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From the Pilothouse – Put Me On A Boat Any Day!

I sit at the airport gate, seething with frustration at a system so dysfunctional that every person around me is fidgety, glazed, and stressed big time.

The perpetrator of today's events is Continental Airlines, hands-down winner of a "Misery Loves Travel" Award.

The flight from Bangor seemed simple enough, yet the flight is delayed on the ground. An hour and a half later, I'm in my assigned seat, and I already know this flight will require a high degree of stoicism.

For one thing, the ventilation system is totally inadequate on this particular aircraft. The single flight attendant no doubt chose her career for the glamour, but now she has to tend to the needs of the planeload of sweaty people. (Not that I feel sorry for her. She put someone's filthy duffel bag in the overhead directly over my seat, and later I find she'd balled up my jacket into a six-inch square to make room for the bag. It has never recovered.)

We're told "from the flight deck" that air conditioning will cool us down shortly. It doesn't, and we sit like cattle in a railway car, although it does start dripping condensation out of vents onto the left shoulder of passengers in window seats.

There's a group on their way to Las Vegas, and it takes them longest to trade their pent-up enthusiasm for the gloomy mood of the rest of us. But they soon fall in line.

Lucky guy that I am, my window seat neighbor looks over at me with almost pleading eyes in the stifling cabin. She mutters that "our" engine is vibrating more than "their" engine…just before she gets airsick with an unnerving heave.

All within earshot wince and try to think happy thoughts as she empties her stomach into a little blue bag. My eyes focus on a Continental slogan in the magazine in front of me: "Work Hard, Fly Right!"

Landing in Newark, where I am to connect with another flight, the pilot smartly taxis off the runway, then pulls over to an area in the middle of nowhere. We are to be held hostage aboard this miserable aircraft.

Seems an Air France 747 blocks our gate, and we're asked to sit in this humid cabin a few more minutes. And thank you for your patience. Yeah, like anyone cares.

It's fifteen minutes later when we offload to board a shuttle bus to the terminal. Unfortunately, the driver can't get the door closed properly, so we have to transfer to another, smaller shuttle bus, which takes another fifteen minutes. All of us are now right on the edge.

Enroute finally to the terminal, our driver stops short of the nearest building, in deference to a turboprop holding a hundred feet away. He does not speak much English, and our questions go unanswered. The stand-off lasts five more minutes, and we're forced to stand there, helplessly balancing out luggage in the cramped bus. I feel like I'm in a third world country, a victim of some strange cultural torture.

A guy in the back jokes about taking over the bus to restore control. The plane doesn't move, but the driver gives it the gas, and we complete our final dash to the gate…not 25 feet away! Everyone moans at the stupidity of this moment. We could have walked.

Seven poor souls, myself included, learn we've missed our connection to Baltimore by five minutes. I ask the guy at the ticket counter why they didn't hold the plane for us, since they knew we were on the ground. Zombie-eyes says he doesn't know. It's not in his computer.

So we sit at Gate C134 for four more hours. Around me, people lament to one another how their travel plans have gone horribly awry. A common human condition it seems, but all the while, happy mechanical voices announce in broken English how your plane is still in Houston, or Norfolk, or Atlanta. No plane for you, so sorry, but please be sure to stay at your gate for further information.

A fellow walks by with a garment bag sporting a "Priority Handling" tag. Is he nuts! Doesn't he know the tag tells the handlers to throw it farther!?! I have boat fenders that look better than my luggage.

Unbelievably, when we finally board our flight, we have to wait again while a major portion of our luggage is loaded, then unload. They aren't sure which bags belong on the flight. Eventually, they sort it out, and we join a long line of aircraft waiting to take off. Will this day never end?

I walk in the front door drained and slimy. I smell of air travel, and my clothes are wrinkled and dirty. Some fun, this modern travel thing.

But this day does bring focus to the modern busy world, and reminds me to stop and take a deep breath—then slow the pace down so I can smell the flowers. That's better.

Put me on a boat any day.

Bill Parlatore