It’s bad to be stuck on a plane next to a person who snores with a wide open mouth. It’s even worse if the person in question is a massive rugby player and you’re stuck against the window. And even worse if he has bad breath. Add a child crying in the vicinity and you are seriously in trouble. Oh, and if the flight is more than 10 hours long, well, let’s just say it wasn’t your day. Like, at all.
After all my trouble with air travel, I thought I should add some positive views here. And they all turned to be around the iPad, so here they go.
The iPad is a better inflight entertainment system because…
- The touchscreen actually works. And when you touch it, you don’t disturb the person sleeping in the seat in front of yours.
- It’s lightweight.
- The captain cannot interrupt your movie or your picture to tell you some useless facts about the temperature outside or the altitude.
- You get to choose the music and the videos that you want to watch. You should just remember to get them prior to boarding, of course.
- You also get to choose the games you want to play. The choice of games is much larger, and it’s called App Store.
- You can even read newspapers, books, magazines, in the same screen. Reading the latest issue of the Economist on my iPad is priceless. It’s good to avoid being limited to the “in-flight” magazine provided by the airline (“your free copy!”), which tends to be quite lame, no matter which airline we’re talking about.
- You can answer e-mails while you fly (for the moment you cannot sent them, unless you fly in some airline that has a wifi network, and as far as I know, there are only a few with such a feature.)
- You could write a novel in iA Writer or Ommwriter for iPad, for that matter, all while you listen to Liszt’s “Evening Harmony in D Flat Major”. Or you could prepare a blog post, like this one.
- Coupled with noise-cancelling headphones, the quality of sound is years-light ahead of what those crummy airline headphones are able to provide.
- The battery. A whole 10-hour flight on a single charge is absolutely possible.
I hate flying. I hate airplanes. I hate airlines. I hate crews. I hate ground handling teams. I hate everything that has to do with that shit. Deeply. Disturbingly. Profoundly.
I hate the way you airlines cram hundreds of people into the smallest of spaces. Do you really think my femur fits the distance between your seats? Do you really think I enjoy being pushed sideways for hours by my seat neighbor because the armrest is too narrow for the both of us? Do you really think I can eat my meal when the seat in front of me is in the horizontal position? Do you really think I can’t avoid numb legs and feet during long flights? Do you really think I can go to the toilets without waking up all the people in the row in front of me or my neighbors?
I hate how long boarding and getting out of the damn plane takes. Haven’t you noticed that airplanes usually have more than one door? Then why the fuck are all 380 passengers of a 747 getting into the plane though the same, unique, small door? Can’t you design airports that take that into account? Can’t you, jetty makers, airport designers, add an extension to boarding gates that goes above the wing or below the tarmac so that we can all get in and out through several doors at once?
I hate how you dare selling double tickets to obese people. Wouldn’t it be better to have a couple of special seats in the front of the aircraft for them? You don’t have any trouble overselling tickets and leaving people in the ground wondering what happened and begging you for a hotel voucher, but of course you can’t plan in advance for the 5% of potentially obese passengers that have to endure your fucking shit. And let’s not talk about families with kids, ok?
I hate your in-flight entertainment system. When it works (which, as per Murphy’s Law, most often don’t), your music sucks, your film choice is crappy, the sound is bad, and even worse, I hate how the captain interrupts my movie every 10 minutes to tell me that the outside temperature is about 3° Kelvin or other nonsense that nobody fucking cares about, babbled through speakers that sound like if they were built in the 20s. To begin with, haven’t you heard about that Dolby thing? And most importantly, don’t you think we are already annoyed enough, to just shut the fuck up and fly this thing in time? That’s the only thing we care about, you moron: to get outta here as fast as possible.
I hate your crappy food. I hate how it tastes, I hate the bad manners of the crew members serving it, I hate that I can never have meat instead of pasta because I always happen to sit behind the person who got the last one and that yeah, you’re very sorry about that. I’ll have a Coke, please.
I hate how I get the same crappy level of service when I pay 25 bucks for a 2 hour trip to Madrid or when I pay 2000 dollars for a roundtrip flight to Argentina that lasts 14 hours. Are you fucking kidding me? What is your problem, you dickhead? Do you really think I do not see how you are fucking filling your pockets with my cash?
