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Adventures in Air Travel
2004-12-1 - 11:22 a.m.

During this past Thanksgiving week, I decided to go visit a friend of mine in Atlanta to help him get his business going. It's a hell of a long drive, so he offered to fly me out. Not wanting to spend a dozen hours in the car battling with traffic, missed exits and fading radio stations, I gladly accepted the offer.

I traveled to Atlanta on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the flight was quite uneventful, but in a good way. When I got to the Dulles airport (my departure airport), I don't think that I had ever been in an airport that empty in my life. And in my former life as a computer consultant, I did a fair bit of air travel. While I was thankful (before Thanksgiving, even!) that I didn’t have to deal with a crush of people on my trip to Atlanta, I quietly harbored the fear that the return trip, on one of the busiest air travel days in the United States, was going to be a royal pain.

But what the hell, I don’t have to worry about that for another week, right?

My friend is a great guy, and he and his girlfriend are excellent hosts. I had a great time during my visit, and we even had quite a bit of success with getting his business going. We spent a lot of long hours working on his business, and things came together pretty well. Aside from not getting much sleep, it was a wonderful vacation.

And then came the return trip.

When my buddy dropped me off at the airport, it was packed, as expected. So I put on my patience pants, and tried my best to be civil.

It is at this time that I would officially like to offer to kiss, full on the mouth Larry King-Marlon Brando style, the folks that came up with the idea of the airline ticket kiosk, where I only have to punch in my travel confirmation number, and it gives me my boarding pass. This saves me a ton of “standing in line” time. I absolutely love it.

So getting my boarding pass was done, and I started my journey to my gate. I had arrived at the airport extra early, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving travel day being a major pain, so I knew that I would have a long time to wait. No problem, I had books and magazines to read.

On the way to my gate I passed the Smoker’s Aquarium. I’m certain that there is a much more endearing name for it officially, but I think that I’ll stick with Smoker’s Aquarium. I could smell the place at least thirty yards before I got to it, and when I looked inside, I briefly wondered if I had instantaneously developed glaucoma. It was hard to see the occupants of the Smoker’s Aquarium because of the haze. And the most brilliant part of the Aquarium? There’s no door on it, just an open, door-sized hole. So the smoke was escaping into the rest of the concourse anyway. Brilliant design. I keep walking, and it’s at least 30 yards later before the cigarette smell begins to dissipate.

Walking past one of the numerous “newsstand” shops, I decide to stop in to see if there are any new magazines that I’d like to read. As I’m looking around the magazine rack, I notice the large section of “gentleman’s magazines” on the very top rack. Which begs two questions: 1) Is it difficult for midgets to buy porn? 2) What kind of guy buys “Swank” or “Hustler” for a relaxing “read” on an airplane? I, personally, would be far too embarrassed to sit on a plane and “read” such a magazine. And I don’t want to be the next guy in the lavatory after one of these “gentlemen”.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-porn. Whatever gets you through the night. Or your lunch break.

I get to my gate, and I see the folks that think that sitting in one seat, while occupying the seats on either side of them with baggage and jackets, is a perfectly acceptable proposition. Come on folks. On the busiest travel day of the year? A little consideration, please. Still I found a seat for myself, sat down and started reading. The hours and minutes spun away, and soon it was time to board the plane.

And this is when traveling Hell began.

I’m fairly certain, after my extensive time spent in airplane passenger seats, that the airline industry designed the width of the airplane seat to the exact width of the average American ass. However, they did this last in 1961. As Americans, we have expanded, under the watchful and caring eye of the McDonald’s corporation, to a considerably larger ass width. Our new butts don’t fit so well in airplane seats anymore. I think that the airline industry may realize this, and they mean to punish us for being such a fat-assed lot. They do this by keeping the seats narrow, and removing all of the padding in the seat, ensuring that your back will hurt, your legs will go to sleep, and the guy next to you will always get the armrest.

On this particular flight, the guy next to me (the one that was using the armrest), smelled like tomato soup. And I would be okay with that, if I thought that any of the restaurants in the airport actually sold tomato soup. But tomato soup does not seem to be a big item at McDonald’s, Cinnabon, or ESPN Sports Zone. Or even the shoeshine stand. You might suggest that I was hungry, and that’s why I thought that he smelled like tomato soup. But I would counter that since it was a human being that smelled like tomato soup, that made me decidedly not hungry. I even refused the “gourmet pretzels” when they were brought around. I don’t know what medical condition would make you smell like tomato soup, and I’m not certain that I want to know.

And of course there was also the 11-year old kid kicking the back of my seat, which is even more annoying, since the padding was thoughtfully removed from the seat. And he was making some weird whistling-sucking noise that at first I hoped was a choking noise. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-children. I’m just anti-seat-kicking-children.

After we landed at our destination, everyone immediately stands up to wait a really long time. It’s not that they think they are getting out of the plane anytime soon. They’re just tired of sitting on seats without padding, and trying to get the blood flow back into their legs. They then open the overhead storage bins, so that they can be hit in the head by all of the luggage that was stuffed in by passengers that confuse the concept of “carry on” luggage to mean anything, of any size, as long as it looks like it could fit inside of the plane.

So, I make it off of the plane, and start to head to baggage claim to get my suitcase. It is at this point that I discover that I contain a power that I did not know I had. I evidently possess some form of magnetic aura that draws people into my path. Everyone seems to be mysteriously drawn in front of me as I walk, so that I have to slow down not to run in to them. This also seems to work on people that are reading departure/arrival monitors, people standing against walls, and people at the baggage claim carousel. Taxi cabs, to my experience, are immune to my newfound power.

After forty-five minutes, I get my suitcase, and head for my car. Inexplicably, my trip home, even though it entails driving the 495 beltway around Washington DC, is uneventful. And when I get home, I’m able to finally take some ibuprofen painkillers to fight the headache that I’ve been nursing for the past five hours.

And I’m really hungry. But definitely not for tomato soup.

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