Tag Archives: travel

Flying sucks

I was on an airplane this weekend for the first time in over a year. Flying sucks, but what are you going to do? Instead of letting your insane fears dictate the course of your days, slowly making you too scared even of leaving the house, you’ve got to deal with unpleasant stuff now and then if you want to get to experience other aspects of life which are slightly more pleasant than your regular routine at home.


But yeah, flying really does suck. Getting to the airport several hours early, everybody complains about that. And TSA, I can’t believe that all of those security measures are necessary. The taking off of the belt and shoes, the placing my computer in its own separate plastic bin apart from everything else. As if the giant, full-body X-Ray machine wasn’t serious enough, every once in a while you get some blue-shirted not-quite cop pull you aside for some extra interrogation. You’re going to check me? For what? I don’t have anything worth checking out. You’re wasting everyone’s time giving me, or anybody else here a pat down, all right, I feel stupid, and I hope that you feel stupid running your hands up my legs, because it’s not necessary.

I’m getting carried away. The seats. I get it, airplane travel is expensive, but it’s not nearly as expensive as it would be if the entire industry weren’t super subsidized by the government. So you can’t really say anything, those seats are totally selling themselves. Still, I have a huge issue with companies that, as a matter of business, as a matter of making money, constantly look for ways to take more money out of your pocket, to charge you for services that used to be free.

I’m talking about everything, the two bags that you used to be able to check suddenly subtracted to one, the in flight entertainment that now costs something like two bucks a program. It’s bullshit, all of it. Imagine if a restaurant tried to pull a stunt like that? Extra ice? Certainly. I can offer you five cubes for thirty-five cents, and I only take credit or debit. That place would be out of business in a heartbeat.

I’m talking about the exit rows. At a pretty-tall six-foot-five, I used to have it down to a science: getting to the airport early, talking with an airline agent, them happily giving me the emergency row, and those sweet, precious, three or four extra inches of leg room that come along with the understanding that you’re willing to assist in the unlikely event of an emergency.

But that’s gone too. Some d-bag executive probably got wind of the whole emergency row agreement between tall people and gate agents and said to himself, you know what? That’s definitely an area in which more money could be going to the airline, to the shareholders. Fuck the customers. Exploit, exploit, exploit. And so now you have to pony up for “Delta Plus,” or whatever they want to call the same shitty coach seats that would have at the very least made me feel like a little more of a human being for the duration of the flight.

And you know why it really sucks? Because of course I’m not going to pay for that emergency row. Because I’m only flying once every other year or so. Because I have no money. So what you wind up with is some not-so-tall guy letting out a nice, audible, “Ahhh!” sound as he extends his perfectly regular-sized limbs as far as they’ll stretch, all while I’m a few rows back, the guy in front of me could barely wait to reach cruising altitude before clicking his seat as far back as it’ll go. Click! He’s trying, he pressed the button and the back started to sway. But what’s that? Some sort of resistance, it’s as if there’s something behind him making it impossible to recline all the way. He fusses a little more and kind of turns around. Oh, it’s just some guy. That’s just some guy’s legs I’m crashing into. Better push back harder. And so it’s that two-or-three minute push and pull, to the point where eventually my knees hurt and I give up.

Why do you even give the option to recline? For real, what is anybody getting out of that equation? Come on airlines, this is the area that you need to monetize. You’d like to recline your seat back? Certainly, that’ll be a dollar seventy-five, and I’m sorry, but we don’t accept cash, just debit or credit. Think of the shareholders! They must be satisfied! Give them more money! It would eliminate at least this little morsel of my in-flight suffering.

Yes, I hate flying, blah, blah, blah, this is all recycled nonsense, complaints about plane travel, I’m practically falling asleep at my keyboard writing all of this garbage. Seriously, I should have been born like ten thousand years ago. Talk about complaining. I probably wouldn’t even have the proper linguistic skills to even formulate my thoughts into a coherent whiny diatribe.

