To Air is Human 

Pondering the inanities and inconveniences of modern travel.

I prefer to stay close to home during Toyotathon and avoid the throngs of holiday travelers scampering away for quality time with grandparents, in-laws, and other loved ones. But responsibilities at my day job called me to the friendly skies just as Happy Honda Days were heating up.

I arrived at Memphis International Airport way early for my connecting flight to Orlando to allow myself plenty of time to endure the TSA cattle call and hoof it to the Starbucks in Terminal B. At the gate — the very last one in the terminal — I discovered I not only was one of the few solo travelers, I was one of the only ones not wearing a monogrammed outfit announcing my impending visit with Mickey and his friends.

I wanted to be excited for the kids in their princess dresses and personalized mouse ears. But I was annoyed that the "quickest" route to DC takes me 850 miles south of there, and frankly, the children were no more chipper than I was. Their T-shirts said "Happy" but their attitudes were repping Grumpy. And why not? They know. Even when the Magic Kingdom is the destination, the journey is two hours in an oversized Pringles can with way too many humans crammed inside. Think about it. Technology and innovation have made our lives easier in so many ways. Yet air travel remains expensive and dumb.

click to enlarge WISCONSINART | DREAMSTIME
  • Wisconsinart | Dreamstime

We've all heard the reason we have to remove our shoes in the TSA line: the "shoe bomber," right? Richard Reid, the would-be terrorist, didn't actually blow anything up. First, he tried to board a flight from Paris to Miami. Authorities pulled him aside because he looked unkempt and he didn't check any bags on an international flight. They ended up delaying his flight a day. So he came back, boarded the plane, and guess what he did? A flight attendant followed a smoky smell right to him, with a lit match and his shoe in his lap. It didn't detonate because the fuse was too wet. Sweaty feet save lives.

Instead of banning matches, the newly created Transportation Safety Administration implemented random shoe checks. We didn't start having to take off our shoes and place them in bins until 2006. Maybe the shoe industry should hire a lobbyist away from the NRA to help put an end to the ridiculous practice that unfairly vilifies footwear. After all, those guys are masters at changing the subject when a crisis necessitates new regulations. Shoes don't kill people! Good guy with a shoe? Whatever.

And the full-body scanners are so powerful they can see your cells, but I still have to take my computer out of my backpack? Right. Rarely am I as grateful for MEM's relative chillness as when I'm chasing my belongings down a conveyor belt. But hey, at least I can use my phone as my boarding pass now!

I followed the news about the Atlanta airport power outage with great interest. Every time I've been there, I've cursed whoever at Delta decided nobody can go anywhere without first visiting ATL. I've wondered how it can get worse, with its trams and Kilimanjaroesque escalator. We got our answer: an electrical fire that brought the entire operation to its knees with terrifying ease. As if airports don't already bring out society's worst impulses, see what happens when it's dark, the complimentary wireless internet doesn't work, and folks have no business being in Atlanta in the first place.

Traveling can be fun! But travel almost always sucks. The stress of flying makes people act like idiots. It's the only explanation I can muster for the tendency for passengers to stand up and rush the counter the moment the gate agent starts speaking. As if jumping up when they call for Diamond Elite Business Plus is going to make the plane take off faster. Everybody knows the plane's probably overbooked and we're all just holding out for enough vouchers to consider a later flight. So get comfortable with me and the other Budget Economy Bucket Seat travelers because this is going to take a while.

Inevitably, these will be the same flyers who spring from their seats in row 209 as soon as the wheels hit the ground and the seat belt indicator goes dark. Or worse, the ones who clap their hands as if to congratulate the pilot for maneuvering a 20-year-old 737 through some clouds above Baltimore. They're just on edge because they paid a small fortune for a terrible-to-mediocre experience that went about as well as they hoped it would. Aside from health care, and that's a tirade for another day, where else is the ratio-of-cost-to-experience-quality so unbalanced?

Jen Clarke is a digital marketing specialist and an unapologetic Memphian.

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