Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 27, 2010

Department of Redundancy Department

My job requires some traveling. I average about 30 takeoffs and landings a year. That doesn’t put me in the Platinum Flyers club, but it’s plenty. After ten or so flights in a few months, one has had about enough of it, and wishes that Engineering would get the transporters working again. Damn that Scotty!

By the way, I DO look at that “safety card in the seat pocket in front of me.” I recommend it. Figure out where the closest exit is. You won’t have time to figure it out if there’s an emergency: terror, noise, darkness. You might save your life and the lives of some people around you. It costs you nothing, and it’s about the only thing you can do to be in command of anything in that utterly passive environment. The OTHER reason to read the safety card is that it gives you the moral high ground to avoid paying attention to the “Safety Demonstration” by the flight attendants that you’ve seen every single time you’ve ever been on an airplane. Do not mistake me. I respect the fact that the reason that there are flight attendants is that they are people who have been trained in safety procedures and very well might help save lives if there is some mishap. If the airlines had them there just to pass out water and tomato juice (why do people drink tomato juice on airplanes? You never see them drink it anywhere else), they’d’ve been cut from the budget along with the free lunch and the pillows. They’re certainly not there to enforce the carry-on limitations or to lecture you that giving your kid an uncovered cup of orange juice is bound to result in him spilling it on the passenger next to him. They’re there because the FAA requires them, or they’d be be greeting you at Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, these poor souls have to deliver that Safety Presentation as well as all the other conventional bits of business over and over, day after day. It’s a representation of the old pilot’s adage about the routine of flying: a thousand hours of boredom interrupted by a moment of terror. For most of them, the tedium has taken hold. They recite the rote instructions so often that the words themselves creep into the very structure of the language they use. We’ll get to some examples in a minute.

Southwestern Airlines has drawn a devoted following, and one of the reasons was that their vivacious and iconoclastic attendants dared to mess with the script. You’d get very, very funny stuff from these people at the least expected moments. Unfortunately, the post-9/11 environment has done away with a lot of the jollity they were able to generate around flying. It’s now a serious business, and they’ve had to tone it down.

What we get are a series of programmed statements that show up in the oddest ways.

To begin, you’re in the “Departure Lounge.” That is a grand word for the big, crowded, noisy overheated area where everyone is edging toward the gate (it’s not a gate, it’s a doorway)  and probably left over from many decades ago. Then comes the first of the readings from the Holy Script of the Flight: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our boarding process.” Now, why aren’t we about to begin boarding? Why is it a process? It’s probably because some Human Traffic Engineer many moons ago came up with that phrase. No, we don’t merely board. We endure the Boarding Process. I suppose it makes it seem less like a Cattle Call Process or a Bum’s Rush Process, but not much.

Okay, so most of us are on the plane now, but a few of us are struggling up the aisle, waiting while Ms. Louis Vuitton Luggage stands in the aisle figuring out which of her oversize bags is most likely to fit in the overhead compartment. Apparently, this is her first time on an airplane, and she did not understand that Grandmother’s steamer trunk will not fit there. Nor did any airline employee step up to her and say, “Excuse me, you’re an idiot if you think you’re going to fit that mummy case on an airplane. Either I check it for you now, or you don’t fly.” They’re safety personnel, not life counselors, after all. We may pity the flight attendants, having to encourage us to fit one of our personal items (I’m sorry miss, don’t take that, this is a Personal Item) under the seats, when the dang-blasted airline has squeezed our seats so close together that one cannot reach down to place anything under the seat.

The senior member of the flight crew or the one with the least command of English has the microphone, advising us that if there’s no space for our life-sized statue of Elvis we’re bringing back from that cute little shop in Vegas, they’ll be glad to check it for us. They know in advance: a)how much space is on the airplane b) how many people are going to board. They could do something in advance, but, like good authority figures everywhere in every culture, it’s better to let people experience discomfort, then make them feel guilty about bringing it on themselves. It doesn’t change anyone’s behavior, but it does manage to make all the passengers unhappier than they are. Sharing the wealth, as it were.

Oh, and although I try not to be a crank about this, one thing that irritates me is the use of “momentarily” when one should say, “in a moment.” Momentarily means only FOR a moment. Therefore, it’s extremely disconcerting when the pilot announces that, “We’ll be airborne momentarily.” Oh no, buster. Once I’m airborne, I expect to stay airborne and maintain a persistent airborne state, preferably until we reach our scheduled destination.