I hate how inaccessible, unfriendly, broken and even expensive, airports are. I hate how immigration booths are all closed but one, and you spend more time waiting to show your passport than in the flight. I hate how your tax-free shit shops are more fucking expensive than downtown shops, and how they shamelessly pretend to have the best prices on Earth. Do you really think I was born yesterday?
I hate the mind-boggling algorithms I have to execute in order to know which terminal my flight is leaving from. It goes something like this, starting with the basic questions, domestic or international? Air Exhaust or Air Compression? Oh, then it’s terminal G, door 257. You must enter through terminal N and then take our new air-magnetic-levitation-superconductor-enabled-robot-train and get out at terminal H, then walk through the panoramic gateway above the tarmac, and then you’ll see the checkin booths at your left. Oh, since it’s a code-sharing flight, you must use the booths of Blowjob Airlines to check in, then pay the airport tax in counter 734 and proceed through security and later through passsport control to gate Y35, but hurry up, your flight is boarding right now.
I hate how airport terminals are miles away from each other and how bad they are referenced and how hard it is to understand your information panels. Haven’t you noticed that small airports are usually faster to get in and out, have shorter distances between the plane and the terminal, people board using both doors and even better, are easier to get to from cities? The solution is not having two- or three-stories tall planes carrying 800 people at once; STOP THAT SHIT. That won’t work. If your airports can’t handle 200 people at once per plane, do you really think you can handle more? Really?
I hate how connecting flights are always clutching at straws. A small delay in a flight, a longer queue in the security checks or even the fact of having to recheck-in on the new flight (because some airlines can’t access the computers of each other in order to check you in all legs at once before departure), and your flight is gone. And if you are really unlucky, you will see the door of the gate being closed in front of you as you sweat your way to it, together with the grins of the ground team looking at you. You are then left to pray that you won’t have to pay for a new ticket, that you will get a hotel for that night, and that all the shit printed in the “passenger rights” posters behind the counter is true. By the way, showing those posters implicitly tells me that something has gone really wrong with your industry.
I hate your security controls that don’t protect anyone, that don’t prevent anything, that just annoy and harass everyone. I hate your assaults on my personal sphere. I mean no harm to you. Leave me the fuck alone with your security pricks. I hate listening to the same security information every fucking time we take off, about how to put my oxygen mask or how to fasten my seat belt. The airline industry might have a lower number of accidents than other forms of transportation, but when you are involved in a plane crash, the odds of getting alive are lower than in the highway. No wonder sometimes people applaud when planes land; we just don’t trust you to get us there alive.
I hate the inhuman conditions you airlines make your crews work in. I hate how they have to strike in order to have some attention, while you fucking MBAs running these companies get big bonuses at the end of the year. Because when you treat your employees like shit, they spit on my coffee, you shithead. They work overtime, they try to do a living in the worst of industries, and you treat them like shit. No wonder they get in strike.
I hate how you fucking dare losing my bags. I hate how I have to cross my fingers every time I travel to avoid having them sent to Timbuktu or Novosibirsk. Don’t you see the tags with the airport codes and the barcodes printed in them? And, even after losing them, is it really that difficult to send it faster than 3 days later to their owner? Really? Do you really think I will buy new clothes every time I travel just because baggage is handled by pathetic monkey-like systems unable to read correctly a tag? Oh, but of course, you will tax me for every extra kilo in those same bags like if I was carrying gold bars. Fuck you.
I hate how everything is a good reason to be late, or to not fly at all. Snow. Strikes. Rain. Late connections. UFOs. Other planes. Storms. Winds. Birds. Clouds. Thick air. Thin air. Engines. Flaps. Eyjafjallajökull. Wings. Terrism. Airport facilities. Tires. Oil. Gravity. Mountains. Plains. Seas. Passengers. Bags.
I hate how a plane can disappear in the middle of the ocean without a trace. Haven’t you heard about this thing called a satellite? Can’t you have a direct, permanent link with a satellite, so that in case of accident you can be notified milliseconds, not hours, later? We are in 2011, you fucking murderers. Black boxes were a neat idea in 1924, shouldn’t you be upgrading that thing anytime soon?
In other words: WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? If you are unable to provide a service, well THEN DON’T DO IT. Do I provide healthcare? Am I a lawyer? Do I own a grocery store? No, because I know shit about those professions. BUT I DON’T PRETEND TO EITHER.
