A No Fly List for Unruly Passengers?

We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence.

As I write this, I’m awaiting an upcoming continental flight with a certain amount of dread. People are just too cra-cra these days to risk sealing yourself up in a tube with them for hours on end. And all the airlines seem to give less and less of a sh*t about customer service.

I miss flying in the ‘80’s. You had leg room, decent food, and people were polite and civilized and secretly felt rather privileged to be flying. It was like you were in a debate club that was accidentally invited to the United Nations. What luck!

Even better: You didn’t have to bear the insult of encountering TSA. You could count on having empty seats beside you if you wanted to stretch out and take a nap. And you could bring your 12-inch Bowie Knife aboard and nobody would bat an eyelash.

Those were the days. Now, you consider yourself lucky if no one on your flight gets into a fist fight and causes your plane to be diverted to another airport. It’s like the wild wild West once your plane takes off.

The COVID Federal Mask Mandate brought out the worst in people who don’t believe in science. And conspiracy theorists and hyper-conservatives used that mandate as an excuse to act the fool. Violence on airlines skyrocketed.

So when the mask mandate was overturned in April, 2022, I’m sure a lot of flight staff were relieved. At least at first. Because violence did go down. But it didn’t go away. And now they get to be sealed in a tube with a bunch of triumphant anti-vaxxers who are breathing all over them for hours on end. I have to say that Flight Attendants have a dirty job, and deserve our gratitude in the face of so much public douche-baggery.

As long as alcohol is served in airports and on airplanes, there will be a$$holes making the friendly skies a lot less friendly for all of us. And there’s absolutely no excuse for abusive behavior, especially when you’re in a small space with a bunch of other people and there’s no way out.

Imagine just trying to get home to visit grandma, and suddenly you’re thrust into the airline equivalent of a prison riot. YouTube is lousy with videos of such bad behavior. I even saw one where the captain got on the intercom and asked that all strong healthy males come forward to help restrain an out-of-control passenger. So, not only are you involuntarily thrust into a prison riot, but then they throw a prison guard uniform at you for good measure. What fun.

This is why many of the unions that represent airline employees are encouraging the passage of H.R. 7433: Protection from Abusive Passengers Act. According to Govtrack, this act “would add people convicted of assaulting an airline’s crew or staff on a no-fly list. The penalty would only apply on conviction, so it wouldn’t apply to a passenger who was merely reported or investigated alone. Such convicted passengers would also be banned from using either the TSA’s Precheck or U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry programs.”

Of course, some people are opposed to this, because they say it would equate passengers with terrorists. Well, according to Oxford Languages, the definition of a terrorist is “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”

If the shoe fits, wear it, I say. We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence. No one should have a right to thrust us into a terrifying situation with no way out. And bad behavior is a choice one makes, and therefore consequences should be as expected as they are deserved.

Sadly, this act seems to have stalled in committee, most likely because politicians were hoping this would all go away along with the mask mandate. But here’s something totally unacceptable that happened just last month: Passenger who allegedly punched a flight attendant charged.

This has got to stop. Even though the politicians, as usual, are useless, it did find one source of comfort by reading that article. “While the number of reported incidents has declined, the number of cases where enforcement action was initiated has gone up. So far in 2022, there have been 468 enforcement cases initiated. In 2021, there were 350.”

And some chickens are starting to come home to roost with regard to violent anti-mask passengers. I was thrilled to read this article, entitled, “New York woman sentenced to prison over altercation aboard plane”.

Yes! Serves her right! But that doesn’t mean I won’t be saying a Unitarian Universalist prayer in the hopes that I make it through my upcoming airline experience unscathed. And that shouldn’t be necessary. Not for anybody. But humans are not nearly as civilized as we are purported to be.

Please call your congressmember and encourage them to support HR 7433.

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Crime Used to Be So Much Easier to Commit

Shame on me.

Without going into enough detail to incriminate myself, I must admit that I’m a criminal. (Don’t act so shocked. You’ve probably bent a rule or two yourself.)

Back before airport security was tight, I did something that would probably have me doing time these days. A college friend of mine took a flight and before it took off, the airline staff asked for volunteers to be bumped off the flight. They’d be put on the next flight and get a free, non-transferrable round-trip ticket anywhere in the continental US, to be redeemed within a year. My friend shot her hand up, even though she knew she wouldn’t be back to the US during that period. She’s from Europe.

