The terrorists have won. They've turned the once exhilarating adventure of airline travel into an excruciating ordeal. Between terrorists and Big Business, air travel is now an extreme sport.
Back in March I attended a conference in Seattle (and Bonnie came along, not realizing that travel was no longer fun) and I have never, ever had a worse travel experience, including the time I went on a 25-mile bike trip. (I know, what was I thinking?)
But the very act of getting from Philadelphia to Seattle without going insane was as extreme as it gets.
1. Liquids, gels and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers.
Rolled up toothpaste tubes are forbidden. Is a terrorist likely to commandeer a plane by strapping himself with Crest Whitening gel?
2. Liquids must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.
I can't seal ziplocks correctly with leftovers in them, so you can imagine how well I do trying to zippity do dah in front of armed guards.
3. Each traveler must place their plastic, zip-top bag in a bin for screening.
My shampoo gets an MRI and I get to toss my shoes, wallet, keys and phone into a bin and watch it get sucked into a black hole—while I step through the metal detector and get felt up by a security worker and her explosive detection device.
Those people have a tough job.. If they're looking for sweaty, suspicious-acting terrorists, we're all sweaty and suspicious, praying we'll get back to our valuables before somebody else does.
All this happens barefoot of course, ever since that goofy-looking schmuck tried to blow up a plane with dynamite in his shoes. Now we have to remember to spray Dr. Scholl's foot powder in the morning so we can get barefoot without causing a concourse evacuation.
I was relieved to read you can carry breast milk onto the plane. I've got to assume they mean outside the body. And all of a sudden Tweezers are okay again. The Homeland Security police must have been confronted by an angry mob of menopausal woman threatening to grow goatees on long flights.
Yet you'll be pleased to know, that while a whole list of things are banned from carry-on luggage, it's perfectly alright to carry spear guns, meat cleavers and ice axes in checked luggage. Look around when you get your bags off the carousel, you could be standing next to a psychopath wielding a meat cleaver.
Once harried travelers emerge from the strip-search it's time to run to the gate. If you stop to gaze at the Departure screen, don't take your hand off your luggage. Like the eternally looping announcement says, airport police can swoop in and detonate your unattended suitcase.
Hell, I am now forbidden from packing anything important anyway—just a magazine, my three ounces of toiletries and extra panties in case my checked luggage winds up some place other than I do. I can see them blowing up my carry-on and having to duck and cover from shards of The Advocate and exploding underpants.
So we get onto the plane and immediately everybody heaves their carry-on up into the over-heads. Of course, the man ahead of us clogs the whole boarding process by trying to stuff a bag the size of a cello over my head. Hey, Pablo, check the damn thing.
Then we notice that despite paying $44 each to purchase five extra inches of leg room we're still crammed in like sardines. Umm, we actually are flying united.
Then we get to savor the experience longer than scheduled because the plane's A/C goes up and until they fix it we're stuck enjoying the five extra inches (is this sounding smarmy to you, too?) for 45 extra minutes, packed in a stifling aluminum tube.
Finally we are airborne and listening to the flight attendant's instructions for grabbing our seat cushion to use as a flotation device should the plane ditch in the water. Hell, bending my arm to reach under my butt would shatter my right elbow on the window and my left on Bonnie's jaw. I'd have to float as I'd never be able to swim.
More survivable might be an emergency landing on terra firma. But Bonnie turns to me and says "How can we get into the crash position? On the way to putting our heads between our knees we'll knock ourselves unconscious on the seat in front of us."
Actually, it might be easier to put our heads between each others….um, I'll stop now...
Then the flight attendant comes by with the beverage cart but we're packed so tightly neither one of us can get our hands to our wallets without breaking a rib. So we settle for a free Diet Coke. As I raise the four ounce cup of liquid to my lips the guy in front of me tilts his seat back slamming me in the tits with the tray table and shooting the soft drink up my sinuses. Now that's snorting coke.
Did I mention we had middle and window seats with (what else?) a Sumo wrestler on the aisle? But you knew that.
Finally, we land some place in America's heartland, 45 minutes late for a connecting flight where the layover was supposed to be 55 minutes.
We go running down the concourse, tickets, I.D.s and chins flapping, gasping for air, screaming from shin splints, racing to the gate. Mercifully that flight was delayed by, I don't know, sunshine. We made it by a whisker. Thank God I had the tweezers.
The second flight was, if possible, more painful than the first, since we hadn't sprung for extra leg room. By way of contrast, Bonnie and I exited Seattle on a scenic train heading for Vancouver BC. It left and arrived on time, had roomy, comfortable seats and a dining car serving a full breakfast. The friendly porters had a delightfully quaint manner and provided a startling level of service. We might have been on the Orient Express.
Sadly, we didn't have a week for Amtrak to take us home. Fro was pretty much the same as To. Only instead of a cello a fellow passenger tried to stow what looked like a John Deere tractor in the overheads.
When I got home I happened upon the Extreme Sports Channel where they mentioned "a bunch of hardened riders busting their asses." I don't know what sport they were talking about but it could have been a 747 fuselage team.
Actually, I looked it up. An extreme sport is defined as any sport with a very high level of danger, often involving speed, altitude, and a heightened level of physical exertion. Such activities induce an adrenaline rush and the outcome of a mismanaged incident may be death.
Now I realize that statistics say flying as far safer than driving. That may be true, but these days, the extreme sport of air travel is less likely to induce an adrenaline rush and more likely to induce a persistent vegetative state. Fortunately, the outcome of a mismanaged cabin incident may only be your feet falling asleep and your torso getting torqued. But it sure ain't no fun anymore.
I'm off to New Orleans for a publishing convention. Let the extreme games begin...
Contact Fay at: FayJacobsrb@aol.com
Fay's website: www.FayJacobs.com
a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life
Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth,
and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir
and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.
Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor or A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.
She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.