Judging from the title, you might think this essay will be bashing the airline industry. Far from it. I actually think they do a pretty good job of transporting me from here to there.
For instance, just yesterday, I flew from Phoenix to Chicago’s O’Hare airport in about three hours. Three hours. Do you know what a miracle that is? To go from Arizona to Illinois in the time it takes to have a long lunch with friends?
I did this while sitting in a comfortable seat in a tube five miles above the earth. The crew was pleasant. They made sure I didn’t die of thirst and even offered me the chance to buy a snack in case I was too dumb to eat at the airport. The plane was equipped with clean restrooms in case I needed to relieve myself while flying at over 500 miles per hour, or splash water on my face, even though I would never put the water from an airplane restroom anywhere near my face. But it was nice that it was available just in case a bucket of paint dropped from the overhead bin and spilled all over me or something like that.
That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it.
My beef isn’t with the airlines, the airplane (which didn’t even break down mid-air, killing us), or the pilot, who got us there safely and stood in the cockpit saying a friendly goodbye as we all left the aircraft. What’s needed are just a few minor changes by the airlines and a few major changes by airline passengers. This is all geared toward one goal: allow me to travel without it ruining my day or going insane.
Here are my ideas for the urgent changes needed in air travel:
1) Every passenger should be required to pass a basic self-awareness test. It would show a certain competence in, say, understanding that talking at high volumes, bringing your unsedated cat on board who screams in terror the whole flight, or clipping your toenails on your way to Aruba are all unacceptable behaviors as a passenger on an airplane. (Yes, these are real-life examples.) I once saw a man whip out his electric razor and go to town right there in the waiting area for our plane. Bzzzzzzzzz. I kid you not. (Ever heard of a restroom? They have electric outlets these days.) These are the kinds of basic issues the test would need to cover. Self-Awareness 101, you might say.
The test would involve a basic understanding of social cues, too. Like when someone has headphones on, that’s code for, “I don’t want to chat.” By putting the headphones on (even if they aren’t listening to music), it saves them from having to personally reject you and hurt your feelings. So when someone sits next to a person with headphones on, they would automatically “get it” that they shouldn’t tap them on the arm and ask, “What are you listening to?” or “Are you going home or heading off on a vacation?”
Even though if the plane goes down you will now be instant best friends with the person next to you for around two minutes as you cling to one another sobbing, most people do not want to admit this, and just want to be strangers sitting next to each other for as long as conditions allow.
However, occasionally people do fall in love on a plane. I know two people who did that. So it’s okay to say hello and see where it goes. It’s just not okay to not get it that the other person doesn’t find you attractive or want to be your new best friend just because they are trapped sitting next to you.
2) Every terminal should be labeled clearly so we know where the hell we are when we step off the aircraft. Since most of us don’t live at an airport, we can be a bit disoriented when stepping into strange surroundings, especially since every five feet there is generally a television blaring bad news at us and people shouting at us over the loud speakers. Just yesterday in fact a friend wanted to know which terminal I was in when I landed from Phoenix so he could pick me up at baggage claim. Since I live in Chicago, I’ve been to O’Hare dozens of times, but still, I didn’t have a clue. I looked around for a sign saying, “You are in Terminal Whatever.” Nothing. I told him, “What the heck, give Terminal 2 a shot.” Eventually, we found each other. How people ever found each other before the invention of mobile phones is beyond me. They must have wandered around for hours.
3) Every plane should come with a fart-o-meter. This is an idea I had a few years ago for a special device. Whoever invents it could make millions! It would be a sensor that would be placed above each seat, right next to the tiny little lights and the call buttons clueless people push when they mistakenly think they are in a restaurant and not on an airplane with 170 other people. This device I thought up would be able to detect the passing of gas offered by those who lack self-awareness, and pinpoint the source. A pleasant-sounding alarm would go off (so people don’t become afraid that a real alarm is going off) with arrows pointing at the offender, shaming him or her into going to the bathroom next time they have gas, and avoiding eating the airport bean burrito next time when they know darn well what the outcome of that will be. Or the old standby you learned at age 4: holding it in. (At least until you can walk ten steps to the lavatory.)
4) Each passenger should have a microphone that amplifies the sounds they make. But the microphone would only amplify it back to them, not to everyone else. It would be a kind of magic microphone, that could double as a self-awareness training tool. Like just yesterday, the woman two seats over kept making these strange sinus noises, and I kept thinking, “If you have those weird sinus problems when you fly, ever thought of taking a train?” Or the man who shouted really, really loudly at the person next to him, “Turn it down!” At first I thought the person next to him was a stranger and we were about to have an air rage incident, but then I realized when a woman responded, “I’m trying … people can hear you!” that she had the unfortunate circumstance to be his wife, or daughter, or some other relation. He shouted it twice more, and everyone turned around to stare, and show their irritation at his lack of self-awareness. Just think how quickly that problem would have been fixed if he had a self-amplifying magic microphone. “Gosh, that was embarrassingly loud and must be so annoying for the people around me,” he would instantly notice, as he nodded apologies all around.
5) Planes should be redesigned so that every seat is a window or an aisle. Just get rid of the stupid middle seat that no one wants anyway. This would mean building two aisles, but would create far more happiness among air travelers. (Is this really that far-fetched?) For instance, yesterday, my plane had three seats – aisle – three seats. Instead, it would just be two-seats – aisle – two seats – aisle – two seats. Simple. There’s no humor in this point. I just think it’s a really good idea.
So, those are the five most urgent changes I see needed in air travel so that I don’t go completely insane. Thank you for flying with me today. You may now feel free to move about the cabin.