Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trapped Alive

Airports:  A Particular Kind of Hell

Whether you are a casual or a frequent traveler, airports, especially U.S. airports, nowadays bring up a certain queasiness.  No, not just the peanuts and ice.  It is a stomach churning experience, from stepping onto the concrete in front of the airport to leaving your exit airport in relief.  

There are the hoards of people with too many bags and too much crap.  Too many rookie travelers with giant bags going somewhere they won’t need all that.  I’ve seen people whose bags weigh so much they cannot lift them into the overhead bins.   People bring bags into the jet-way, only to have them ‘tagged’ for storage under the plane.  But they do it, because it is free and they just can't help themselves.  They cannot part with their stuff, even when leaving home.

The loud bellowing of the business traveler into his cell or blue tooth is constant.  Busy privatising the public space into their very own ‘office.’  Usually single white males, many suited up.  Look around and check how many people are actually reading – on the plane and even waiting.  Very few.  Not even magazines. Instead of reading or talking, there is a constant addictive fumbling with ‘smart’ phones.  Smart phones are making people dumber by the minute, it seems.  Mini DVD players whirr, tinny music plays on iPods; adult travelers play games on game consoles; iPads, tablets and laptops provide constant interaction with the internet.  No one is alone!  You have the Internet! Television shows on a 1 inch screen!  Staring into space and gobbling crappy food – everything but reading.  Are they using an Amazon-controlled Kindle to read a digital book?  Very few. 

Then there is the constant blare of government TV – ah, I mean CNN.  Hysteria about terrorism 24/7.  Hysteria about some crime, 24/7.  Warnings about your bags and other people’s bags you’ve heard a thousand times.  Gate agents that do not explain why planes are late, or give you the lying ‘happy’ news about short delays.  Purposely overbooked flights.  Late arriving assholes.  People who kick the back of your seat, or who allow their kids to do it.  1 out of 10 times you will sit next to someone who can actually carry on a conversation.  It’s a wonder when it happens.

Every bit of food in an airport costs $3 more than it would on the ‘outside.’  The airport is one of the most artificial environments created, and you are trapped there and the vendors know it, you and George Clooney.  The food quality is akin to a downscale mall.  These chain and micro capitalists are only concerned with taking advantage of their enclosed mini-monopoly.  Everything is thrown away as garbage.  Now that you can’t bring drinks through the screening – bingo!  More sales!

Of course, the worst is the screening.  The ‘hands over your heads’ naked scan.  The wanding of your genitals.   Taking off shoes, belts, hats, coats, emptying pockets, apologizing for the metal in your leg.  Agents going through your bags.  Standing in line for a long time watching people with too much stuff put it on moving belts. No one is every turned away.  No ‘terrorists’ are caught.  Little of significance is found.  I have lost an electric drill, some pocket knives, and various un-dangerous liquids to the TSA.  They destroy it or some TSA person has a whole drawer of pocket knives at home.  Everyone is a criminal until proved otherwise.  Who is the target of screening?  Al Qaeda?  No, the general population.  Don’t complain, or they will think you are a terrorist.

Except first class, who now have their own fast lane through screening, just as they own the front of the plane with its big fat seats, free booze and personal shitter.  They have the fast lane on boarding too, and on off-loading.  The class structure is blatant at an airport.  Who are these creepy people?  Usually businessmen with lots of mileage under their belts and dollars in their corporate wallets.  Figures.  Nearly every airline countenances this. 

All of this is in anticipation of the carrot of spending time in the sky, looking at the clouds, lightening or glaciers or the checkerboard of land and maze of mountains, or the twinkling lights of the cities and farms.  Like Alice in Wonderland, into the rabbit hole that is the plane jet-way, and out the other side – arriving in a distant paradise, thousands of miles away, or home.  This is the consolation prize for the airport or airports you just endured.  That is if you are a tourist.  But if you are working, more work awaits, as it never left.  How traveling salesman, town-trotting lawyers or jet-commuters do it, I don’t know.  They have to be especially inured to their surroundings, or in love with money.  Probably the latter.

(Read “A Traveler’s Tale” a commentary on travel, below.)

Red Frog
May 8, 2013

1 comment:

AA said...

And have you seen the crud they sell in airport bookstores? Ann Coulter and Tom Friedman. The kind of rubbish you can glance at while the other half of your mind is on the CNN screen or waiting for the boarding announcement.

Now the Gardermoen Airport in Oslo is a different story -- one bored security guard surreptitiously reading his novel so he doesn't even glance up to look at you.

Arriving from abroad at a US airport you realise you've entered a paranoid national security state.