Mental notes and meanderings while flying from New England to Tampa a few days ago.
• An advantage to being old is not to have to remove your shoes when you go through an airport’s screening procedure. Also, the TSA may stamp your boarding pass with a PRE or some other code word meaning “Put this old duck in the short line. He’s harmless. His last terrorist experience was in 1954 when he mistakenly believed an airline attendant had served him the wrong supper.”
• Some folks find fault with the TSA and its people. I do not. They invariably treat me (and the other passengers I observe) with efficiency, respect and good humor. They have an important job (passenger safety) that’s also a lousy one: dealing with the traveling public, whose members often possess everything except good manners.
• Most air travelers dress with one thing in mind: comfort. You can’t blame us. Who can expect passengers to wear a dinner jacket or a ball gown to spend several hours cooped up in a cramped, airborne cattle car? Exceptions to the “dress like a bum” tradition are Jerry Seinfeld’s five percenters. That’s his estimate of how many travelers take enough pride in their appearance to look snazzy, stylish, “hot” or some other positive description. Each time I’m in an airport, I hope to find that Seinfeld’s five-percent guess is too low. It seldom is, but the female exceptions to the rule are.
• Speaking of keeping up a good appearance, here’s a tip for women travelers: If you’d like to be admired a notch higher than most of the other women on your flight, simply wear a blouse or sweater colored melon or coral.
• As I waited for my flight, I noticed an airport cop standing nearby, studying passengers as they emerged from the screening zone. He stayed there for 20 minutes or so and then moved on. Who and what was he watching for? What were the high signs that might trigger his closer attention? For a moment I considered approaching the officer and asking him such questions. Then my good sense (often missing) kicked in. It said to me, “Are you crazy? The last thing airport cops want are nosy strangers sidling up and saying ‘Tell me your professional secrets.’“
• African-Americans comprise 13 percent of our population. We seldom see that level attained in most of our nation’s airports. What we see are white persons, over 50, many of them in wheelchairs. We also see passengers who are grossly overweight, but in a limited number. That’s because of airline avoirdupois surcharges, and the continuing shrinkage of commercial aircrafts’ lavatory dimensions. On my last flight, when I entered the lavatory and closed the door, I was in such a tight fit I could barely turn around to perform my ablutions.
• As sympathy grows for underpaid, over-worked employees in fast food outlets and Wal-Mart stores, let’s not overlook airline pilots, especially those who work for regional airlines. Their pay scales and hours-on-duty requirements can sound like something out of “Oliver Twist.”
• An uplifting aspect of watching airport travelers is to see the unaccustomed certainty in their eyes and mannerisms. Think about it: most of us live in a world of mild confusion. What does life mean? Where am I bound? Shall I turn left or go right? Such bewilderment usually disappears at the airport as soon as we check in, get our boarding pass and head for our designated departure gate. For the next hour or so, we know precisely what our mission is and how to get there. So don’t get in our way.
Of course, this confidence can be blown to smithereens by a few words from the public address system: “Passengers on Flight 366 for Phoenix are hereby advised that their boarding gate has been changed to C72, which is a 30-minute hike from wherever you are now standing. So you’d better get a move on, buster!”
• A few months ago I was pleased to learn that Tampa TV and radio personality Jack Harris is now the voice of Tampa International Airport. His friendly but authoritative voice is the one you hear advising travelers of TIA’s regulations about no-smoking, not leaving your luggage unattended and who to call if you see a wild-eyed naked man attempting to board a midnight flight to Moscow. I met Jack many years ago, and immediately liked him. He had a radio show at the time, and allowed me to broadcast a few of my Driver’s Seats over the air. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but I still think of him as one of the original good guys.