But you know what really kills me? It’s that moment while you’re taxiing down the runway, just as the engines kick in for what you know from experience is going to be a jarring takeoff. The plane lifts off the ground and you get that visceral sensation like it’s going to bounce right back down. But it doesn’t. And now everything below is getting really small. And in your mind you can just imagine exactly what it’s going to look and sound and feel like when the engines suddenly die and the plane plummets straight to a certain doom.

It’s probably not going to happen. But it might. It happens every now and then. And what if you’re on one of those unlucky flights? What if the people on previous doomed voyages had those same thoughts that you’re having right now? It’ll be OK, they tell themselves, trying to quiet the ever-present feeling of dread, unsuccessfully doing whatever they can to stay out of their imaginations, and then something does happen. Because it happens, right?

You’re just trying to go on vacation here, you’re sitting in a seat that’s not big enough to hold your entire body and you’re suddenly hit in the face with the cold fact that your life is finite and, even if this plane delivers you safely to wherever it is you’ve decided to give your money to get away from wherever it is that you happen to be making your money, you’re still going down, someway, eventually, nothing’s going to last.

And then you get pulled out of your nightmare daydream for a second because the flight attendant is telling you that, unfortunately, your carry-on is jostling around too much in the overhead compartment, and some of the passengers are complaining, and, well, you have to put it on the floor in front of you, even though there’s no room, you can’t feel the tips or your feet, you try to protest, politely, but you get some non-answer line about “FAA regulation states that …” Yeah, OK, thanks.

Man, I can’t wait until we have self-driving cars. I can’t wait until we have the Hyperloop. Because, yes, it’s unreal that we have an industry devoted to flying us to wherever we can afford to go on the planet. But flying on a plane sucks. It just sucks. There’s got to be a better way.

Originally published at Thought Catalog.

Vacation Part Three: Coming Home

I’m back from vacation. I talked about going away, about swimming, and now, well, there’s really not much left to say. We spent the whole day traveling and all I want to do now is go to sleep. But I’m determined to write something.

The whole day was all about the actual travel, getting from one place to another place. And I always think, it shouldn’t really have to be this way. I mean, a flight from New York to Puerto Rico only takes about four hours. That’s nothing. That’s not even half of a workday. But our whole system of travel, of airplane travel, yes, historically speaking it’s unbelievable that human beings have access to pretty much anywhere on the planet. But wasting an entire day on only a four-hour flight is a little crazy.

Today was definitely a little crazy. We wanted to check out one last Puerto Rican restaurant before we headed home. And we planned it out so we should have been able to. But as soon as we got in the taxi from the hotel, the driver started chatting us up. “How’s it going? Where are you visiting from? How long were you here?”

I don’t mind chitchat. I don’t necessarily prefer it, but I’ll always engage in a conversation. If I don’t have anything to say, I’m an expert at maintaining eye contact, putting on all of the appropriate facial expressions, throwing in stuff like, “Really? Huh. Wow. No way,” at perfectly spaced intervals to trick the conversationalist into thinking I’m an active participant.

But again, there’s a limit. The conversation has to be somewhat normal. This guy’s questions started getting a little too specific, slightly veering off the normal Q&A route. “What did you like about Puerto Rico?” What did I like? What am I going to say? “I liked the weather. I liked the people. I liked the food.” Bingo, that’s what he was looking for.

“Oh you like Puerto Rican food? I don’t. Not anymore. You see, I’m a vegan, I switched to a vegan diet about four years ago. I only eat potatoes, liquid yeast, string beans …” and this guy starts telling me his whole diet, how it cures every disease, how he’s going to outlive all of his friends and family members.

And it got weirder. The food talk lead to a one-sided conversation about genetically modified food, about the evils of the food conglomerate Monsanto, how they’re teaming up with the oil companies to keep us all enslaved. He told me to take out my phone so I could look up these documentaries that he kept mentioning every other second. I didn’t know what to do, so I just took it out and pantomimed the hand motions.

