I love to fly. I love soaring above the earth, surrendering to the experience. I once gained serious perspective at the sight of the Grand Canyon and other national monuments looking like abandoned sand castle construction.
There is nothing like the thrill of watching a distant thunder storm light up the sky like a cosmic fireworks show. After surviving a tornado, I’m not fazed by minor turbulence. A bit of a rough ride comes with the territory.
What I hate about flying though, are delays. It is so annoying to show up at the appointed time and be treated like the 250 passengers and I just happened by randomly to no purpose.
My least favorite excuse is the “mechanical issues” excuse, as if the fact that it is mechanical makes a two hour delay acceptable. Of course, I’m glad they found the problem, and are fixing it. Nothing like a “very tiny oil leak” at 30,000 feet to give one pause.
But why didn’t they look for this two hours earlier? Weren’t they expecting to use the plane today? Isn’t the essence of ‘preventive maintenance’ its routine regularity? Why the surprise? On Star Trek, they weren’t constantly putting the show on hold for pesky maintenance. When Capt. Kirk spoke, Scotty got the job done.
If the servicing of the plane resembles the ‘service’ part of the customer service offered in most terminals, we all have something to worry about. Nothing like getting the equivalent of “Go away kid, you bother me,” to raise my hackles. Why should I mind being treated like a child when my time, money and perhaps my life are at stake?
Flying is tiring. Unexpected delays make people cranky. Add fragmentary information and/or rude behavior and the word ‘mutiny’ starts floating into the fuzzy consciousness of many distressed travelers. When these passengers finally board and discover the cramped seating configuration was stolen from the catacombs, you have the potential for mayhem. Ever open a can of angry sardines?
Hardly a week goes by without some news account of an airline passenger ‘suddenly going berserk’ on a flight due to what is described as a minor inconvenience. However, the relentless accumulation of outrage preceding that snap never gets documented. Only the sad outcomes are featured and attributed to ‘madness’.
These events must be terrifying to the other passengers. However, to anyone who read Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” in school, they aren’t entirely surprising.
Years ago (1999), I was on a gig with Matthias, a co-worker and engineer. We were sent from Los Angeles to exclusive and historical Jeckyll Island, Georgia, to record three lines of replacement dialogue from the actress Charlize Theron who was there, acting in “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” a Southern gothic love story. We were in advanced post production on John Frankenheimer’s “Reindeer Games,” a Christmas themed thriller.
Ms. Theron completed her role in our movie the previous winter so her hesitation in reprising her past role whilst submerged within her markedly different, current one was understandable. But our assignment was to ‘get those lines.’
The hotel granted us a cicada free room in which to set up our recording equipment, and we awaited Ms. Theron’s schedule to open up. And waited.
Over the course of the next three days, the production company emailed us a stream of additional dialogue lines for Ms. Theron to perform in our ‘studio’. How could she refuse? She is a professional after all.
When she arrived for her session, about 8pm on the third day, Charlize balked at the list of thirty new lines. I foolishly perceived this as the opening volley of a negotiation. I called the production company to get support. They would get her cooperation.
Just as I got Marty, the producer on the line, Ms. Theron grabbed the phone from my ear:
“Marty?… I agreed to do three lines, right?… So I’m doing only three lines. Understood?… Good.”
She slammed the phone down and said, “Let’s do it.”
It was a brief negotiation.
Within half an hour she was gone. The precious dialogue was successfully recorded. She didn’t invite us to join her at dinner, or schmooze us, or say good-bye.
Matthias and I packed our gear and we caught the next plane.
We had a layover in Chicago. I hadn’t slept in about 24 hours.
A voice came over the PA system imitating someone gargling through a snorkel. The plane was experiencing ‘mechanical problems’ which were being repaired. Boarding would ensue shortly.
Five times over the next three hours, we were beckoned for boarding only to be told “Thank you for your patience and sorry for any inconvenience but additional safety tests are being conducted and we will soon be boarding at your earliest possible convenience.” Passengers started repeating it with her in a ragged chorus.
Someone asked for details and she made a joke about the fire department being called. No one laughed.
Exhausted but unable to sleep, Matthias and I got coffee. Soon after we set up camp, a pilot entered and sat nearby.
Introducing Matthias and myself, I confirmed that he was our pilot.
I’m sure what happened next was due to my frantic need for sleep (and perhaps the lingering effect on me, of Ms. Theron’s abrupt treatment).
Shaking his hand, I thanked the pilot for taking his job so seriously by ordering so many safety checks, time consuming as they were. Leaning in, I then told him I was concerned about what I heard from some other passengers.
The pilot also leaned in with concern on his face. “What are they saying?”
“That you’re a wimp.”
The pilot sat back and nodded with narrowed eyes. Matthias’ attention was suddenly drawn by a travel poster he hadn’t seen before. A chill descended on the café.
The pilot exited.
We heard the boarding announcement and the boarding ensued without further delay. The rest of the trip was uneventful and restful.
When disembarking the plane, the pilot caught my eye. I thanked him for the excellent flight and he nodded.