I did it. For the first time since 9/11 I flew on a commercial airline. For me, it was a big deal, but in the pursuit of profit I didn't have very many alternatives. Flying the once friendly skies is certainly different since before the attack on the Twin Towers. What follows are some of my thoughts as to this "new" traveling experience.
I would imagine since time immemorial travel has been a hassle for most folks, no matter the mode of transportation. But in light of September 11 flying has clearly become a downright ordeal. Make no mistake about it, when a person chooses to fly commercially, his gives up his sovereign rights as an individual, among them the right to protect his family and his property, and the right to be secure in his own person.
I watched as people submitted willingly to the security checks. I kept asking myself are we really this far gone as a culture? Are people so willing to have their persons violated in order to get on a flight? Are people so naïve to think this kind of government activity is protecting them? And if so, what was I doing standing in the same line? With the combination of the voice over the loudspeaker warning us about leaving our baggage or cars unattended, along with the federal security checks, I kept wondering if this might be what a communist country is really like.
People were submitting to the security shakedowns but often with much angst, which I guess was some sort of relief, except that most of the folks who got bad attitudes about the whole thing seemed to be of foreign descent. Perhaps they are more aware of where things of this nature could ultimately lead.
I watched old ladies and young girls get frisked. I witnessed first hand the infamous shoe check. I saw little boys and elderly black gentleman have to stand down for the treatment. The funny thing is never in the history of our country have any of these people ever fit the profile of a terrorist. It would have been downright funny if it wasn't so sad.
I couldn't help but think this was all a farce. Let's say I had a private contract to secure the airlines for millions of dollars. What would I do? I would spend a fair amount of money researching the kind of person who fits the profile of a terrorist. Then, given the millions of people who fly, and the inability to screen each one, I would target my efforts on the kind of person who fit such a profile. Makes sense, as I wouldn't want mistakes that could cost me my contract and maybe people's lives. And given limited resources it would be the only way of going about it if I wanted to be effective.
Not so our government. They randomly select folks, most who would not even remotely approximate such a profile, for a search that borders on the ludicrous. The 9/11 tragedy was an inside job, and none of the measures currently taken would have made one bit of difference. In effect, by randomly searching, they are really not searching at all. But it does make it look like the feds are doing something.
So next time I want to hijack a plane, I will hire a number of rather large men and have them all take the same flight. They wouldn't need weapons, as I would make sure they are specially trained fighters. Then their feet, hands, and sheer brute strength would qualify as weapons although not ones subject to the screening process. Given the random search method most if not all of them would get through. How comforting.
Let's face it; government-mandated security is just a feel-good measure. The chances of catching a terrorist with the methods they use are about as good as you and I winning the lottery. No, they are even worse.
Fortunately I managed to avoid the security checks on my way back east, even though I was in five different airports. Good thing, as I was tired and cranky and may not have been very cooperative. I wasn't so lucky on the way back. I even had an item confiscated. But that is a story for another time.
In light of being so tired and cranky (unusual for me), I have to ask, what is going on with the airlines? I have never been so cramped in my life. It would appear they are putting more seats in the same space. How anyone can fly in coach for longer than two hours is beyond me. I understand people wanting to save money, the value of a dollar, etc., but this struck me as ridiculous. I admire the hardy souls who can endure such a regimen, but I am no longer willing to be counted among them.
I was so cramped, so unproductive, and just flat out irritated that I lost money on the plane because I was unable to complete some of my work. I think I now understand business class and why people and companies are willing to pay so much money for those seats. The loss in time and productivity and how you feel when you arrive is not worth sitting in coach. Perhaps it's okay for the leisure traveler, but certainly not for anyone who wants to use that time productively. As soon as I got home I made a budget entry for first class. I'll do whatever it takes to get a good rate and a confirmed seat, but from now on it is either first class or bust.
I had a friend who used to work as a buyer for one of the top upscale retail stores in the country. He told me they offered to pay him $2000 per flight to fly coach instead of business class. He flew about six months out of the year, mostly overseas. I quickly calculated and figured he could make at least an extra thirty thousand dollars a year flying coach. He said he would never do it in a million years. Sometimes he would fly for sixteen hours, get off the plane and have to go straight to work. He said he would be totally fried sitting in coach. I thought no way. Now I understand. I was totally fried sitting in coach. The only thing productive I got done in about ten hours of flying was writing notes for this article.
