise: anyone checking luggage through to Phoenix should add 30-45 minutes minimum onto their hotel or home arrival time, because this airport simply does not know how to move luggage in a timely manner. As many times as I have brought luggage back here, there is always a huge delay, and I’ve given up trying to figure out why.

9. Now it’s 10 PM and everyone from the plane is milling around the Sky Harbor baggage claim. It’s been a long day, and children are restless, infants are crying, parents are fried, and I’m just sitting far enough away to observe Travel, American Style circa 2006. As amazing as our nation’s air traffic system is – and it is an amzing system to behold – it’s not a pretty sight. But it’s not the airlines fault – after all, we all get the kind of service we deserve. We want our travel cheap and gratification instantaneous. Sad, but true. Suddenly, another child starts crying, and the mother, with a look of helplessness on her face, starts walking her slowly in my direction, as if I’m some welcome oasis in a sea of chaotic humanity. Another time, I might have offered up a meager smile and a word of encouragement, but not today – there’s just no good nature left in my exhausted state of being. I get up and move to another quiet corner of the baggage claim area, left to wonder – along with everyone else there – where the heck my luggage could be.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 13:45 | Comments (4)
  1. I flew to Minneapolis two years ago on Northwest because they were the only airline that offered a non-stop flight. I’ll pay a good deal extra for that. I hadn’t flown in 18 years prior to that. I noticed then that airline service had declined considerably since the last time I’d flown but I suspected the decline was across the board. Also, I didn’t notice any of the extraordinary security measures that I expected flying for the first time since 911.

    Comment by Rob — June 26, 2006 @ 4:24 am

  2. Right now my favorite carriers to travel are Continental and United. In my mind Delta used to be the best but then they had labor problems and a CEO that torked off all the employees and they dropped off as well. Right now all the major carriers are starting to concentrate on foreign travel, so I would suspect a number of smaller carriers (Jet Blue, for instance) to pick up the slack on the domestic side.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — June 26, 2006 @ 9:47 am

  3. Ah, the joys of travelling! When we first started flying on a somewhat regular basis, it was truly an experience. One always got “dressed up” for the flight, people were well-mannered and friendly and it was a very enjoyable time. Nowadays, it seems like they are in a race to see who can bring the most carry-on luggage on board and who can dress in the most sloppy attire. I can’t believe what these old eyes are seeing sometimes – can you believe bringing a potty chair on board??? And the dirtier and more ragged the jeans, shorts and t-shirts are, the more “in” you are. What a bunch of slobs. Enjoyable air travel ranks right up there with the rest of the good things that have disappeared in this day and age.

    Comment by Auntie Marge — June 27, 2006 @ 6:53 am

  4. Hi Auntie –
    Thanks for your comment. Agreed. I knew the times were a changin’ when on one of our recent cruises we went to late dinner (considered the more “formal” of dinner options) and saw a guy sitting at his table in a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Me, I would have asked Moose and Rocco to help the gentleman find his tie or toss him overboard, but it gives you an idea of how travel is viewed nowadays.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — June 27, 2006 @ 11:32 am

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