Mad as hell, and not alone

The last time my wife and I flew she took extra care, ahead of time, to say soothing things to me.

Things like ,”just be calm,” and “look at it as funny,” and “it really all goes fast, honest!”

What she was really saying, of course, was “Don’t freak out again or they’ll shoot you.”

Which I’m convinced could happen. This is the only reason I don’t, while going through Airport Security or riding in the oversized sardine cans we call airliners these days, freak out worse than I do.

I say this because of the story in the news today (click!) about a Jet Blue airline attendant who freaked out, grabbed a beer, hit the emergency slide button and took off. Interestingly, his neighbor, another flight attendant, said she not only approved “but if he’d called me I’d have come given him a ride home.”

Of course he got arrested, but that’s not the point. The rush by passengers to have ever-cheaper flights, combined with the rush by airlines to get as much money out of everyone, combined with anal-retentive airline security people who are mostly there for show and secretly know it, has created a pressure cooker. Everyone thinks, “Oh, how bad could it be and the flight is only 4hours anyway?” but we’re finding out, now, that it can be very bad indeed.

Yes yes, I know, the evil terrorists hijacked airplanes armed with box cutters so we have to be very careful. And there was the guy with the shoe, and then the underwear, which means we need to examine everyone everywhere and then jam them into those overpacked monstrosities.

The big weakness is that, while they won’t let us take a knife on board of any size, and they’re very careful about liquids, and we all do the shoe thing, nobody is reacting the way they ought to to the danger of exploding underwear, which tells me that they really aren’t very serious. Some of those people on board the last flight I took could have hidden several tons of explosive in their underwear without adding to their girth more than an inch or two, the typical American traveler being, shall we say, just a bit stout.

And what if the bomb is inside someone? Huh? Yes, it has already happened, no kidding. (click). Yuk.

So why don’t they care about more exploding underwear? Or exploding guts?

As I said, TSA’s security deal is mostly for show, but asking people to check their underwear, or their guts, at the gate is more show than they want.

Anyway, the whole thing is pissing off a lot of people.  And once they get on the plane,  the airline attendants are little more than automata, going through safety drills nobody watches, tossing tiny bags of peanuts at the animals, and so on. In return the passengers are all grumpy, and with good reason, since that guy got 5 peanuts and I only got 4, what’s with that?

So I’m not surprised that this guy lost it. Added onto the pile of troubles he was having in the rest of his life, it was inevitable, and who doesn’t have troubles?

I see no way out. Americans demand cheap flight. Airlines have to make money. And Americans demand that every flight they take be certified safe, no danger at all.

I predict more. Meanwhile, to this guy, I don’t blame him. His was an urge we all have. Some pick better ways to act on that urge than others, but in general, I think a lot of people are rooting for him.

Including, I bet, a whole lot of flight attendants.

ps: Don’t try to tell me that the 9-11 guys hijacked planes with box cutters so the prohibition against all blades is reasonable. No it’s not. The 9-11 terrorists hijacked planes with the certain knowledge that Americans and American flight crew members were told never, ever to resist a hijacker, even one armed with just a box cutter.  

Which is why they made me mail my Swiss Army knife, all 2 inches of it, back to my house rather than take it on the flight. I felt, under the circumstances, I handled it very calmly, especially since my wife was standing right there.

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26 Responses to Mad as hell, and not alone

  1. Owain says:

    You should see the attention I get when I fly, and put my bagpipes through the X-Ray machine. That typically generates a call for a supervisor, and a crowd of TSA folks clustered around the X-Ray screen, trying to figure out just what the *$@% is in that carry-on bag.

    One of these days, they are going to ask me to pull them out and play them. That will be interesting.

  2. BobBecker says:

    No, air travel isn’t what it used to be back in the salad days of TWA and Pan Am. But then, you don’t have to re-mortgage the house now to fly, and visiting places not possible before is much more possible for the non-wealthy than it was then.

    I agree that much [not all, but much] of the Security Dance is for show. But every now and then I run into a security guy with a sense of humor. [E.g. Oakland airport, as people reached the conveyor belt and began removing coats, belts, shoes, the security guy was humming, loudly enough for us all the hear, "The Stripper." Brought a grin to my morning.]

    Most of the flying I’ve done recently has been OK. Arrived on time, or close. And not a single missed connection. Comfy? Not especially. But a lot better than three grueling days on the road or two and a half days and two nights on a bus or two days on a train propped up in a coach seat overnight twice to reach the east coast [or in a roomette for three times the airline coach price].