Okay, so finally we’re all in our seats and they’re running through the Safety Demonstration. They explain how a seatbelt works. They have to. One assumes it’s a Federal rule. It probably made sense the first time I flew in 1971 when not every car in the known universe was equipped with seatbelts. Perhaps there are people aboard who have never ridden in a car, always used buses. They wouldn’t know how to use seat belts. This part is for them, and I get it, too.

And then we get to my very favorite part. When the doors close, we must cease using Approved Electronic Devices. We can use them later, but, for now, they are something like Approved, But Temporarily Out of Favor. Stand by for more on those Devices.

Once we’re in flight, we get the All Clear. We may NOW use Approved Electronic Devices. We should consult our in-flight magazine for a complete list of AEDs (opposite the page on which George Soros promises to reveal the secret of Getting Rich by selling the Secrets of Getting Rich to people who have not yet Gotten Rich). Those AEDs will be back when we land.

Eventually our master/mistress of ceremonies comes on the loudspeaker to tell us that the attendants will be passing through the cabin to toss out a few free sodas. “Passing though the cabin?” Uh, if I said to a colleague, “Hey, I saw Sylvia passing through the cafeteria,” they would assume that I had finally freaked out reading some 18thCentury novel or something. “Passing through the cabin,” indeed.

And now, as we can tell, we have begun our Final Descent into the Los Angeles Area. I don’t much like the phrase “Final Descent,” but I’ll let that one go. I also do not wish to descend into the Los Angeles Area. Let’s be a little more exact. I’d like to land on Runway 1A at Lost Angeles International Airport. Anything else is not likely to have a Happy Outcome. At this time, we’re advised we must put our tray tables into their Full Upright and Locked Positions. Uh, shouldn’t that be Fully Upright? How did they get to be Full Upright? Where in the heck does this stuff come from? Who talks like this?

We land. Thank god. Now, we are told, it is once again okay to use our Approved Electronic Devices. Better not let them catch you using an Unapproved Electronic Device. Don’t they ever get tired of that phrase? I can only assume that since it’s the latest phrase to enter the decades-long litany of stuff they’ve been reciting since airline travel began, they’re glad to have something relatively new to say. By the way, by my count, half of the time, when they tell us that we have landed in The Los Angeles Area where the local time is X, we either have a) actually landed in Salt Lake City or b) the time is one or two time zones east or west of there. Poor flight attendants. How the heck can they know where they are. They inhabit a world in which space and time are meaningless. It would make Rod Serling rush to the typewriter every time he flew. Maybe that’s where he got all that stuff.

And now, the coup de grâce. We’re taxiing, approaching the gate, and we all have our hands on our seatbelt releases (thank god they told us how they worked a few hours ago or we’d never get out of here) ready to spring into the aisle and carefully open the overhead compartment (because Items May Have Shifted in Flight, as they are wont to do). BUT, we get that cautionary announcement not to move too soon. We must Wait Until the Pilot Has Turned Off the Seatbelt Sign. THAT will be our one and only indication that it is safe to move about the cabin. One and only indication? What about the fact that the foul-smelling individual next to me is climbing over me? Is THAT an indication?

I like traveling, or at least I used to, before I spent so much time worrying about getting the TSA Drill Process right. I respect the flight attendants. I wish their jobs weren’t so rote and so full of repetition. I miss the old Southwest days when someone would come on and say something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re glad to welcome  you to the Los Angeles area, and if this isn’t your final destination, maybe you’ll get lucky anyway. Just don’t try it with the flight crew. They’re mean and they’re expensive.”

© 2012 Brad Nixon

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Responses

  1. I was literally was laughing my socks of reading this. I read some of it out loud to a few of my colleagues and it made them laugh to.

    So recognizable.

    One little note: You forgot the meals ….. or thats what they call them. I actually mean that stuff you can fill your stomach with so that it stops rumbling for a few hours.

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  2. _ “Louie, Louie” _

    A few years ago, I was a witness to two incidents involving air travellers carrying Louis Vuitton luggage. Both incidents originated from Paris, but in different trips there. Each was satisfying to me in its own unique way. As will be seen, French air travel personnel do not suffer fools lightly, especially snotty, snobbish Parisian ones with high-priced luggage.