They gave her a paper ticket. She gave it to me. And I used it. This was back before airlines had gotten into the pesky habit of asking to see your ID before you got on the plane. Pretty much anybody could go anywhere, and bring their foot-long Bowie knife with them in case they got the urge to trim their nails in flight. Those were the days. You actually had leg room and a decent in-flight meal, and the plane was half empty so you could usually stretch out and take a nap afterward. (You young people have no idea.)

All I had to do was forge my friend’s signature (I practiced for weeks) and pretend to be someone I didn’t even look like, and I was able to fly out to visit my niece and nephew at a time when I could have never afforded to do so on my own.

And lightning has yet to strike me dead.

I’ve also been known in my more poverty-stricken youth to reuse uncancelled postage stamps. One time I may have let a cashier ring my zucchini up as much cheaper cucumber, too. And I borrowed a friend’s asthma inhaler at a time when I was uninsured and couldn’t afford to refill my prescription. Shame on me.

Now that I’m more financially comfortable, I can afford to be much more law-abiding, and allow my morals and better nature to come to the forefront. What can I say? Poverty makes you do stuff.

Having said that, I must admit that I still pee in the shower occasionally, albeit right over the drain. My bladder is a corrupting influence. So sue me.

I guess I just blew my chance of ever running for public office…

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Wheel Well Stowaways

What a way to go.

There are many reasons not to live beneath the flight path of an international airport. The noise, of course, is the first thing that springs to mind. And then there’s the pollution. But there’s also the possibility that something unexpected may fall from the sky. Blue water from airline toilets have been known to kill people, as have airplane parts. But there’s something even worse that has been known to happen.

Imagine this. You’re sitting in your home, maybe in front of your television, and unbeknownst to you, someone is rushing your way at 200 miles per hour. From the sky. The next thing you know, your back deck is thoroughly demolished and there’s a frozen corpse, or what’s left of it, staring back at you from amongst the rubble. This has happened. What a nightmare.

It never occurred to me before reading this article, entitled, “Out of thin air: the mystery of the man who fell from the sky” that there are a lot more people stowing away in the wheel well of airliners than one might imagine. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as of February 2020, there have been 128 such stowaways, that they know of.

Before you start thinking this is a great way to get cheap transport, think again. More than 75 percent of all these stowaways are dead before they reach their destination. The rest are almost always detected, and many of them have permanent and severe health issues for the rest of their lives.

There is a wide variety of ways you can die while trying to pull this little caper. First, you have to pass airport security and figure out a way to approach the plane from the outside. You would most likely be viewed as a terrorist, and airports really want to keep their security ratings so they can continue having international flights. This means you represent billions of dollars of risk to them, and airports don’t take kindly to that. You could very well be shot before you even get to the plane.

But let’s suppose you make it that far, and you climb up into the wheel well. The wheels are still down, and you begin to taxi toward the runway. Hold on tight, because there will be a lot of vibration, and the noise is beyond all imagining. Expect to have permanent hearing loss at the very least. And if you get disoriented and fall while the plane is taking off, you’ll very likely get killed falling on the tarmac.

But let’s say you manage to survive this bit, and the airplane is taking off. Next, the landing gear is going to retract into the very wheel well that you currently occupy. A lot of people are crushed to death at that point. Not a pleasant way to go.

If you survive that, though, you may very well wish you hadn’t. At first, the tires keep you warm. But they cool off quickly, because you’re going up to about 35,000 feet, and the temperature will be 65 degrees below zero. The good news is the hydraulic lines will heat up your compartment a bit. The bad news is it will only heat it up to about 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the hypothermia doesn’t kill you, the lack of air pressure just might. It’ll be 4 times lower than sea level, and therefore you won’t be getting enough oxygen, and will die of hypoxia. Due to the rapid decrease in pressure, you’ll also experience what most divers refer to as the bends, which are painful and often deadly gas bubbles in the body.

If by some miracle you’re still alive at that point, you’ll most assuredly be unconscious, and then, when the landing gear drops down again, about 5 miles from the airport, you at least may not be aware of the unpleasant experience of falling thousands of feet and ruining someone’s back deck as well as their whole day.

