Planes, Pains, and Monorails

August 28, 2008

Sometimes it’s impossible to believe Albert Einstein was right when he said, “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity” because there just couldn’t be that much hydrogen in the universe. It started after my flight home was diverted to a different state because of bad weather and a need to refuel. Didn’t the pilot know he needed to refuel before he took off? Wouldn’t something like that be kind of obvious? I look at the gas gauge in my car before I go anywhere, knowing that, even if I did run out of gas, I could get out and walk. It’s kind of hard to do that in a plane. I didn’t ask any of this, though. You don’t ask the pilot stupid questions, especially when he’s outrunning a hurricane. That’s like going through the security line and being sarcastic with the security people, although I have discovered that you can get them to smile with questions like, “Does this strip-search make me look fat?”

But I digress. I thought about asking the pilot why, instead of going East, we couldn’t just go North, since that’s where I was headed in the first place, but I was secretly happy to have my flight diverted in the hopes I would get another bag containing approximately four peanuts. Several years ago I heard about an airline executive who figured out that he could save the company $25,000 a year by removing one olive from the salad served on long flights. That kind of thinking can quickly drive you crazy, of course, and in the case of airline executives it’s a very short trip. If you remove two olives, that’s $50,000, and if you remove the quarter of a cherry tomato that’s another $15,000, and the next thing you know you’re asking, “What if we removed the oxygen masks that pop out in the case of an emergency?”

But I digress. Our flight was diverted to an airport that was so small we couldn’t even get off the plane because those stairs they wheel up to the plane were being used by the technicians to replace a light bulb. So we waited and refueled and I hoped my connecting flight would wait the seventeen hours my fellow passengers and I had to wait for the fuel to be pumped out of the ground, refined, put into a tanker truck, and finally piped into our plane. And then we had to watch the safety video again. When did the long boring talk the flight attendants used to give us about how to properly fasten a seatbelt get replaced with a snappy video of a woman with silicone cheeks and way too much collagen in her lips telling us not to smoke while a guy who looks like a sumo wrestler in a leisure suit demonstrates the flotation device hidden under our seat? I realize asking that is like asking, “How much money could we save if we got rid of those flotation devices?”

But I digress. Once we got off the plane it was obvious the gate stewards were having a contest to see how many people they could get to line up and not be helped. Since I missed my connecting flight I went straight to the gate of the next flight to my home—which of course was at the other end of the concourse. After waiting in line for a day and a half to talk to the gate steward I finally was about to talk to her when she picked up her microphone and screamed, “This flight is overbooked and there are 3,690 people on standby who take priority over anyone who missed a connecting flight, so if you’re one of those people you can go to Hell! And thank you for flying with us.” At this point I could have asked why airlines are stupid enough to overbook flights, or, for that matter, why people on standby take priority over people whose plane got sent to the wrong state and an airport that hadn’t been updated since the Wright brothers were flying. I also thought briefly of snatching the boarding pass of one of the people about to gaily march into first class. I’m pretty sure I could convince the gate steward that, yes, I really was Doctor Parvati Chakresarkandyn. Instead I decided to go and ride the airport monorail system to the airline’s main help desk which was, of course, located at the other end of the airport. As I was riding the monorail a man who looked like Ray Davies, or possibly Art Garfunkel, grabbed me and, with a manic look in his eye, asked me if I knew where the smoking lounge was. I told him I knew a gate steward who would be happy to help him find it. As I was walking to the help desk I kept hearing announcements on the intercom: “Mr. Roger Bolenciewczcwzw, your plane to Spokane is being held at gate T97. Mr. Roger Bolenciewczcwzw, please report to gate T97.” And all I could think was, Who was Mr. Roger Bolenciewczcwzw that he was so important that his flight got held while mine couldn’t wait? And why was Mr. Roger Bolenciewczcwzw riding the monorail asking strangers where the smoking lounge was when any intelligent person—any person who wanted to reach their destination–would have been at gate T97 hours ago? Finally I got to the help desk which consisted of one person who was too busy playing computer solitaire to help anyone and a row of black phones that, judging from the cracks in them, had been slammed down repeatedly. And I could understand why when I spoke to Al. I felt sorry for poor Al, who had to live with the knowledge that he’d be sleeping in his own bed that night, who was stuck in a cubicle where the only food he had was whatever he’d brought from home or what he could get out of the office vending machine and didn’t have the advantage of paying $27 for a single slice of cold pizza and a soft drink, Al who was, understandably, exasperated with me for asking such stupid questions as, “What time does that flight leave?” and expressed his frustration by sighing repeatedly. It’s completely understandable that, having provided me with information, Al would ask, “Are you sure you want to be on the earlier flight?” That would be the one that would be taking off in four hours instead of eight, and I have to admit I was having so much fun I thought about my options for at least four nanoseconds. Al, wherever you are, thank you. It took a genius like you to make me question the wisdom of a man like Albert Einstein.

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