Posted by: SWL | June 4, 2012

Forced Closeness on Crowded Aircraft Leaves Writer Uncomfortable

I am taking a trip today and am in the middle of a long lay-over between flights. Oh, the fun of 21st century air travel!

TSA security screening at the Reno-Tahoe airport was easy today. The agents who checked my ID and waved me through the metal detector smiled, as Senator Harry Reid admonished them to do several weeks ago. (The Reno TSA has always been pretty friendly.) The agents checking baggage did not, but that’s o.k. since they were concentrating on their task. The man operating the x-ray machine seemed to do a thorough job of looking at the contents of each bag or bin. It’s too bad he felt compelled to talk to another agent between each one. I stood waiting for all of my belongings longer than usual. To his credit, at least he talked only between items. I’ve seen many agents talking and casually looking at the x-ray at the same time. Reno does not have body scanners (but they are coming next year), so I did not have to suffer that indignity.

I usually fly with family members, but travel alone about once a year. Today is one of those times. Routes I regularly fly used to be serviced by 737s or similar-size aircraft. Now those routes are almost exclusively tiny regional jets or turbo-prop planes. The seats on these aircraft are smaller, even the armrests are narrower, and passengers are packed in tightly.

A large man was seated next to me. Not really fat, but big all over. He quickly commandeered the armrest. Lots of people stay on the armrest, but this man had his elbows over in my seat space 90% of the flight. Whenever he turned to look out the window, his shoulder smacked mine. He never said, “Excuse me” or “Sorry”. I pulled my arm against my body and ended up with an aching shoulder.

Besides being physically uncomfortable, I find the forced closeness awkward. Sitting thigh to thigh with a totally stranger for 90 minutes is too intimate for me. This is not totally the airlines’ fault; the poor US economy dictates many of their choices in aircraft. But in the last decade, passenger comfort has been left out of the service equation.

To those passengers who take over the armrest or otherwise disrespect your neighbor when flying – just STOP! You do not need to take preemptive action. Most people are like me and will stay off the armrest so as not to touch you. I don’t need an armrest; I just want other people’s arms to stay off my arm.

The last part of my flight is on a larger aircraft, but will take longer, which brings up another gripe. It will be dinner time and I have to pay for food or starve. It was only about 9 years ago when airlines still fed passengers. It would not be so bad if they didn’t charge so much for so little. A $6 snack box contains maybe $2 worth of food! United used to have some delicious chicken salads, but the price has gone up 100% and the little extras like fruit are gone. The best deal I have seen lately is Alaska Air: entrees are only $6. And their partner Horizon Air offers free beer and wine from the regions they serve.

Now that I’ve vented about the first flight, I’d better find my gate for the second and line up for the race to find overhead bin space.



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