    And sorry Charlie but the flight attendant you’re so sympathetic to was in my opinion a first class butthole. He wanted to grab a bear and storm off the plane and tell Jet Blue to take its job and stuff it, fine with me. But when he did it via the emergency slide, he took that plane out of service for some time, insuring probably that hundreds of passengers down the line would be late, miss connections, not get where they were going that day. Business travelers, families with kids, health care travelers, military travelers and more.

    Dealing with passengers who are acting like children comes with the job. Unfortunate, but there it is. Anyone who deals with the public regularly has to learn that and how to handle it. Ask anyone who’se ever worked taking orders over the drive in mic at Burger King or Micky D’s.

  3. Michael Trujillo says:

    “…tossing tiny bags of peanuts…”

    You were on a plane that actually had peanuts to offer??


  4. Bill says:

    Exploding underwear? I know there is a fart joke in there somewhere. (can I say That?)

  5. Sylvia says:

    I still love flying — any time, anywhere. I hope to never lose the wonder. (The only thing I ever had to give up was a $15 bottle of Clinique hairspray ;-) )

  6. Charles Trentelman says:

    fart jokes are ALWAYS welcome here, but the guy with the internal bomb did more than that.

    And he set it off himself, too, with a cell phone. So, next time ur sitting next to someone on the plane and the pull out their cell at 35000 feet, you may want to change seats.

  7. Dovie says:

    I just wish they would make really big (fat) people pay for the space they take up. It’s easy – make them pay for first class. Those 400 pounders trying to save money in coach kind of annoy me.

  8. CB says:

    I have recurring nightmares about flying – either I’m late for my flight going through security and JUST miss it, or a gang of thugs steals my luggage, and I end up in a strange country where I don’t speak the language and never intended to go.

    I want fast trains in the US.

  9. BobBecker says:


    “You were on a plane that actually had peanuts to offer? Lucky.”

    Southwest. Often two bags. About eight dry roasted peanuts per bag, but still….

  10. Neal Humphrey says:

    I ‘ll be flying to New Mexico next month and I’m already dreading it. Actually, I’ll be landing in El Paso, then renting a car to drive back to New Mexico. And in October I have to travel to someplace called Virginia Beach.

    I remember when flying was fun. But airplanes in those days had propellers … the way God intended.

  11. Bob Becker says:


    Enjoy NM. If there is a heaven, that’s where it is. First drove into NM almost close to 40 years ago in a VW Beetle with my mutt Scout, looking for places to hike/camp. Found Red River, the Rio Grand Gorge wild area [BLM], Carson National Forest, Bandelier National Monument, Taos, Santa Fe, the Sandias, the Jemez and the Sangre de Christos. Drove my family out there, when I got one, nearly every summer for three decades, doing the same. And to this day, crossing into New Mexico still feels like coming home.

    Even at 35 thousand feet.

  12. laytonian says:

    I absolutely DETEST flying.
    Unless it’s an emergency that requires I be somewhere quickly, I drive.

    Flying is NOT much cheaper than it was when the airlines were regulated. I remember flying from Utah to Ohio for $299 roundtrip.

    The problem is that everything is either cut-rate OR ultra-expensive.

    The middle-ground, which is the pricepoint most of us used to pay to fly, is gone.

    Why is it either $300 or $3000 — when I’d pay $900 for a roundtrip with a decent space for my long legs?

    And I’d just call a travel agent, they’d book it for me, and send me the tickets. Wow!

    Has anyone ever counted the number of jobs and businesses that have disappeared or been depleted, since the advent of the internet?

  13. Owain says:

    Entire industries have sprung up since the advent of the internet, replacing less efficient brick and mortar outlets. This provides large numbers of employment opportunities for people and advantages for consumers. As a result, Tavelocity works pretty well for me, thank you very much.

    Buggy whip makers lamented the advent of the horseless carriage as well. Sucks to be a buggy whip maker in the internet age…

  14. Mark Shenefelt says:

    I have little sympathy for the ballistic flight attendant. He flipped out on the job. If you throw a lunatic tantrum on the job, you’re an idiot and in some cases a danger.

    He’ll probably get a book deal and a reality show.

