Inconveniences

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I don’t consider it an inconvenience for air travelers to pack their liquids in their checked suitcases. It would speed everything up if passengers were forbidden any carry-on luggage.

One reason it takes so long to get off one of those aluminum rolls with wings is because people drag on so much carry-on luggage and stuff it in the overhead compartments. Then when the plane lands, they block the aisle while they try to unstuff it. It would suit me fine if the only thing you could carry on would be whatever fits into a sandwich bag.

It might also simplify security procedures if everyone traveled nude. Yes, it might not be aesthetically pleasing or even hygienic, but it would simplify the jobs of the Transportation Security Administration employees. Besides, hygiene and a passenger plane are a contradiction in terms anyway.

My solution is that I just don’t travel by air unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Flying, which used to be a pleasant experience, has now become the equivalent of riding a Greyhound bus. Airlines pack you in like sardines, and, of course, just getting to the airport and on the plane is a time-eater and an ordeal. My idea of luxury travel would be to have a chauffeur, but absent that, I prefer to drive.

Yes, I know that, statistically, flying is alleged to be safer than driving, but statistics just count and measure. They don’t prove anything except that many people are gullible in the face of numbers. More people survive automobile accidents than airplane crashes, just as more people die on jogging tracks and in hospitals than in tobacco shops.

Besides, we’ve all seen the decline in the quality of working people. Whatever you hire somebody to do, you’re almost sure to have to call him back out to do it right. Why do people assume that aircraft mechanics, alone among the people, are highly skilled and super-conscientious? When I used to fly a lot, I always avoided airlines that were wrangling with their mechanics over wages. Happy mechanics are the key component of a safe airline.

Brother Dave Gardner used to tell a story about a businessman who had never flown before. He was forced to by circumstances, and sure enough, the plane hit heavy weather. Lightning flashed all around, and the plane bounced so much that stuff fell out of the overheads. The man, scared out of his wits, prayed out loud, "Lord, let me land safely and I’ll give you half of everything I have."

The bad weather passed, and the plane landed safely. As the businessman was getting off, a preacher who had been sitting behind him tapped him on the shoulder. "Brother, I heard you say if you got down safely you’d give the Lord half of all you own, and I know you want to begin right now."

"No," the businessman replied. "I made a better deal with the Lord. I promised him that if I ever get on another plane, I’ll give him all of it."

A friend of mine who used to be a pilot on a major airline before he got bored and started flying for drug dealers told me that on a late-night flight to Los Angeles, the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer all fell asleep. Usually, one of them stayed awake. The plane, on automatic pilot, sailed right over L.A. and headed out into the Pacific Ocean. They had flown 50 miles before a flight controller in the tower screaming into the radio woke them up. They turned around, and the passengers never knew what had happened.

The bottom line is that though I was born in the Industrial Age, I don’t have any faith in machines, or in the people who build them and maintain them. Dumb machines were bad enough, but dumb machines built and maintained by a dumbed-down population are worse.

Since I can’t avoid either, I prefer to use a machine that operates on the ground rather than at 30,000 feet. At least when it breaks, I won’t.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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