“If you bring too much liquid, the TSA confiscates it and throw it away, in case it’s a bomb. So they throw it away. In case it’s a bomb. In the garbage can, right next to them. With all the other possible bombs. In the area with the most amount of people. In case it’s a bomb.”
Believe it or not, there once was a time when air travel was fun, convenient and affordable. Obviously, 9/11 was the big event that engendered the avalanche of safety regulations so that to walk further than 50 feet into the terminal one must obtain a low level security clearance. We are all aware of the hassles, scandals and shortcomings of the TSA, and airport security has been an intrusive, semi-rapey enterprise for about 15 years, so we’re not going to rehash criticisms of the TSA. Though their methods and policies are egregious, and border on the surreal, there are a few other absurd and annoying aspects of air travel that we’ll rail against instead. Since this screed is about the stupid things about air travel, we’ll try our best to avoid lapsing into hacky stand-up comedian mode.
We flew from Newark Liberty International Airport down to Orlando International Airport the weekend of May 7. We flew United. Now, back in the old days, the air waitress would show how to buckle your seatbelt, affix the respirator to your mug, and fit the flotation device around your shoulders. Nowadays, there are little TVs embedded in the backs of seats, so you can watch an eleven minute long video that shows you how to do all the same things it used to take the air waitress two minutes to demonstrate by hand.
One of the first things we noticed about our flight was that all of the air waitresses on our flights were in fact waiters. Now, back in the old days, air waitresses were female, usually attractive and pleasant. Our flight attendants (this early example of politically correct language has always been infuriating because everyone on an airplane is attending a flight, regardless if they are pilots, passengers or air waitresses) were all stern looking men. And no, they weren’t all gay; most likely they were just guys who only made it through a few semesters of county college, since a degree is not necessary to serve drinks at 32,000 feet. We don’t know if it was just the luck of the draw that everyone in the flight crews were dudes, or if it’s a new United policy, but we’re leaning towards the latter, for a few reasons.
The first reason is because they have stronger upper bodies with which to help passengers by punching, shoving and head-butting their luggage into the overhead compartments, a bona-fide occupational requirement. See, nobody wants to pay $25 a bag anymore, so passengers want to bring their luggage on board with them, and will punch, shove and stomp their bags (the kinds with handles and wheels that common sense dictates should be checked) into the bin at the gate to prove to the boarding pass scanner that “No, no, it fits, really! Wait, hold on, if I turn it this way, and stomp on it a few times, it’ll fit, hold on, hold on…see?! See?! It fits!”
We would like to commission a study to analyze the economic costs of the per bag fee. There’s no way the airline is making an extra $25 off every passenger. We’re assuming less than half of a flight’s passengers are actually checking luggage. It’s probably like how the government actually collects less revenue when enforcing higher tax rates. Now, back in the old days, it didn’t take that long for passengers to disembark. Now it takes forever, because every passenger has to try to remove their bags from the overhead compartment, which are packed tighter than sardines. Some of the passengers are tall and strong enough to remove their bags, but most seem to need help to retrieve their belongings. But any help they receive will be from kindly fellow travelers, as the air bros stand in a line by the plane door. How many people miss connecting flights because it takes forever to get off the plane, and/or find delicate items in their bags have broken because the bags have been punched, shoved and head-butted with such force into the compartment?
The second reason for the all dude flight crew relates back to the safety video we are forced to watch. The pre-flight safety video is the only time what is playing on the TV can be heard without the aid of headphones. It is played very loudly over the PA, and you can’t look away from the screen, because the air bros, who station themselves at intervals down the aisle like sentinels, glare at you if you do. Glance away from the screen a second time, and they rap your knuckles with a ruler. Look away a third time and you are escorted off the plane. It’s sort of like being under the scrutiny of standardized test monitors in high school. This coercive, soft bullying tactic works only with a male, slightly pockmarked and facial-hair-decorated face. It’s hard to be afraid of a beautiful woman.
Which leads us to the most annoying part of the flight: the video that precedes the safety video. In this video, United extolls its affirmative-action hiring practices – specifically for women — which is ironic considering its new air waiter instead of air waitress policy (MEN CAN BE MARGINALIZED TOO AND THEY HAVE FEELINGS!). United has female pilots, female baggage handlers and female mechanics. United hires women to wear hearing protection and wave those little orange lightsabers out on the tarmac. United has female corporate officers, and oh my god, can you believe it, but once there was a flight where everyone on board was female, from the pilots, to the air waitresses, to the passengers! Doesn’t it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy to know that United hires women? All that was missing from this video was a cameo by Mitt Romney where he delivers the line “We have airplanes full of women!”
We’re not sure why United feels the need to tell their passengers about the gender makeup of their staff. United’s self-congratulation is borderline pathological. At best it is obnoxious, and at worst, delusional.
But as consumers, if we are going to be forced to watch a video before takeoff, it should inform us of United’s safety record; its prices as compared with other carriers; how often their flights are early, on time and late; or the last time an air waitress lost her mind and released the emergency slide for no reason whatsoever, or the last time a CEO had to resign amid corruption allegations.
Moreover, this type of “marketing” is a prime example of how business transactions are no longer permitted to be just that. We as consumers are coerced into diverting our attention from analyzing whether we are receiving a quality service proportionate to the funds allocated for such; when engaging in what ought to be a very simple trade transaction, we are now supposed to consider whether the company from which we are purchasing a product or service is sufficiently politically correct, eco-friendly, and supportive of charities and non-profit organizations devoted to furthering social justice in its various forms.
In a few years, we predict that when you go to expedia.com or some other trip planning website, you’ll be able to sort your prospective flights by the gender breakdown of their staff. Do other airlines have videos where they brag about how many African Americans, Hispanics, or Syrian refugees they employ? Companies within industries are always finding new ways with which to compete against one another, but this sort of competition won’t lead to lower prices for consumers.
And what is United Airlines expecting we passengers do after watching their “We hire women!” video? A slow clap? Eyes wet with tears? Shouts of “Bravo! Author! Author!”?
What United Airlines fails to consider is the following: from the consumers’ perspective, how does an affirmative action hiring policy benefit them? Will consumers receive a better service, more economical service, and/or a more competently executed flight? How is it in the consumers’ rational self-interest to have an airline full of women? This is an example of ideological altruism.
The background music for United Airline’s self-congratulatory ad happened to be “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. Alice was particularly offended that the airline did not make an attempt to find music composed by a woman. And Gershwin was a Jew, which is not recognized as an officially protected minority group. Oh, United. So close, yet so far. Kinda dropped the ball on the background music composer, didn’t you?
We don’t care whatsoever of the sex of the people getting us from point A to point B. The pilots, air and ground crews can be men, women, trans people, citizens, illegal aliens, space aliens, or even Democrats. Just get us to our destination safely, and bring us our $9 alcoholic beverages.
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