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TinotopiaLog → Airlines (14 Nov 2000)
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Fairmont Hotel, San Jose
Tuesday 14 November 2000


Any time you see a complaint with ‘on board X’ written up there, you can be sure it’s a doozy. The airlines offer no end of raw material.

I’m somewhere over Ohio at the moment, on my way to San Francisco. I’m actually going to Santa Clara, which is about 40 miles south of SFO. I had originally booked a connecting flight from Dulles to Denver to San Jose, mainly because the Dulles to Denver part is on a Boeing 777, which is a relatively comfortable airplane.

The Denver flight was delayed by four hours, though, so I was rebooked onto a connection through Los Angeles. That didn’t work out, because I was added to the L.A. flight four minutes before departure.

So now I find myself on an Airbus A320 — a 737 with a European accent — for about five hours. Why they fly such ill-suited planes on these routes, I don’t understand. From Washington to San Francisco takes five hours — or more, depending on weather and delays. From Washington to London takes six hours. They would never consider flying a single-aisle plane with bad service (we’ve been in flight for over an hour and I have yet to get a drink)

When I get to SFO, the plan is for me to wait an hour for a United Airlines bus which will take me to the San Jose airport, because it’s to San Jose that I originally bought my ticket. I think I’ll just set out from SFO, skipping SJC all together.

Feudal Society

While I was waiting for my rebooked flight, I gave some thought to why people hate air travel so much (or at least why I hate it).

I think it’s because the system of airline classes does not mirror our society. While I was sitting around Dulles waiting for my flight, I noticed that most of the people there, like most people in the USA, were middle-class. That is, they had jobs and skills and enough money to personally make most of the decisions about their life and to keep themselves in comfort. They would shop not at designer boutiques nor at Wal-Mart, but at places like Nordstrom, Nieman-Marcus, Macy’s, Brooks Brothers, etc.

Yet in the airport, as in the airplanes, there is only two levels of accommodation: ‘Luxury’, or crap. Either you have shelled out $5000 for a plane ticket and you are a king, or you have not and are a peasant. It took me fifteen minutes of looking and trudging all over the airport to find a phone jack where I could retrieve my e-mail. There was, of course, nothing to put the computer down on, and no electrical outlet nearby.

In the Executive Lounge, though, there are not only tables near phone jacks, and electrical outlets a-plenty, but wireless high-speed networks that take everything to an even higher level. There’s everything provided for the first-classers, and absolutely nothing for the commoners. It’s as if the only cars on the market were a gold-plated Rolls Royce and a 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a muffler problem. The best-selling cars in the world are the Ford Taurus and the Honda Accord, but their air-travel equivalent just isn’t available.

Strangely enough, American air travel is stuck in a feudal kind of society. Without business class (which is almost nonexistent on American domestic flights), there’s no middle ground, no opportunity for people to elevate themselves above the basic, rude accommodations of coach without taking out another mortgage.

Most people would not object to paying a bit more for more comfort, respect, and convenience in the whole air-travel area. Paying 300%-500% more is out of the question, though. So it’s impossible to be middle-class in an air-travel context, which is why most people hate air travel so much; they’re forced to operate outside their milieu.


They seem to have stopped the idiotic practice of extorting $5 from passengers on domestic flights for the privilege of listening to the terrible movie on the plane. I expect that most or all of that sum went directly to the movie studios, but it always struck me as nuts that they wanted almost as much money as you would pay in a theater for the chance to watch a (bad) movie, in edited form, with bad sound that’s further destroyed by the cabin noise, on a tiny screen.


Nearly all airplanes have at least four main doors; two at the front and two at the rear. Larger planes, like the 747 and 777, have more. Why, then, are planes nearly always boarded through a single door? Passengers going in, all 30 rows of ‘em; strollers and too-big carry-ons coming back out; gate agents in and out; etc. all through a single door. It’s insane. I hear that Southwest Airlines is building a jetway that will allow them to load both the front and rear doors of a 737 without resorting to stilt-buses or stairs, so that might help. And of course the whole problem would be solved by the application of my modular airplane idea.

Airports built around the time of the introduction of the Boeing 747 originally used stilt-buses to unload people directly from the planes and to shoot them into the terminal; this allowed use of all doors. For some reason, though, this technique is not used very much any more.


As we were boarding this plane, U.S. customs officers were taking up much of the precious space inside the jetway, running back and forth with their sniffer dogs.

Most of the people being sniffed seemed charmed by the dogs, but I was a bit put off.

First of all, what is U.S. customs doing inspecting passengers on a flight that begins and ends within the borders of the U.S.?

Secondly, what was I being searched for? And on what probable cause?

Just another element of the encroaching police state. I suppose I should be thankful that I didn’t look suspicious, or like a dissident; I might have been hauled away.

Posted by tino at 22:50 14.11.00
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