Nothing special in the air, part 2

February 24, 2016

Last time I  was discussing the advantages, which are too numerous to list, of foreign over American airlines. Let me continue.

On my China Airlines flight from Taipei to San Francisco, the only real problem was the risk of sleeping through one of the free meals. Free meals?!  If you fly only within the states, the phrase elicits only tearful, fading memories of travel in the 20th century. If you wonder where those free meals went, I have the answer:  they went to Asia, and Europe, and Africa.

On the China Airlines flight, there were two full meals and one snack. And whatever we wanted to drink, in unlimited quantities. Free. After the second meal, one of the flight attendants walked up and down the aisles with a bottle of wine in each hand, freely pouring red or white for anyone who held out a plass. I’m certain she would have poured it directly into my mouth if I’d offered it up.

Aside:  That wasn’t a typo. “Plass” is a word I invented several years ago, when I realized that we needed a word to refer to a generic plastic drink vessel. It’s not a glass, because it’s not made of glass, and it’s not a cup, because it doesn’t have a handle and may be too large to be considered a cup. It’s a plass. It hasn’t made it into any dictionaries yet, only because not enough people are using it. What are you waiting for?

On the JetBlue flight from San Francisco to Boston, I got a tiny cup of orange juice and a 0.9-ounce bag of pretzels. For a few bucks I could have gotten a can of soda.

I know, it’s just economics. Or is it? Could it instead be that every American airline is controlled by sadistic sociopaths? Recall that it took action by the federal government several years ago to end the airlines’ practice of holding passengers hostage on the tarmac for four, six, eight hours or more, with no food, no water, no functioning toilets, and no chance to leave the plane for any reason. These people should be killed. Should we really be surprised that they don’t offer their customers free meals and drinks?

But enough about the airlines; let’s talk airports. In the Hanoi and Taipei airports, the wi-fi was lightning fast. In the San Francisco airport, on the doorstep of Silicon Valley, it was like having a bad dial-up connection. Still, I counted my blessings, because it’s only in the last year or two that one could count on free wi-fi at an American airport. Maybe we need to reconsider the definition of a third-world country.

Aside:  I realize the airlines don’t own the airports. Still, I have to believe they could exercise some influence.

Next issue:  comfort. Suppose you’re stuck in an airport for six hours, it’s 2:00 a.m., you’ve already been traveling for 18 hours, and you’re dying for some sleep. If you’re in Hong Kong, or Hanoi, or Luang Prabang, or Tokyo, or Zurich, or any of the other overseas airports I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, the solution is simple:  stretch out across three seats and take a nap.

If you’re in Boston, or San Francisco, or Newark, or any airport in the United States that I’ve visited in the last 20 years, you don’t have this option, because you will not find two seats anywhere in the airport without a fixed armrest between them. You can’t fit your body under the armrests (I’ve tried—and if I can’t do it, no American adult can), and you can’t bend around them. It is simply not possible to lie down anywhere, except on the floor.

This is unfathomable. If it were a matter of cost, I would understand, but surely chairs with armrests are not cheaper than those without; if anything, they are probably more expensive. Why, then, are they used in every American airport?

I am not a frequent flyer by any means; there are millions of Americans who spend more time in airports than I do. Presumably many of them have noticed this, and surely some have complained about seeking comfort in terminals that appear to have been designed by Dick Cheney and John Yoo. The failure to respond can only indicate contempt. The people who operate airports actually hate their customers.

As it turns out, there is someone who keeps track of this stuff. Go to the “Sleeping in Airports” website to find the list of best and worst airports in the world. Would you like to guess how many American airports make the top ten? If you said anything other than “none,” you’re dreaming. At the top of the list is Singapore (where, as it happens, I once spent a night—I was stranded not by airline incompetence, but by civil unrest that had closed the airport at my destination, Bangkok). The Singapore airport, along with several others on the list, has not only armrest-free seating, but relaxation areas with reclining lounge seats. The thought of it would make an American airport manager spit out his coffee.

I don’t need reclining lounge seats. I think I’ve made clear on more than one occasion that I consider comfort dangerous, and luxury evil. But I also find it troubling that airport designers go out of their way to make their accommodations as painful as possible. What did their parents do to them?