  15. ctrentelman says:

    Actually, Owain, buggy whip makers, those who survive, are probably doing well, since horse people tend to have a lot of money they don’t mind spending. My sister-in-law raises and trains horses in Florida, and you should see the stuff, and the prices.

    airplane travel has pushed me to take the train every chance I get — even a coach seat is more comfortable than first class on an airplane, and you get to actually travel, seeing country in comfort, not just get shunted around like a sheep.

    food’s better, too.

  16. Owain says:

    Farrier’s (folks who shoe horses, among other things) do very well in their niche as well, but it’s not exactly a growth industry. The law of supply and demand is a harsh mistress. Even if demand for a product is low (buggy whips and horse shoes), if supply is even lower, those who provide those services can command high prices indeed.

  17. Di Lewis says:

    Love flying. Even though it’s cramped and the food is not food, I wouldn’t trade the things I’ve seen. I love being able to be on the other side of the world in 12 hours. While train travel is fun and has its place, sometimes I want to get somewhere in 2 hours.

  18. Doug Gibson says:

    The Week has some interesting comments on the fed up flight attendant:

  19. Pingback: Another Blog Title

  20. sam says:

    Totally with you on this one Charles. Banning all knives on flights has always chafed me. I remember the days when even a fairly large pocketknife didn’t even raise an eyebrow. No one is ever going to succeed in hijacking another plane with a box cutter. It only worked the first time because the passengers were unaware that the consequences of not resisting would be so dire. I say let passengers carry knives all they want – they’re great for cutting potential hijackers to ribbons, should the opportunity present itself.

  21. Scot says:

    Charles, there are times when I cannot agree with your rants, but this just isn’t one of them.
    TSA is a joke, especially the ones that treat everyone like criminals. Banning liquids and nail clippers is also a joke.
    Surprised they haven’t banned underwear yet.

  22. MacDaddy says:

    Scot – You are right, TSA is a joke. When my son was headed back to Iraq he the zippers on his flight suit set off the metal detectors. Those government employee geniuses felt the need to hold him there while they used a wand on every pocket.

    I lost it and yelled at the TSA supervisor about the treatment they were giving my son who is obviously not a terrorist. My wife said I would get arrested and I said good let these morons arrest me so I can get the media to hear this story. They then let my son go and started to apologize to me but I just walked off.

    It was wrong to make those low-lifes government employees. TSA should be run by contractors so they would have some accountability and could be fired for being incompetent buffoons.

  23. laytonian says:

    Owain, yes. New industries have sprung up — and because of their efficiency, they pay FEWER employees and they pay them much less.

    Go ahead and call it a buggy whip. I call it “the economy”.

    And I’m more guilty than most.

    When I sit at my computer and order merchandise that I used to buy locally, I’m hurting ONLY local business. It doesn’t hurt the manufacturer, who’s now in China.

    All I want is a GOOD flight, not jammed in next to the sumo wrestler-shaped woman with bad breath. Some space, a drink or two, a decent sandwich — and among people who can actually converse, rather than grunt.

  24. MacDaddy says:

    Then last month at Boston Logan I forgot to remove my shoes for the scanner. When reminded I said it was as sad statement when one crazy guy tries to set his shoes on fire and all of America pays for it.

    Immediately the TSA dopes directed me to the body scanner. The agent there and I got into an argument because I refused to let him pat down my chemotherapy injection port. What a fool he was. I won that argument but he thinks he won because I let him pat down the other shoulder.

    TSA agents are government employees selected from the bottom of the gene pool and we are supposed to have safer flights because of them?

  25. Kit says:

    Man I have to agree with it ALL.
    I don’t feel any safer flying today than I did before 9-11. I feel more inconvenienced, and like maybe I should be carrying a note from my mother giving permission to fly about the world.
    One time our flight to Denver was delayed for 20 minutes, which I guess means that your flight can qualify to travel at 10 times the normal speed, because we were in the air for 15 minutes before the flight attendants were running down the aisles screaming at everyone to tell them what they wanted to drink and throwing peanuts at us like they were in a frantic parade. And we like the children we felt like, dove in front of their carts to get every last one thrown, our pockets bursting with the little foil packages. Then they told everyone to “Please, Sir Take your seat!” and buckle up as we landed…I didn’t even get a drink. They just handed out cans of soda on our way off the flight.
    And in a way, I was really upset, because I thought, “Geez, If every flight to Denver was only 20 minutes long I wouldn’t even want soda and peanuts!”

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