Chicken or pasta? There’s nothing quite like choosing between plastic this and plastic that to remind you: this is an airline meal. Oh. I shouldn’t mention that we got a meal. Can’t upset the BPI Squirrel. But really, Your Tuftedness … we were still hungry. And that was after we got into thin air…. (More)

Travel Notes, Part I – Into Thin Air

This week Morning Feature takes a thoughtful, serious, deeply reflective look at traveling. As. If. Today we’ll gripe about air travel. Tomorrow we’ll gripe about train travel. Saturday we’ll stop griping to note that we did get here and it could have been much, much worse….

First a note about….

Airport security

Keep searching … ooh … a little lower … a little to the right … no, up a bit … right there … now scratch please. I mean, while you’re feeling around and all that. When you hear a TSA employee call out “Oops! Joke’s on you!” then you’re either in serious trouble, or someone is in a good mood.

Fortunately, someone was in a good mood. She wasn’t talking to a passenger, but to a coworker. And when I said “Oh I wish I’d heard the start of that sentence,” she not only explained it but had all of us soon-to-be-passengers laughing too. I won’t go into details lest I unintentionally identify her and get her in trouble for not being Appropriately Serious. Which she was, but you know how bosses can be.

Admittedly we were all a bit more relaxed because the brand new multi-billion-dollar full body scanner thingie was broken. Didn’t work, but it looked like a prop from the SciFy network. Very cool. In both respects.

So security was very simple. Shoes and purse in the bin. Bin and tote on the belt. Wait for your turn to step through the metal detector. Smile pleasantly as she says the beep was someone else. Wait for bin and tote at other end of belt, feet cold, grateful there hasn’t been an Enema Bomber yet.

It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was the easiest I’ve seen since 2001. Not sloppy. Just sensible. And polite. And the TSA employee’s joke really was funny, but you’ll have to take my word for it. So then it was time for….

Sit. Run. Sit.

As everyone knows, you should get to the airport at least two hours before departure, to make sure you have plenty of time for check-in, security, and eating overpriced food at airport concession restaurants. As with stadium concessions, it’s nice to have a captive market. So we sat.

Then it was time to get on the plane. And sit.

The first flight was quick and easy enough. A short hop to another airport for the flight to Germany. Not really enough time to read, even. Just sit patiently.

Then run. Because of course we were late arriving, and our arrival gate is all the way at the end of This Concourse and our next departure gate is all the way at the end of That Other Concourse. So I ran.

Past the Ooh Starbucks and the Mmmhhh Smells Goods on This Concourse. Past another Ooh Starbucks and more Mmmhhh Smells Goods in the Central Terminal. Past yet another Ooh Starbucks and yet more Mmmhhh Smells Goods in That Other Concourse.

But at least I’d seen where they all were, so after we’d checked in I could get a coffee and a snack at random places – like an Ooh Starbucks and an Mmmhhh Smells Good – except … “We’re ready to start boarding….”

Oops. So onto the aircraft and then he arrived….

The Big Guy

And he was Big. Capitalized shoulders. Capitalized biceps. Capitalized thighs. All clear despite his uniform. “Please tell me you’re our air marshal,” I said as he squeezed himself into a seat almost wide enough for a squirrel.

“Not for this flight,” he said. “I’m going to visit a friend. Using one of my free trips.”

Oh well. Maybe we won’t need an air marshal. But if we did, I’d want The Big Guy. Just sayin’. Turns out he used to box for the military. And I don’t mean packing Christmas gifts. Which made what happened next all the more bizarre.

Like most airline employees taking free trips, The Big Guy had no assigned seat. He hoped for the end seat on our center row, but then The Sweet German Lady arrived. That was her seat. There was a middle seat in our row, but The Big Guy really should sit on the end if anyone else is going to sit in that row. And he knew it. So he looked around as the last passengers found their seats, and saw an open seat at the end of the row in front of us.

The Not Sweet German Guy didn’t like that. “You go back to your own seat!”

Really. He said that. To The Big Guy. Sigh.

“Did you pay for this seat?” The Big Guy asked, very politely.

“No. But you sit in your assigned seat,” The Not Sweet German Guy said. “Back there.”

The Sweet German Lady looked at us and sighed. We sighed too. “Macht nichts?” I whispered to her.

The literal translation is “It makes nothing,” but as a colloquial expression it means “No big deal” or, as a question, “Why make such a big deal about that?”

I leaned forward toward The Not Sweet German Guy and tried to explain. “He’s an airline employee. He has no assigned seat. He takes whatever seat is open.”

“Ja. He can sit back there.”

For the record, The Big Guy didn’t move. For the record, The Not Sweet German Guy either got over it or got quiet. For the record, we didn’t need an air marshal, but I was still glad The Big Guy was there.

And for the record, I chose the pasta. Both bites were tasty. But don’t tell the Squirrel….


Happy Thursday!