I'm also starting to understand the benefits that people get from things like the Hertz Number One Club, private airport lounges, and even Laptop Lane, the mini office company which provides you with all the computer/office equipment you need in a private room for a hefty hourly fee. Nonetheless, their motto, "Peace, Quiet, and a T1" line was the most comforting part of my "stay" in the various airports and quite accurate. It was where I went to get away from it all, surf the Internet, and answer emails. For my money, anything that lets me avoid lines, keep my sanity, and be productive is a positive benefit, even at $45 an hour (payable by the minute).
For those of you wondering what is so wonderful about a T1 line, you obviously have never used high-speed Internet access. T1's are to Internet access what business class is to flying, i.e. a whole other world. On a T1 line I can get done in 3 minutes what would normally take me 30 minutes, an hour, or sometimes even all day if I'm uploading or downloading large files. If you do anything more than send your email over the Internet and you don't have high-speed access, your Internet surfing is the equivalent of flying coach. It will get the job done, but for my money, it's a losing proposition in the long run.
Another annoying thing about flying is the FCC's no cell phone rule while in the air which they instituted in 1991. According to a study done by the FAA in 1996, there has never been any evidence that cell phones can disrupt flight. And some of the money I would pay for the use of the extremely expensive onboard phones could help offset the price of my future first class tickets.
One of our flight attendants was positively miffed because some of us were slow in turning off our phones after they had shut the front door of the aircraft. But think about this, if cell phones could interfere with flights, then none of the hijacked planes on 9/11 should have reached their intended destination. On each flight many passengers were using their cell phones once they discerned the gravity of the situation. Why then were the hijackers still able to hit the towers? Hmmm…….
To further complicate my travels, the FAA now has a rule that you can't use the lockers in the airport to store your luggage. Funny, I don't remember anything about terrorists utilizing airport lockers on 9/11. They were always a nice feature. It would allow me to have meetings in several cities in the same day without the hassle of carrying around my luggage until I reached my final destination.
But oh no, there I was stuck in Michigan, with a meeting in approximately one hour, and nowhere to put my luggage, since my final destination that day was Georgia and the airline wouldn't let my luggage go forth without me. The guy at baggage services said he couldn't store my luggage because of the liability. Of course this was an untruth. They routinely store luggage if for some reason you get separated from your belongings.
I learned my lesson. From now on I will simply set up my ticket so that my luggage will be flown to its final destination, even though I may "miss" an intervening flight. I've already tried it and it works quite well. In lieu of that, I won't pick up my luggage until I'm ready to get back on a plane, which means baggage services will have to store it. I've tried and succeeded with this approach as well.
Nevertheless, thanks to government intervention, I'm going to have to spend extra money (which I could have better used otherwise) on maintaining my sanity and some sense of dignity when flying.
The first government-caused expenditure will happen even before I arrive at the airport. I just learned the other day the FAA can open your checked baggage and will put a note inside saying they have done so. Balderdash! If this isn't an open invitation to abuse of all kinds, I don't know what is. So I will be sending my luggage in advance through a private shipper. Aarggh! Well at least I won't have to worry about baggage services anymore.
The second government-caused expenditure is when I fly commercially it will be first class and first class only. Life would be simpler if I could blame the airlines for this, but the rules and regulations of the FAA governing airports and airlines have created a government-induced oversupply. As such the opportunity cost of flying coach has become too much for me to bear and I don't want to be a part of the cattle call any longer. Others may feel different. As I said, may God bless their hardy souls.
My last step is to join a private jet club. In the wake of 9/11, private flying is booming. This nifty little idea allows you to put up a sum of money in advance and then access it with a debit-like card which allows anyone possessing the card to fly on a private plane of their choice anywhere in the US with only five hours notice (and usually less) at a predetermined price based on the equipment chosen. I've talked to some friends of mine and we are considering pooling our funds together under a company name. Then each of us can use the service up to the actual amount of money that we have invested and add more funds as we deem necessary. The service even allows you to use more than one plane simultaneously, so theoretically we could all be in the air at once.
Spendy? Yes, but it is a whole lot cheaper than fractional ownership (and many charters), which is only for the rich. Besides, there are no intrusive security checks, no rambling through checked baggage, and no ominous voice over the loudspeaker warning every few minutes about "security risks."
Moreover, I will save time, energy, freedom, and some semblance of dignity. I'll be more productive. I'll be sane. I wish I didn't have to do it. Others can and will use their money differently. But for me, some things are more important than money. Freedom and dignity are two things that immediately come to mind.
December 28, 2002