I do not trick people with nice advertising showing how big your first class seats are (probably the most useless kind of advertising ever). I do not fill my mouth with useless shit about your commitment to service. I do not lie to people about what I do and how I do it. Be frank: say that your service is as bad as anyone else. Say it. Admit it. Be as much as a failure as you want, but please, don’t be hypocrite.
The airline industry is deeply broken. It must be redesigned from scratch. If you are reading this and you happen to be the CEO of one of those fucking airlines, then please know that I wholeheartedly hate you, that you and your company are worthless, and that you have won the Guiness record for making the most millions of unhappy people per minute. Go to hell.
When I was a student in university, I used to work in Geneva Airport, aka GVA, as a part-time luggage handling employee, an “auxiliaire” as we were called, in a now extinct company once called Swissair.
The job consisted mostly of waiting for the airplanes to park near the gate, open the cargo bays, offload whatever there was inside them, and reload them with more luggage, cargo boxes and mail bags. After that, we would close the cargo bays and stay clear of the engine ranges until the plane left the gate. Rinse and repeat. That was my routine, 4 hours a day, 3 to 5 days a week, from August 1995 until December 1997.
Let’s be frank; as a whole, this job sucked big time, the pay wasn’t very good (20 Swiss Francs per hour, 25 after 10pm and on Sundays; I let you do the math), and there were many health risks. Then how on Earth could I stand for so long the blithering cold of Swiss winters, the endless humming of the reactors, the kerosene-filled atmosphere, or the killing summer sun reflected on the concrete of the tarmac, for hours and hours?
There were some good reasons:
- Because I loved aeronautics, and for me, being close to the landing gear of a Jumbo Jet or an Airbus A-400 was an out-of-this-planet experience. I still remember the first time I saw such a beast approaching.
- Because you could renegotiate your working hours every month with great flexibility, which is perfect when you are studying.
- Because it was an endless source of both funny and tragic anecdotes, many of which I keep telling to my friends to this day, and which would fill a whole blog by themselves.
- And, last but not least, because you could travel all over the world, wherever Swissair went (that was an awful lot of places back then, including my beloved Buenos Aires) with a tremendous discount.
And I mean tremendous; I could have a return ticket GVA – EZE in Economy class for around 180 Swiss Francs. You read correctly; after a certain amount of hours (300, if I remember well, which meant between 4 to 6 months of work in my case), you would get a special employee voucher, of which you could trade one for a discounted European ticket, and two of them for a transcontinental return flight.
The catch (there’s always a catch) was that your ticket was of the “absolute-low-priority-you-might-not-fly-at-all-you’ve-been-warned” kind, and there was always the risk of not getting into the plane because it was full; thankfully, that never happened to me. But, to compensate, if Economy was full, you could get promoted to Business class (which actually did happen to me once: a great flight from Buenos Aires to Zurich in Business class, never to be forgotten!)
All in all, I went 4 times to Buenos Aires in one year, for less than what you pay for a single flight to the same place. All while getting a relatively decent living every month (for a cheap student at least). Not bad, and definitely worth the hassle of smog, rain, snow, heat, pains in the back, and overall organizational chaos that reigned in Swissair back then.
Because the thing is that, internally, Swissair was a complete mess.
Actually I was not surprised when I learnt that the company had gone the way of the dodo a few years after I left (and no, don’t tell me it was a because of the cheap tickets to Argentina!). During my time there, the airline industry was undergoing a tremendous amount of change, and still, the management was pathetically convinced that people would still pay premium tickets for an EasyJet-level quality of service (Swissair tickets were extremely expensive back then). Middle and top managers started getting into the rotten habit of paying themselves huge bonuses while at the same time downsizing the staff. Employees’ salaries and benefits were gradually reduced and suppressed, security measures were skipped, everyone was treated like shit.
The SAirGroup came and went. Many reorganizations made the headlines. In Crossair (Swissair’s little sister company, serving short-range destinations), pilots were loudly complaining of earning around 3000 Swiss Francs per month (a relatively low salary by any standard in Switzerland), when some of their Swissair peers were getting much more, up to 6 times (!) that amount, basically doing the same job. One day, Swissair moved most of its intercontinental flights from Geneva to Zurich, and the direction of the GVA airport sold most of its Swissair stock right after that decision was taken. It was during that time that EasyJet came into the scene, and benefited enormously of all this mayhem.
For those who remember, Swissair during the ’90s was more a source of national embarrassment rather than pride. And to top it off, the catastrophe of the JFK-GVA flight 111 in 1998 did not help.