Most of us would say it’s not worth the risk. It breaks my heart that so many people are desperate enough to want to take it, in order to have a chance to get out of their miserable circumstances. Still others are ignorant of the ordeal they are about to put their bodies through and think it will be a grand adventure. Either way, the results are often the same.

The sad thing is that sometimes these bodies are not identified. One stowaway from Kenya, the one whose body took out the guy’s back deck, has never been claimed by anyone, and it’s been over two years. He was about 30 years old. If you’ve made it to 30 and have not managed to form the type of bonds to where someone will miss you when you’re gone, I can imagine that your desperation for a do-over is even more magnified.  

After having read this article and written this post, I doubt I’ll ever hear retracting landing gear in the same way again. Was that a thud or a crunch? It’s all very sad.

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My Short Stint as a Tour Guide

The summer of my 19th year, I got a job at a unique travel agency in Orlando called BTM Travel. At the time, it worked mainly with travel agencies in Latin America. They’d book groups to come to Orlando, and BTM would do things like pick them up at the airport, and give guided tours of the major theme parks such as Disney World, to help bridge the language gap.

It was a fun place to work as no two groups were the same, and their interests would vary dramatically. I was a reservations agent, and I mostly worked in the office, helping to coordinate these tours and assign tour guides to them. We used to joke that BTM stood for “Bad Tempered Mexicans”, but I loved it there.

One day, when business was booming, they had a tour guide shortage, so I was asked to do an airport pickup. I felt a bit of panic at this because at 19, I’d only had my driver’s license for a year or two, and now all of a sudden I was being asked to drive what looked to me to be the world’s most enormous 8 passenger van.

To make matters worse, I was also painfully shy and my Spanish skills at the time were rudimentary at best. I had no idea what I would say to these people while trying not to get us all killed. Oh, and did I mention this was way before GPS or cell phones, and I wasn’t very familiar with the Orlando area? Talk about flying solo.

By some miracle I made it to the airport and managed to find my party. It was a large family from South America, and they were very excited to be in the US for the first time. It must have been a long flight for them, and I was their first impression.

So off we went in my ginormous van, with me doing my best to project lighthearted confidence, even though I didn’t know where the heck I was going, and couldn’t understand half of what they were saying. I smiled a lot, and nodded.

At one point, for reasons I still cannot explain, I wound up driving us through the parking lot of a huge industrial complex. My mortification grew with every speed bump we went over. I kind of laughed nervously and told them it was a shortcut. But I’m sure they didn’t buy that when we exited by the same road that we entered.

When we finally made it to the office, they all smiled weakly at me and seemed to be relieved to be on solid ground once again. No tip was forthcoming.  I was never asked to play tour guide again. I don’t know who was more relieved, me or the tired tourists who got the guided tour of some random parking lot.

Those who can, do.

Parking Lot

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Hithering and Thithering

True confession: I’ve been to 22 countries, but I’ve never been to Chicago, not even to change planes at the airport. How is that even possible? With all the hithering and thithering and to-ing and fro-ing I’ve done, you’d think I’d have at least briefly set foot in this major travel hub. But no.

It’s not as if I’ve made an effort to avoid Chicago. In fact, I think it would be well worth a visit. There’s much to do and see there. Our stars just don’t seem to have aligned.

Even on my epic drive across country on historic Route 66 I missed Chicago, where it starts. I didn’t have enough time. So instead of getting my kicks from Chicago to LA, as the song says, I instead went from St. Louis to LA. One does have to make sacrifices now and then.

Finances have cut my travels way, way back in recent years, but I still have the travel bug, and I always will. It’s my reason for being. So, dear Chicago, perhaps we will meet some day after all. Until then, think of me kindly, and please don’t take my neglect personally.

chicago

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The Shortest Romance in the History of the World

A friend of mine sent me a link to a story about Richard Dunn, a guy who, finding himself stranded overnight in the Las Vegas Airport, asked for a roll of tape and shot this hilarious video by attaching his phone to his suitcase, among other things, and making creative use of escalators, moving walkways, signage and water bottles.

