February 7, 2009

The Secret Morlock in Seat 3d

Recently, on a plane....

I fly a fair amount, and the whole business of commercial aviation is built on the idea that people who fly like I do are to be catered to.  I flew some 150k miles last year. I've been doing this kind of flying long enough to know that while I am not the ultimate ice cream and cake dream of the airlines,  I am likely the bread and butter of the 'business flyer' that matter so much to the powers-that-be at the various airlines. 

If you'd like to be catered to similarly by an airline, you have to fly like I do or you'll have to pay for the higher classes of flight. Lets consider United Airline's passenger hierarchy. If you steal a look at the passenger manifest that the attendants carry around, you'll find that there is a collection of asterisks next to each passengers name. They go something like this:

*: Lucky to get oxygen, pays for everything, includng a quarter for use of the restroom. Not allowed on the plane, or dropped off midway, sans parachute , early in the flight to save fuel. 

**: Reluctantly allowed on the plane. Luggage lost and lucky for it, passenger comes out wiser know that they should have opted to fed-ex the luggage, no utensils save the straw on the collectively shared human sized gerbil water bottle. 

***: Premiere Executive, Premiere Associate. Luggage only lost once or twice a year, minor back surgery needed if used internationally, but not domestic, so rejoice! No knives, 1 spork allocated per 5 adult passengers. 

****: 1k, the healthy balance between excessive upper atmosphere radiation exposure and deep vein thrombosis. Drinks served in glassware, real utensils, plastic knife.

*****: Global Services, massages made available to avert said DVT. Divorce attorneys provided gratis. Knives are often delivered with extra stabbing parts, in case you'd like to hunt economy passengers for sport.

And note that paying for first class means you trump, for that flight anyhow, the *****s.

This means that literally if you have ***** and the choice is presented between the chicken, beef or pasta, and you want pasta, but the pastas have been claimed by a bunch of low life ****'s , the attendants will go back to the lower caste member and tell them that they made a mistake and to choose another entree. 

So what happens when the airline caste system meets the needs of a woman's bladder, a man of low, base, tendencies, weather and a delay in opening up the restrooms? 

I'll tell you the answer to the above question now....BLOGGABLE HUMOR! 

An Aside: Whoa! I think that was Leon Panetta is sitting behind me on the flight in which I'm writing this. I wonder what he thinks of the caste system on planes. How weird is it that I recognize him? Of course I first thought he was Norm Mineta, but that's just because their names rhyme. But I digress....

I was sitting in one of United's aging 757s on a domestic trip somewhere. It had been a bumpy-ish flight and so it took some time for the pilot to loosen the restraints on the economy minus (well, if you have economy plus, that makes the rest as best 'economy origin' or economy minus, right?) and other more important passengers. 

Everyone pops up to attend to their particular evacuative business, leaving a longish line in the back and a steady stream (goodness, no pun intended) of people to the front of the plane, some (*gasp*) crossing the becurtained barrier between unclean subhuman and first class. 

Now, the folks handling the first class Eloi don't like it when Morlocks come to the front of the plane, but they generally don't make a big deal of it, and in the case of women and children, they turn a blind eye to the practice of Morlock promotion in the service of humanity being able to pee. 

But, when that seat belt light ignites, well, then it is time for all of god's Morlocks to settle back into their appointed racks, and contemplate the role of microeconomics in their own personal comfort. But....and let me put this gently...sometimes people gotta do numbers 1 or 2. 

A couple walks to the front of the plane to use the restroom, pushing aside the curtain (*gasp*!) to use the un-lined lavatory at the front of the plane. 

"Sir, please return to your seat."

"She needs to use the bathroom," he says, indicating his significant other, whom we shall assume is his mate. You see, in the lower castes, mating is often accompanied by displays of bravado against those wearing the scarves of authority. 

"Okay, but after the seat belt sign is off."

"It just turned on, she needs to use the restroom, so go on, honey", he motions her to the front. 

"Sorry sir, you'll both need to go sit down."

The plane gave a well timed ker-thumpy nudge to accent the need for the couple of sit back down. Whomever was in the restroom emerged and sat down, in seat 2b (If I remember correctly I was in 3d)

"There, he's done, now can she go.", more agitated now.

The plane nudges with a bit more determination.

An Aside: my side neighbor on this flight I'm on while writing this? A congressman. Did I mention I'm flying to DC? Man, these people need privacy screens. I mean for cripe's sake people, they're $90 and its 2009, if you can afford to pay Microsoft to use outlook, you can be a bit more discreet. Course these are printouts that are being read by said congressman, and I've always been an advocate for transparency in government, and if that starts with a dude like me in seat 3b, then great......oops, where were we?

"Sir, you'll need to sit down, now.", said the attendant to the drunk dude. I'm assuming he's drunk, I didn't smell anything, nor did he spontaneously vomit up rum and cokes , so take that with a grain of salt, or ipecac, or whatever. 

"Listen, God, what's wrong with you, she needs to use the bathroom and its open, Jesus.", he said, his Girlfriend/Mate/Spose/SO was visibly embarrassed.  For the record, she was -not- doing the peepee dance. 

"Come on , Tom, lets just go back.", she said, and I'm totally making up the names now,"I can wait. Comeon..."

"No, this is bullshit Karen. Here!", he says as he whips out his wallet, "Here, what'll it take? $40? $60?" At this point 'Tom' is waggling his money in the attendant's face. 

"Sir. Sit down, now.", the attendant, who we'll call 'Pinky Carruthers' said. 

'Tom'  began to protest the lack of bribe taking when the plane gave another shimmy, this time awfully forcefully, 'Karen' walks away, leaving her brave, likely inebriated, soldier standing there waggling his yuppie food stamps in the air, and the attendant continues, "Before I call the pilot, who might have something to say about this!"

He gave up at the point and, his entertainment value having totally petered out, walked back to 'lower back pain enhancement' class where he likely sat in ignoble steaming anger.

If you think about it, the whole notion of a caste system on planes is diametrically opposed to the efficient passenger loading strategies that are oft bandied about in the travel oriented press. Whether you are an 'alternating row window first' loading aficionado or a 'A B C' southwestian, none of these can withstand the introduction of a self important caste of system disrupters. I've personally favored a system that allows people with children then  the aged and disabled. All further seats should be satisfied through pre-boarding mortal combat. Let that seat which you feel belongs to you be earned through skill with the blade, the mace or the pistol. Damn airport security of course, will limit us to laptop oriented combat. That my laptop is made of magnesium is little comfort when confronting my unibody enhanced opponents.

Seriously, though, I've ridden economy plenty, and I think that if the belts light hadn't come on, and the rules against lines in front of the cockpit didn't exist they would have been happy to accommodate her. But , in the end, trying to bribe a fight attendant? That's just nuts. 

Especially with a mere $60.


HABIRU Edo said...

AdSense decided that the number one ad to serve to me for your blog on airline classes was pitch for toilet partitions.

When you think about it in the abstract sense, not too far off the mark.

Andrew said...

You're lucky that's all that happened.

My girlfriend was on a flight from Bangkok to Cambodia and this Indian guy shouted fire then opened the emergency door right before take off.

She said there were about 15 to 20 other people that jumped out with him and yep, no fire.