Posted tagged ‘flying’

Flying by the seat of her pants

June 21, 2011

Overheard this past weekend.

Passenger entering plane: ‘Where is seat 312?’
Cabin attendant: ‘You can sit anywhere you like.’
Passenger: ‘It says seat 312.’
Attendant: ‘No, this is flight 312.’
Passenger: ‘Where is 312?’
Attendant: ‘This is it. You’re on the right plane.’
Passenger: ‘Yes, but the seat?’
Attendant: ‘Anywhere you like.’
Passenger: ‘I’ll go to find seat 312.’
Attendant: ‘Good luck!’


In full flight, online

May 2, 2011

Some time ago I was sitting in a plane about to take off on a short regional flight. The doors had been closed and the cabin crew were making the usual safety announcements. I imagine they were the usual ones, though if I am honest I have to admit I’ve kind of stopped listening to these. In any case, on this occasion my attention was focused on my neighbour. He was holding his mobile phone, and turning it nervously around in his hand. It was visibly not switched off. He saw me looking and said, ‘I’m waiting for a call’. I pointed out to him that he was supposed to have switched it off. He mumbled something unintelligible and continued fidgeting with the (still powered on) phone. As the plain taxied to the runway, he continued doing this, hiding it whenever he thought he would be seen by a member of the crew, and then taking it out again.

I have on the whole become sceptical whether having the phone on can really be a safety issue. If it were, cabin attendants would surely demand to see each phone to check it was off, or more more likely still we wouldn’t be allowed take it in the cabin. But nevertheless, I was astounded at my neighbour, who continued to fidget with the phone until long after take-off, at which point I lost interest.

A year or so ago it looked as if my anxious neighbour might be getting his way. Irish airline Ryanair announced it was introducing inflight mobile phone calls. I only experienced it on one flight, on which we were told that mobile phones could be used after take-off. My neighbour on this flight duly took out his phone to see whether it worked. The phone, once powered on, did indeed register some sort of network signal, but when he tried calling a number apparently absolutely nothing happened. One or two others were trying (and experiencing) something similar, but most passengers just ignored the cabin crew’s invitation to make a call. So does this mean that even the more fanatical mobile phone addicts find there is a limit to the thing? At any rate I never again was on a flight where the facility (if it was that) was available.

My grandmother used to say that it is only when we stop talking that we realise we have nothing to say. And if we stay silent long enough, we can begin to communicate properly. And so I can say to any other airline considering this that mobile services in the air will not entice me one little bit. Wireless internet, now that’s another matter. After all, I have standards. Double standards.

Air sickness

April 15, 2011

So let’s say you are sitting at the airport departure gate, and you’ve put your book away and are all ready to join the pushing and shoving to get on the plane; and to be honest you’re now a little bored, so you look across to what the woman sitting next to you is reading. Carefully, so she doesn’t notice. She’s got her iPad in her hand and is reading the Los Angeles Times. And this is what she’s got open: the story that air traffic controllers are now routinely found asleep on the job. I don’t mean a momentary lapse of concentration. I mean deep sleep, heart rate satisfactorily slowed down, some pleasant dream about a beach in Hawaii, that sort of thing.

‘Bloody hell!’ you exclaim, rather startling the poor woman who wasn’t aware you were reading along with her. ‘Sorry’, you say, ‘I couldn’t help reading that!’ Actually that’s not really true, you could easily have helped it, but there you go.

‘Well now, that’s nothing.’ A man’s voice from the other side of the woman, who, it turns out, has also been reading her iPad. ‘I’ve just read that there has been a series of incidents on planes just suddenly developing holes in the fuselage for no apparent reason.’

And now behind you, a woman who may or may not have also been reading the iPad but who has certainly been following the conversation, chips in helpfully: ‘There have never been so many birds sucked into jet engines than recently.’

You hear the announcement: ‘The plane is now ready for boarding.’ Actually, things could be worse. You might have been on that airline that won’t let you bring duty free goods on board if they don’t fit in your bag. But you do wonder if someone here has the phone number of air traffic control. Just so you could give them a call to make sure they’re all awake.

Come fly with me

January 8, 2011

I was on my first ever flight when I was seven years old, at a time when flying was still not normal for very many people. The flight took me and my family from Germany to Dublin, as we were moving to Ireland. The plane landed in a regional UK airport en route, where we were led into the small terminal building and invited to sit in armchairs, where stewards in white coats came to offer us tea and coffee. Eventually we were escorted back on to the plane. Those were the days.

I am writing this post from Los Angeles airport, where I have just struggled my way through airport security. I now feel as exhausted as if I had walked all the way back home. Flying has become a challenge, not a pleasure. The pleasure is in arriving, the journey is the price you have to pay. We understand the reasons for the security of course, but on the way the airlines have turned flying into an obstacle course, a battle of wits between the passenger and the airline regarding fares, check-in, luggage, on board restrictions, and anything else they can make difficult.

Has the age of mass air travel, combined with security considerations, turned flying into something really rather unpleasant, or have the airlines stopped trying to please the customer? I confess I now choose airlines – where there is a choice – on the basis of service and support, and not necessarily price. I no longer value price and efficiency over courtesy and consideration. I think others should act similarly: the time for travel by cattle trucks in the air should come to an end.

Come fly with me

November 2, 2008

The first time I ever booked a flight from Ireland to Great Britain – or to be precise, from Dublin to London Heathrow – was in December 1980. Prior to that I had always taken the ferry, but on this occasion I had little time for the trip and needed to take a plane. I still have the ticket. It tells me that the cost of the return flight was £285. In today’s money, I calculate that in real terms it would be around €1,300. And it may be worth adding that this was an economy class ticket; business class would have cost goodness know how much.

A few years later budget airlines came on the scene, and the established carriers also slashed their prices, and today you can (if you plan carefully) make the same trip for a fraction of that price. And it is not just to London. Today if I want to travel to, say, Cork or Galway, I have a real choice I can make between bus, train and airline – with the cost not hugely different between these modes. And again, if I plan well and book wisely, I can travel to New York pretty much for the price I once had to pay to get to London.

On the other hand, talk about carbon footprints, the recession, oil prices and other considerations tends to generate an air of uncertainty these days about the future of air travel as a cheap and quick option. And when we fly, it’s not the pleasant experience that some would have considered it years ago, with post-9/11 security checks, airport delays, air traffic congestion and other hazards. Some may also argue that we can now meet ‘virtually’ online so easily that some air travel for business purposes is no longer necessary.

And yet, I value the way the world has become smaller and it has become easier for us to meet other people and cultures with relative ease. And so I hope the era of accessible global travel is not over just yet. We may need to find ways of doing it with other sources of energy, and no doubt we need to address the congestion issues both on and off the ground; but it still strikes me as important that we do not lose this important part of modern life and culture, and this important way of maintaining a community spirit that embraces the whole world because all of it is accessible to us.