Down In The Air

June 11, 2010

Last week I flew across the country. I was going to a librarians’ conference. What goes on at a librarians’ conference? Well, I shouldn’t tell you this, but among other things there was the fashion show where exciting new designs in cardigans and half-glasses on chains were featured. After that things got really crazy and the hotel staff spent hours scrubbing Library of Congress call numbers starting with HQ 471 off the walls of the bathrooms just off the lobby, but that’s another story.

Actually somebody slipped me a couple of bad subfields for a festschrift, so most of what I remember is from the plane flights. While I was sitting in one plane waiting for takeoff the guy next to me said, "Takeoff is always the part I hate worst. Don’t you?" And I started to say yes, but then I realized that, for me, the worst part of any flight is showing up two hours early and then spending approximately an hour and forty-five minutes wandering around the airport. And this time I was carrying all my luggage with me. The last time I flew I checked one bag and there was a twenty-five dollar fee. Why did airlines start charging an extra fee for bags? I know they say it’s so they can keep the cost of tickets low, but if you’re paying for the ticket plus paying to have your bags checked it’s not exactly keeping costs down. That would be like seeing a one-dollar loaf of bread on the shelf at the grocery store and thinking, "Hey, that’s cheap," only to have them tack on a couple of dollars at the checkout as a "bagging charge". And the guy who checked by bag told me there was also a three dollar "handling fee" that had to be paid to him in cash. And, no, he couldn’t make change. That’s when I realized that what he was asking for wasn’t a "handling fee". He was asking for a "tip".

Ever since then I’ve been practicing using smaller and smaller pieces of luggage. I can now get everything I need for a three week vacation into a shoebox. Yes, it weighs ninety-three pounds, but at least it fits in the overhead compartment. And even though it’s my least favorite part of any flight wandering around the airport does have its advantages. For one thing I can indulge my desire for an eight-dollar Coke because I always forget that on every flight, no matter how long or how short, I’ll get a free beverage, although I’d be better off saving that eight dollars and using it to buy a bag of peanuts once the plane has taken off. And even though everybody seems to hate it I enjoy the flight attendants running through the things we’ll have to do in the event of an emergency, like putting on oxygen masks or using the exits at the forward section of the theater. On one flight, between California and Chicago, the attendant started to say, "In the unlikely event of a water landing…" and I was tempted to stand up and say, "Have you ever looked at a map of North America?" The plane was bigger than almost any body of water we flew over. A water landing was even less likely than the plane being overrun by zombies, although the emergency information card in the back of the seat did include instructions on removing the zombie’s head or destroying its brain if that happened, but that’s another story. The only time we’d be in danger of a water landing is if the plane took a nosedive into the very bottom of the Grand Canyon. And that brings me to what, for me, was the worst part of that flight. As we were flying along the captain came on the radio and started talking about interesting formations that the people on the left side of the plane could see and that they might enjoy. Then a little later he came on and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we’re now flying over the Grand Canyon. Normally people on the right side of the plane would have the best view, but, just for fun, we’ve decided to fly the plane backwards and we’ll be banking so the people on the right will only see sky and, if they’re lucky, some clouds." Maybe when I first got on I should have given the pilot a tip.

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