There will be no exhilaration associated with a max-performance climb in a fighter jet for me today, no thrill of running intercepts, anchoring in an ACM engagement, or achieving a gun track on a bandit. No, today I am relegated to sitting at the back of the bus…and I mean literally the last row of an Airbus A321. Forced to experience the takeoff, cruise, and landing phases of flight via a 12-inch portal – giving me a view consisting only of what I can see 90 degrees off of our flight path. I’m not a violent person, but the whole commercial airport experience brings out the demons in me (and most other travelers from what I can tell!)
The occasion is causing me to contemplate the various ways in which we each experience flight. For the vast majority of people who take to the skies, flying will be nothing more than what I’m suffering today; the rat-race of the commercial passenger. Most people will worry more about getting to the airport early enough to change that middle seat to a window, or boarding while there is still room for their carry-on in the overhead compartment. Throughout the flight, they will try to maintain some semblance of dignity whilst crammed into a backbreaking, knee-bumping, poor-excuse for a seat – all the while praying unknowingly for strong tailwinds to push them quickly to their destination so they can deplane.
I am no different today – a passenger submitting to the will of the all-powerful airline; a paying prisoner. Approximately 60 feet in front of me sit two individuals at the controls of this mighty jetliner, but they might as well be on the other side of the world. There is much more than a weak cabin wall separating our worlds. The two pilots at the (somewhat) pointy end of the aircraft are experiencing the glory of the sunrise over an undercast cloud deck. Their minds are occupied with ATC communications, routings, ops checks, and studying an arrival and an approach. They are not concerned with the thimble-sized beverage begrudgingly presented to them by a flight attendant who wants the flight to be over even more than I do.
Being in command of an aircraft – be it a Raptor, an A321, or a Mooney – is a freedom reserved for a very select few. The road warriors sitting up in first-class, who travel 300 days out of the year, will never know more of flying than the 12-inch round piece of plexiglass can show them. Their control ends once they have selected their seats and made their breakfast order. Sure they have a million reward miles, but are they really that rewarding?
A few rows ahead of me sits an airline captain deadheading somewhere for a flight he will command later in the day. The look on his face tells me he too is yearning to take control of the aircraft – he wants to push the throttles forward, feeling the familiar lag as the turbines spool up to commanded power. He wants to be the one maneuvering the jet to intercept the localizer once we reach the terminal area. He wants to be the one to triumphantly bring the aircraft safely, gently back to the pavement. He wants to be the man, whereas now he looks like a dog that has been neglected in his kennel.
There is no dignity for the coach-class passenger. I might as well be on a crowded bus in some third-world country. Apparently other people are more comfortable rubbing up against complete strangers than I am. At least I know the pain will end soon. As I’m gutting out the discomfort and annoyance that comes with riding on the back of the bus, there are two people for whom the flight will be over all too soon. As they walk away from the aircraft today, they will look back with a smile, whereas I will look forward in relief.
The next time you find yourself at the controls of an aircraft, regardless of type, pause for just a moment and think of the passenger – and remember how lucky you are!
Thank you U.S. Airways for making my travel today truly painful! After arriving to Philadelphia with just a few minutes to spare until boarding time, we got caught on the terminal shuttle bus of death. I looked at my watch thinking, “we will probably get there about 5-10 minutes prior to the departure time.” Imagine my happiness when we arrived at the gate eight (yes, 8!) minutes PRIOR to departure time and saw our aircraft merrily on its way down the taxiway! They said their policy was for everyone to be on board 10 minutes prior to departure. Fine. Well, there were several of us from the same flight that now needed to be re-booked, when they could have waited TWO minutes and accommodated everyone. I now have two questions for U.S. Airways and all the airlines for that matter:
1) WHY do you continue to print the departure time of the flight on the passenger’s ticket when the time you want them to be at the gate is 10 minutes prior to that? At least knowing when I have to be on the aircraft I could see, while being stuck on the bus, that I wasn’t going to make it and I wouldn’t be so worked up when I arrived at the gate. As a passenger, I DON’T CARE about the departure time, just tell me what time the door will close and I won’t be allowed on.
2) Why would you depart an aircraft early knowing that there are passengers who made their previous connection and are likely stuck navigating the maze of ground equipment in a lumbering bus driven by someone who learned to drive approximately three weeks ago? (Sorry, cheap shot at the bus driver, she didn’t deserve that…) Seriously? Do you not have accountability of who is where?
I can answer both of those questions for the airlines: They already have my money, so why do they care?
My apologies to the Tally One community for my rant, hopefully you are all laughing and thinking “at least it’s not me!”
By Tally One Chief Editor Rob Burgon