It was taking all of my effort just to act like I wasn’t in the middle of one of the craziest conversations of my life. He was going off about food, about aliens, about the second coming of Christ. Not knowing what else to do, I was still clinging to my guns, “Really? Wow. That’s unbelievable. Huh,” until finally he made a turn off the highway and there we were, right in front of the airport.

“Hey man, why are we at the airport? What about that restaurant?” and he kind of smiled, “Oh yeah, sorry guys, I guess I got a little caught up in our chat. Hold on, I’ll turn around,” and he made a u-turn, got back on the highway, and it was like bumper-to-bumper traffic. While we thought we had the whole day planned out by the minute, first we already lost like twenty minutes heading to the airport, and now we were supposed to wait in traffic, eat lunch, find another cab, and make it back in time to catch our flight?

“So where was I? You know Jesus only ate potatoes, in fact …” and I looked to my wife like, we can’t do this, we’re not going to be able to get lunch. “Hey buddy,” I told him, “look, I don’t think we’re going to have time for lunch anymore. You’ve got to take us back to the airport.”

He got quiet. “Now you’re telling me?”

Like this was all my fault. He was genuinely pissed off. “Yeah man, sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”

And we sat there in awkward silence as the car crawled toward the nearest exit, we got off the highway, back on in the opposite direction, and there we were. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I was acting too captivated by this guy’s theories? Maybe he thought he finally found a kindred spirit in all things insane? And then when I made him do that double u-turn, he realized that I didn’t really care?

I should have been like, don’t worry about the restaurant, or lunch, or even the flight. Please, continue, I want to hear more about how Monsanto hates the fact that you’re a vegan, or why weather patterns are really a trick played by extraterrestrials to keep us from seeing their ships fly overhead.

And it’s all because, what, because I have to be at the airport three hours before a flight? We’ve got to wait on the tarmac for an hour just so we can take off? And then stand around at JFK for another hour before that luggage conveyor belt even kicks into gear? More waiting. Another cab. More traffic. All of the sudden it’s midnight. Why am I so tired? How could a whole day have passed and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything? Again, I think about people travelling along a dirt road in a covered wagon, everybody coughing and wheezing with typhoid and dysentery, so yeah, I’m very, very spoiled. But come on, why does a four-hour plane ride have to be such a huge deal?

Airport adventures

I was flying back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. When I got to the airport, the airline offered me a couple hundred dollars to give up my seat to someone else. My eyes immediately rolled to the back of my head, my pupils replaced by dollar signs. OK, that didn’t really happen, but I definitely heard a “ch-ching” old-fashioned cash register machine sound. I hear it in my head. Yeah, I accepted.

I had to wait around a little longer, going backwards through security, having immigration unstamp my pass. Some random foreign country version of a TSA guy handed me a half-filled bottle of water, almost like the one they took away from me when I was going through, but I’m positive it was a different brand. Whatever, it was a nice gesture. Or a cruel joke. I was really thirsty, actually. They don’t let you bring water on the flight. Your mouth gets super dry from being in the airport and then breathing in the recirculated recycled air on the plane while you wait for the plane to take off, and then the flight attendant finally gets to you, and you want water so bad, but they just give you a tiny little plastic cup and then they disappear, no way to get any more, and so it’ll be just a huge tease, a momentary reprieve from your insatiable thirst, but not enough to really get some actual moisture back into your mouth, your nose, your sinuses, and besides, you always forget that international flights give out booze, and you go for that shot of whiskey, and if feels great for a minute or two, but even this slight buzz is a tease, because there’s more where that came from, but they’re drinking it all in first class. And now you’re really thirsty, and your mouth just tastes gross.

I waited some more and this awesome airline gave me straight up cash, terrific, a bonus, a nice little after-the-fact vacation discount, and they put me up in a ridiculously nice hotel. When the cab dropped me off, also comped, it was close to one in the morning. The front desk guy told me how sorry he was, that the kitchen was closed, that he could have somebody send up some sandwiches and fries and soda, and I’m just like, what? I didn’t order any food. And then I take a look at the hotel voucher and it said, “all meals included.” It was just getting better and better.