I saw this video and fell instantly in love. First of all, I appreciated this guy’s self-deprecating humor, which made me laugh at a song that I’ve more than once cried to in my lifetime. I also admired his intelligence and creativity. He could have felt sorry for himself and slept on the airport floor all night (which I’ve done a time or two myself), but instead he decided to do something innovative and fun, and that suggests that he’d be fun to be around. And he knows how to make the best of a bad situation and does not take himself too seriously, which are very valuable qualities in a life partner. The whole video is one delight after another. It also doesn’t hurt that he appears to be in my age group and I find him physically attractive.

So I went there in my head. I doubt it’s any secret that I have an overactive imagination, but I pictured us 20 years from now sitting on the veranda of our mountain cabin (because he, of course, would naturally want to live where I want to live), our grandchildren at our feet (which is an amazing feat since I am past childbearing age and wouldn’t want kids even if I could still have them, but allow me a little poetic license, here.) He’s saying, “Yeah, your grandma and I met because she saw this little video I did, and she contacted me, and it was love at first sight.” Happily ever after, and with many fun stories about being stranded in airports all around the world. I had found my soul mate.

And then I watched the video again and noticed the wedding ring. It was right there the whole time. CRAP!!!!

Richard, Richard, what might have been. How will I break the news to the grandchildren? Ah well. At least we’ll always have the Las Vegas Airport.

So I’m snuffing out the candles, and turning off the hot tub in my mind. I guess I’ll order pizza and drown my sorrows in hot pepperoni. Next!

Check out my follow up on this blog entry here. It’s been crazy!

Jacksonville, Florida: America’s Best Kept Secret

Since we all seem to have survived the Mayan Apocalypse, it’s time to climb out of our bomb shelters and live a little. Get on the road. See the sights. For those of you who are in the mood for a road trip, Jacksonville is that big city that you drive through on Interstate 95 on your way to Disney World. Very few people bother stopping here. It’s like we’re the world’s biggest small town.

In fact, the greater Jacksonville area is home to well over a million people, and yet it seems like no one has ever heard of it, unless they follow the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over 800 square miles, It’s also the largest city in land mass in the United States. When you land at the Jacksonville airport you don’t even SEE our skyscrapers, because the runways are so far north of downtown. That has to be disconcerting if you’re a first time visitor.

Some fun facts about Jacksonville:

  • Elvis Presley did his first indoor performance here, at the Florida Theater. The show was monitored by a judge to make sure his hips didn’t get out of hand, so to speak.
  • Florida Theater also used to show movies, and it was the first theater in the world to serve popcorn.
  • Jacksonville used to have a huge movie industry. There were more than 30 studios here. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed here. Which tells you all you need to know about the health of our waterways.
  • We have contributed to the world of music in many ways. Pat Boone was from Jacksonville, as were the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special and Limp Bizkit (are you getting the impression that we have issues with spelling?) and the disk Jockey Rick Dees. We also host the second largest jazz festival in the country, and one of the oldest and largest blues festivals.
  • In fact, Lynyrd Skynyrd took its name from a teacher who gave them a hard time, the late Leonard Skinner. He was a teacher at Lee High School, and was also, briefly, a bridgetender at one of the bridges that I work on.
  • We were put on the map briefly in 1988 due to the Morning Glory Funeral Home scandal. 36 decomposing bodies were discovered in the funeral home, most of which were stuffed in a closet, and some had been there for over 10 years. Later they found multiple bodies buried in single caskets in the local paupers cemetery. The funeral director was convicted for taking money for funerals that were never performed, and the regulations on Florida funeral homes became much stricter after that.
  • For 11 years, Jacksonville was the murder capital of Florida, but crime has gone down of late, probably due in part to the closing of one Navy base, and the fact that the other two are practically ghost towns now, due to wars overseas.
  • The first Burger King was located in Jacksonville.
  • The St. Johns River cuts through town and empties into the Atlantic Ocean here. The river runs north, just like the Nile.
  • We are home to the largest concrete cable-supported bridge in the world.
  • Professional golfers Mark McCumber, Fred Funk, Vijay Singh, and David Duval are from here.
  • The list of NFL players from Jacksonville is so long that naming them here would be tedious.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Jacksonville, but if you’re reading this blog then I’m sure you know how to Google, too, so we won’t get into that here. Just know that if you drive through on the way to Disney, it might be worth stopping after all.