Recently I’ve begun to travel more, thanks to a new contract with a consulting and training firm. This wonderful opportunity often requires me to get on a plane, meeting a colleague from the firm in another city where we then serve clients. I love it–serving the clients, that is. The travel is something else again.
I remember the days when you could drive to Midway Airport, park in the parking lot just like a grocery store, walk a short distance to the doors of the building, stride to your gate and get on your flight, just like that. Those days, of course, are long gone. Midway is nearly as big a challenge to maneuver as O’Hare with six-deep security lines, the long trek to the gate and the endless waiting for flights delayed by weather or mechanical glitches. (I don’t mind the latter: I’d rather wait around than be on a defective airplane.)
Suffering the indignities of going through TSA challenges even the most seasoned of road warriors. Stripping yourself of shoes and jacket, walking into the machine while holding your arms over your head as if you’re under arrest and then sheepishly putting yourself back together (shoes, jacket, belt…) in front of strangers has a dehumanizing effect. But the planes themselves carry those indignities to new heights. Jostling for space in the overhead bin is an Olympic sport. The glory of scoring a seat on the aisle is dulled by the proximity to people who suffer from baggage body dysphoria, knocking you in the head as they swing their backpacks around to get settled.
Designers have laid out airplanes for maximum capacity and minimum comfort. While working my way down the aisle to use the restroom my hips manage to bump, brush into or bruise themselves on armrests, sleepy passengers draped over their seats or elbows jutting out while using electronic devices. Exasperated, I recently asked two flight attendants if it was just my imagination, or are the aisles getting narrower? The flight attendants commiserated with me, one saying “Every day is an exercise in humiliation.” The other added, “I used to have a button that said, ‘Does this plane make my butt look big?’”
Just as I’m beginning to complain about the vagaries of business travel, I remember a YouTube video I saw with comedian Louis C.K. sharing his disdain for people who complain about flying. He tells a story about being on a flight when the high-speed internet connection went out and the guy next to him uttered an expletive in disgust. Louis says, “Oh, really? Are you partaking in the miracle of human flight? Did this plane just take off like a bird?” He reminds us, “You’re sitting in a chair–in the sky!”
Next time I’m annoyed by a flight delay or having to sit out on the tarmac, awaiting take-off, I’ll remember what Louis C.K. said about how a trip from New York to Los Angeles, roughly a five-hour flight, used to take years. Old people would die along the way and new ones would be born, he says. “A whole new group would show up at the end of the trip!” That, my friends, is perspective.
Photo credit: Pixabay.com