A couple of decades ago I wrote a piece in which I predicted my premature demise secondary to trying to make a 5 minute connection from Gate 1 to Gate 40 (they’ve since changed their numbering system) on American Airlines in DFW. Well, like most of my prognostications, it didn’t happen. Undeterred, I’ll venture another forecast about American Airlines. Here it is: Before the decade is out AA will charge anyone with a frequent flier number an annual fee for not flying. This brilliant idea came to me yesterday on my 24 hour journey from London to home.
I woke up at 6 AM bright, eager, and ready for trip back to the US scheduled to start at 12:50 PM. No sooner had I gotten out of bed, then I received an email, a text, a message from AA telling me that my flight was now scheduled to depart at 1:45 PM. I also got an email, text, and message from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Insurance telling me the same thing. Having logged more than 3 million miles on AA, I knew these missives were the herald of a difficult travel day.
As I was starting from Southampton, I had told my limo service to pick me up at 8 PM, I emerged into an ocean of limo drivers all waving signs with passenger’s names on them, but none was mine. After 45 minutes I started to feel a little edgy, so I went to the parking area for limos where my driver was placidly standing with his sign at chest level. I asked him why he wasn’t 200 yards south with all the other drivers. He replied that the rules required that he remain by his vehicle. I had gotten the only driver in Britain who followed the rules. He turned out to be as voluble as he was law abiding. He gabbed the entire 2 hours it took to get to Heathrow. He was particularly interested in our upcoming presidential election.
“You Americans have a choice between a crook and a creep,” he said alliteratively. I was silent for the entire trip.
Next I was subjected to British security. Everything off or out. I can understand why they were so thorough as I’m not the sort of guy you’d want on a Boeing 777 (more about the plane below) without first undergoing a body cavity search. The worst part was hands over my head, like a US POW in Japanese custody, with my belt off. The agent kept telling me to remain still while my pants threatened to fall to my ankles. I kept them up, thus sparing an airport evacuation, by sheer force of will.
Having been granted access to the secure side of the airport I eventually got on the plane headed for Dallas. It was, as indicated above, a Boeing 777-200. Business Class is arranged such that each passenger is facing away from everyone else in his row and enclosed in a box similar to a British phone booth with its long axis horizontal rather than vertical. It’s not for the claustrophobic. If you’re traveling with someone not only will you be facing away from her, but you will be separated by a large panel. It can be lowered, but only by those fluent with Rubik Cubes. Even more disconcerting is that many of the seats face backwards making for a disorienting ride. You will have to be a contortionist to plug in the Bose headsets that are available for the Business prisoners. But in order to get to the plug you will have to search for about an hour and then stand on your head to access the plug while using a dental mirror or the like. The eccentric seating is shown below.
After I found the plug, I was served a halibut steak that was the temperature of a corpse 2 days post mortem – ditto for the rice. I soon realized that I would not make my connecting flight because of the delay in leaving London; but I didn’t worry much about it because it was on The Eagle which never leaves Dallas on time. Thus reassured, I sought agoraphobia the rest of the way to DFW.
I had checked the departure time of my flight to Lubbock several times on the flight into Dallas. AA stubbornly insisted that it was on time. After clearing Immigration and Customs I went to recheck my bags. A baggage handler checked on my flight and said I couldn’t make it. I was then put on a flight leaving four hours later than originally planned.
I had to go through security again. This time my pants stayed up. I think it was the sight of octogenarians in wheelchairs undergoing 10 minute long searches that held my trousers at waist level.
When I got to the Admiral’s Club my previous flight was now listed as being 48 minutes late. Which meant that I could easily have made the connection had not AA insisted the delayed flight was on time. It actually took off 1 hour and 48 minutes late. Reassured that my decades of experience with The Eagle was rock solid I settled in for the long wait.
It was sunset and AA Club in the D concourse, where I had decided to wait rather than going to the smaller club in the B concourse which serves The Eagle. The club faces west. The sun was close to setting. The only available seat was by an unshaded window. The sun was square in my face. All the other windows had their shades down. I went to one of the “service” people at the desk. I asked him to lower the shades. He said they were broken. A seat by a shaded window opened and I moved there. A minute later the shade by the new window went up while those by the window from whence I had moved went down. I went back to the attendant. He mumbled something about automation and said his hands were tied. I remained in front of him and held my breath until I turned a deep cyanotic purple. He finally relented and lowered the shade by my seat.
I eventually got home about 6 hours later than scheduled, not bad for The Eagle. I’d like to tell you that my bags were lost, but they weren’t. So back to my titular premise. The only way to avoid the pain of AA is not to fly. Therefore, you should be charged for the privilege of not flying. I am sure AA’s green shaders have figured this out and will soon charge for the peace of not getting on one of their planes. Also, I have a relative who has decided never to venture more than 5 miles from his home; he should be made to pay.
Apropos of nothing above, I saw a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in London directed by Kenneth Branagh. He set it in 1950s Italy, supposedly Verona. And it worked pretty well. Oddly, 78 year old Derek Jacoby played Mercutio. Perhaps Branagh should try directing an opera. The play’s plot is pretty creaky, though the language is gorgeous. I prefer Gounod’s ending to that of the Bard. Nothing like a fatal love duet to send you happily out of the theater. Also, Gounod doesn’t bother to kill Count Paris. But all’s well that ends well. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.