In our luggage handling service, which later was spun off into a company (IMHO clumsily) named “Swissport” (French-speaking workers would rename it to the French equivalent of “Swiss pork”), the uncannily shortsighted view of the management saw hiring more and more “auxiliaires” (like myself) as the perfect way to increase shareholder value (or some other MBA crap like that); lots of my friends did work there at the time, but the truth is, we never cared about a company that saw us (and treated us) as a commodity to be replaced at any time. As soon as we could, we took off (pun intended) for a nicer workplace or, like me, for another country altogether (my last flight on a Swissair aircraft was in January 1998, when I returned to live in Argentina; I never used the return ticket then).
Their long term employees were seen as a liability, instead of an asset. Everybody resented that.
In the end, it looked to us as if lots of powerful people wanted to destroy the company on purpose, an explanation that, even if looking like a conspiracy theory, is believed by many of my old colleagues. Since leaving I met several of them, some of which used to do this job full time; many have quite a few health problems now, the lesser of which are recurrent back or joint pains; frankly, just by breathing that shitty airport smog you could get very ill, very quickly, and that’s just the top of the iceberg.
Nobody is really happy about what happened to Swissair, but we all agree in one thing: all of this could have been avoided with just a bit of common sense, a better treatment to long term employees, and wiser leadership. The problem is, some Swiss companies just simply don’t know what common sense means, even less how to adapt to changing market conditions.
I’m writing this sitting in the waiting room of Gate D85 at Amsterdam airport, seeing the KLM employees unloading and loading stuff from those blue planes, and I remember a time when I used to do that job, too.
I think I’ll start pouring some souvenirs about those times in the months to come.
If there’s only one good thing we could take from the global grounding of planes all over Europe, it might as well be the possibility to enjoy traveling again. Even recognizing that the airline industry has been able to dramatically cut costs and times of travel, one can’t deny the fact that it has done nothing to increase the pleasure of traveling. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
To put it elegantly, traveling by plane is a pain in the neck. In the 90′s it wasn’t better, but at least the Twin Towers were still standing in their place and there wasn’t a new “terrorist threat” every year or so, making the life of the rest of the travelers an ongoing misery.
Taking a plane exposes you to a staggering amount of things that can go wrong, from the most complex to the most ridiculous. They keep on telling us that traveling is the most secure way to travel, but they say nothing about the ever smaller and more uncomfortable seats, about the shitty food they keep on serving and the increasing number of destinations they keep on sending our luggage, more often than not exactly the opposite one we are going to. Without mentioning the amount of cancelled flights without warning, the non-guaranteed connections, the unbelievably ridiculous schemes of ticket pricing (why a return ticket is cheaper than a one-way is beyond me) and the oh so many other things that make air travel an utterly miserable experience.
Oh, but it is the most secure way of traveling. Yeah, right.
Disclaimer: I’ve been a Swissair employee in the 90′s, so I know a bit of how an airline can go every year a bit worse, until it disappears completely from the face of Earth.
So now the ashes of Iceland have grounded the planes of a whole continent, generating losses of around 300 million dollars per day. Ups (and, by the way, what an irony and a colorful way Iceland has found to return Britain the favor of an incredible economic disaster, of which it was the biggest victim but not the most important contributor… I do think nature has a sense of irony after all.)
What I find interesting is that, if the ashes keep on clearing the sky from those shitty winged artifacts filled with unhappy travelers, we will have a chance to slow down, and we might as well have a chance to start enjoying traveling again. And by that I mean having the time to take a long distance train, and even better, to ditch those bad imitations of birds with nicer long distance, transatlantic boats taking 10 days to take us over the oceans.
Imagine boarding in Genova or Hamburg, Le Havre or Cadiz, and taking your time to go through the Atlantic again. Let’s be clear, this is not 1920; with email, Skype or iChat you won’t miss much in terms of meetings or anything, but you’ll get to New York or Boston without jet lag, relaxed, sipping a margarita on the main bridge while waving to the people on the shore.
I would enjoy it for sure. And if the Eyjafjallajökull (somebody please tell me how to pronounce this) keeps on spitting ashes, at least until the Jet Stream cleans up the stratosphere a bit over the northern Atlantic, we won’t have any other option, anyway.
In the meantime, let’s relax and enjoy the first spring with a really, really blue sky, without airplanes or long white smoke trails, in a long, long time.