    No. 1. Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. The luggage check-in line. Ahead of me are a well-heeled Parisian couple, trailing behind their Louis Vuitton luggage. Steamer Trunks. REALLY BIG LUGGAGE, being wheeled in on something that looks like a double-wide building materials cart you see at Home Depot. Bags piled 6′ high. At least. (Or should I say, about 9 meters high?)

    These hideously expensive bags are well protected, of course. By layers of plastic wrap. No, not that sissy stuff that wraps your newspaper on a rainy day. Heavy grade, industrial sheeting, round and round, and bound with layers of duc tape. If you could wrap a battleship in this sheeting, incoming torpedoes would bounce off of it.

    Apparently, the couple must have believed that if they showed up with a seemingly impregnable luggage fortress, airport personnel would be too intimidated to dare to attack it. Yeah, sure, just wave it through. Pass the inspection, right? (Or, perhaps the couple was of aristocratic descent and they were anticipating preferential treatment. Hey, all that ‘Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite’ junk — who needs it anymore, right? Let them eat cake. “Just let us go through, we’re special.”) Sorry, ain’t gonna happen, Jacques.

    At the onset of World War I, the Belgians believed that their fortress at Liege was impregnable, too. The Germans had an answer. Big Bertha. Impregnable fortress today, rubble tomorrow. Well, the French airport inspectors had seen it all before. They were ready with an answer to the luggage fortress. Out came the razor-sharp, precision-tooled Lagioule knives. Best in the world. (French, of course!) Cut through a diamond like butter.

    One nice surgical slash across the front of the bags and – voila! – no more luggage cover. Guess the ‘Louies’ might suffer a scuff or two on their way across The Pond.

    No. 2. Air France 747. Passengers getting on board and being seated. I’m at a window seat on the right and one row behind the row of seats fronting the restrooms in the middle of the cabin. There is enough space in front of that row in front of me to put the Space Shuttle. But there’s also a space between the seat in front of me and the interior fuselage wall to the right, so I stretch out my legs a bit.

    A young French woman dressed to the nines then takes the seat in front of me. (Perhaps she’s lost and was on her way to a fashion shoot.) She has a couple of ‘tres precious’ Louis Vuitton bags with her. They need protection. More than her own life. She ignores the cavernous space between her seat and the restrooms. Someone might actually brush across her bags if they were so exposed in the open. Quel désastre! Can’t risk it. So she puts them to her right side and in the space that my legs WERE attempting to occupy.

    Being in that space first does not count with Miss Priss. I withdraw my legs, my leg space paradise now apparently gone. Miss Priss’ bags are now properly protected from any microbes that might filter down from the air nozzles above.

    I say “apparently.” Perhaps I should have said “momentarily.” An Air France Steward is walking up the main aisle. He spots Miss Priss’ bags strategically wedged along the wall (taking up what was once my valuable leg space). He turns right and walks across Miss Priss’ aisle cavern toward the bags along the wall.

    No need for social niceties or diplomatic protocol (“Mademoiselle, would you kindly move your luggage so that Monsieur behind you may have some leg room?”). No, no words from the Steward to Miss Priss. Instead, WOOSH! Up and out go the bags, to somewhere in bag purgatory.

    I really like Air France.

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    • Great stuff! We have to find out more about these Lagioule knives: something I didn’t know. 6 feet is 2 meters, mais une bagatelle. Magnifique!

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      • Meters, yards, feet. Right. This is what happens when you write at the office at the end of the day and you’re in a hurry to leave and get to the gym before the gym closes at 7:00.

        BTW, did you get the double entendre of “Louie, Louie?” Don’t know if it was a little too obscure. You have to have been a 60’s child to know it.

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      • Please! LHS auditorium, 1966, band plays Louie Louie. 6 times.

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      • I should have known better. But playing it once was enough, I’m sure!

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  3. Great piece, Brad! Like you, I’m glad I don’t have to do those repetitive things every day. It is bad enough to have to experience them once a month or so. Very comical and cleverly written. Thanks again.

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    • Roger, thanks. Just let me say that whenever I’m on a plane and there’s some turbulence, I hope that there’s some cool vet who landed jets on aircraft carriers in the dark in the middle of a war zone, like you, up in that cockpit.

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