Monday, October 29, 2012


I woke up at around four AM. I'm not really sure why. Between my Loveliest and I, lately, there's someone up at nearly every hour of the day at our place.

I spent the first twenty minutes of my morning lying in bed with random thoughts swirling around in my head. One recurring thought was about the likelihood of trouble in transit this week. So I got up and checked the east coast weather.

The problem isn't the weather per se, but the backlog of flights now that 9000 flights have been canceled, today through tomorrow. The Philadelphia airport is closed today. All flights are canceled by every US airline in and out of Newark, New York, DC, Baltimore...

And again, we're not going any of those places. We're going to Rochester, up on the Lake Ontario coast, where Hurricane Sandy will provide about 48 hours of constant rain. Given what's happened to Atlantic City already today, I'm hoping there's still enough Rochester above water to fly to.

But the main problem isn't in Rochester, it's in the airports. I'm not a good air traveler, I loathe and feel dehumanized by the non-place of an airport, the non-people of crew members, and the non-service they work so diligently to provide.* Perhaps we'll get lucky, and the airline employees and travelers will have gotten the mean spirit of Sandy's aftermath out of their systems. Perhaps flight schedules will have returned to normal by Wednesday afternoon when we're supposed to transfer at O'Hare.

I might be on east coast time before then. We do have to leave here a little after four AM Wednesday.


* I take these terms from George Ritzer's The Globalization of Nothing. "Nothing" is Ritzer's term for the placeless, featureless, ubiquitous crapola that global capitalism produces and sells so much of. RItzer's other concept, of "McDonaldization," helps explain how, where, and by whom "nothing" is produced and consumed. "Non-people" is a modification of Goffman's idea of a non-person, and the rest should be pretty simple to tease out.

My favorite bit is his account of the scripted interactions of non-persons during commercial exchange (i.e., overwhelmingly most of our daily, commodified interactions). It's one of the things about air travel that most offends me. Maybe I'm wrong, but when flight attendants start to run through the safety card information, their dead eyes unfocused on anything in particular, never making eye contact, I experience a sense of their icy hatred of every person in the plane. I believe we all know that the safety information is not for our safety, but that of the airline, specifically, from liability. (Remember when Southwest used to have "joke" safety information? That was just as offensive, because it was that gutless mild kind of writing that isn't actually humorous -- I'm sure they hired a writer from a sitcom on ABC Family Channel.)

Then there's the "in-flight service," a non-service in every way Ritzer talks about. It seems as though the typical non-service amounts to one 8-ounce plastic cup filled with off-tasting ice and a soft drink filled to the rim, per two hours of flight time. On flights over four hours, they sometimes provide a plastic bag containing 2 ounces of mini pretzels (approximately eight), and the smart airlines are now providing free stupefaction pacifiers television. As the plane lands and taxis, when they say "welcome to __" and "your final destination," and tell us to have a good day, I can tell they really mean "get the hell out of the plane so I can wash the dreck of your repulsive presence off of me," or, you know, words to that effect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a frequent flyer, I must say that I find it's actually pretty easy to break most airline personnel out of that "Non-person" persona they have on. A smile, a "how are you?" a non-standard order... Hot tea, for example, gives them a little break in the monotony of "ginger ale, please"...

Anyone genuinely seeming to appreciate their service will typically get you a real human surfacing fairly quickly.

I believe it is the dehumanization of them as individuals... and the vast majority of passengers seeing them as dispensing machines rather than actual people that causes them to freeze out their own humanity in the process.

Ummm... I think WAY too much about airline personnel when I am traveling, can you tell?

I also like to get names of nice people and write nice notes about them to the airlines. They usually get some kind of perk for that.