Even though I wasn’t hungry at all, and I was really tired, I felt bad saying no. Hotels this nice live to serve. I imagined me saying, “No thanks, I’m full, and tired,” to the front desk man, and he’d say back to me something like, “Very good, sir,” and I’d go up to my room, and he’d have to go to the kitchen to tell the chef, who started automatically making sandwiches as soon as I entered the hotel, who could’ve gone home when the kitchen closed like an hour ago, the desk guy has to tell him, “Sorry Chef. He’s not hungry.” And the chef looks down at his half-constructed meal and says, “Goddamn it all. What a waste. All for nothing,” as he throws everything in the trash and stomps out.

And the desk guy would be thinking something like, man, I wish I could have eaten that sandwich. But big hotels almost always prohibit this type of behavior, because they don’t want employees to get in the habit of constantly making “mistake” meals, and, oh well, if nobody’s going to eat it, I’ll take it. Why let a good meal go to waste? Why indeed. And the desk guy looks longingly at the trash, briefly considers going for it, it’s not even touching anything, and he’s starving, but this only lasts a second and he literally slaps himself out of it, storming out of the kitchen.

But as he heads back to his counter, who’s standing there but his boss. “What do you mean he wasn’t hungry?” the boss demands. “We aim to serve! Did you offer him something else? Complimentary robe? A discounted massage? Where is that pea-brained chef? Get him in here!” And the chef, who was almost at his car, gets called back inside and he and the desk guy spend the next forty-five minutes getting chewed out by the manager, a real crash course on customer service.

So I said yes to the sandwich. It was awesome. Definitely not just something thrown together. Melted cheese. Fresh lettuce. It was delicious. The fries were fresh-cut potatoes, not frozen. I can always tell the difference.

After a great breakfast, I made my way back to the airport, went and had my passport restamped, (“What is all of this unstamping and restamping business here?” said the customs official, not really interested in any response) gave the same half-bottle of somebody else’s water back to the same guy security guy who, I could tell just by the way he was looking at me was thinking to himself, touché. Damn it if I don’t like this guy’s style. And then I heard an announcement. It was the airline. They had overbooked my flight and were offering a couple hundred bucks to anyone willing to give up their seats.

And I thought to myself, I should totally do this. I should keep doing this. I should see how long I could keep this going. It’s already turning out to be more lucrative than my job back home, and I could spend more time writing stuff like this. But I can’t always find a good spot to charge my computer, so I’ll write it out by hand, like I’m doing right now, and then I’ll have to sit down and type it all out later, which I’m doing right now, which is mind-numbingly boring, and tedious, and a lot slower than you’d think, on account of my awful handwriting.

And then I thought, they can’t possibly keep putting me up at that five-star hotel every night. I get the first night, as a nice gesture or whatever, but that’s going to add up quick. Are they going to eventually make me stay in the airport? It would make it easier, like I wouldn’t have to keep entering and exiting and reentering security, stamping and unstamping, passing that bottle back and forth, which, I’m pretty sure that guy might have poisoned by now, just hoping I’ll take a sip in a moment of thirsty weakness.

And then I thought, that would be a great idea for a story, or a movie, about a foreigner who winds up living in an airplane terminal, having all sorts of wacky terminal adventures. I’d have to think of a clever name. But this thought only lasted for maybe five seconds. The idea was terrible. And plus, who would act in it? I’d have to find the biggest hack in Hollywood to sign up for a project so dumb.

I said, “no thanks” this time and got on the plane. Takeoff was delayed for like four hours due to unspecified technical difficulties, until finally they cancelled the flight. It took forever to get everyone off the plane, to get their luggage, rebook everyone’s flights. And nobody got any hundreds of dollars. Nobody except those people who gave up their seats before the flight got cancelled. I should’ve done that. I could’ve really gone for a sandwich right then, because I was on the plane forever, and there was no food or drink, and I was so hungry and really, really thirsty.