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FUNNY BUSINESS: Wing and a prayer: Surviving today's air travel

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One of the great struggles of the day-Airlines vs. Human Beings-has taken some interesting turns lately, but the score remains the same as it has been for years: The human beings are not winning.

Consider these touchdowns, so to speak, just from the last couple of weeks:

A piece of a wing detaches itself from a US Airways jet and smacks into several of the plane's windows before falling to the ground somewhere in Maryland. "May I have your attention, please? The captain advises that, yes, that WAS a piece of the left wing that just went flying past, but not to worry. The plane can fly without it ... now, if everybody will just lean WAAAAY over to the right ..."

Speaking of US Scareways, that was the airline with the pilot whose pistol discharged on a flight from Denver to Charlotte. "May I have your attention, please? The captain advises that, yes, that WAS a gunshot you heard, but not to worry. All those scenes you see in the movies of people getting sucked out of the pressurized cabins when the hull is compromised are just ... OH MY GOD! HELP ME! HELP ME! YAAAAAH!"

American and Delta airlines canceled hundreds of flights to inspect their planes for faulty wiring harnesses, and US Airways (yes, I know, it keeps showing up) slowed down to inspect its fleet (see above under, "Hey, what just came off the wing, there?")

Southwestern, the festival-seating, bring-your-own-box-lunch airline, recently got socked with a humongous fine for missing safety inspections and continuing to fly with passengers aboard. "May I have your attention please? We're not the crew. We're the feds. Would you please get off this plane? I don't care if you DID finally get the seat behind the bulkhead."

How about the woman who is suing the Transportation Safety Authority (Keeping The Skies Clear Of Nail Clippers, Lace-Up Shoes, and Gatorade)

because she was made to remove her body jewelry, which had grown into place and therefore required the use of pliers?

Your TSA: Agents standing between you and the terrorist threat of nipple rings.

And, of course, there's the bankruptcy case filed recently by ATA, or as I have called it for years, The Practice Airline. I came up with the nickname after a particularly unpleasant flight to Hawaii some years ago with a crew that darn near lost control of the plane after a pack of halfloaded senior citizens grew unruly over the in-flight movie ("Little Giants," with Rick Moranis and Ed O'Neill, so you couldn't really blame them).

The ATA fold was followed in fairly short order by the bankruptcy case filed by AirBus, which pioneered the concept of co-pilots with coin changers on their belts and little cords along the side of the cabin that you pulled when your stop was coming up and you wanted the pilot to land.

Add to this the generally insulting, degrading, uncomfortable and occasionally nerve-shattering experience that has become modern American air travel, and you know, it's not looking good for our side. And you know what? It's not like we want the moon. We know the days of relaxed, civilized air travel are as dead as Studebakers and cigarette commercials. We'd just like to be treated a little less like utility-grade cattle wedged into those undersized seats in coach, and a little more like-dare we ask it-people?

Now it's true I haven't flown in a few months. That's OK. I still have the welts on my hips and bruises on my knees from the last time. They're there to remind me that the airlines are now configuring the planes for maximum revenue by jamming in even more seats. Simply put, you won't fit unless you're a fourth-grader. An undernourished one.

I think the message here is clear, folks. The skies are getting less friendly all the time and now, more than ever, we need to tell our elected representatives to help us. This is an election year and there's lots of talk about bailouts and stimulus packages. I think Congress and the president should think about modern air travel, and if they see it like I do, they won't hesitate to throw more money ... at Amtrak.



Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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