Dave Barry

Classic ’99: Flying sardines unite! Demand planes with two wings!

Travelers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport wait to see if their flights are cancelled.
Travelers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport wait to see if their flights are cancelled. MIAMI HERALD FILE

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, February 28, 1999 .

Lately there's been a lot of talk about an Air Traveler's Bill of Rights. This idea got a big push in January, when a snowstorm forced some loaded planes to sit out on the Detroit airport runway for as long as eight hours, during which several passengers were eaten by wolves. This incident provoked national criticism of the airline involved, which I will not identify here other than to call it The Diametrically Opposite Of Southeast Airlines. In its defense, the airline issued the following statement:

``We are experiencing mechanical difficulties with our statement.''

I personally have had good luck with Diametrically Opposite Airlines, which - this is true - recently flew me from Miami to Traverse City, Mich., via Detroit, for free. I fully intended to pay for the trip: I purchased what I thought was a ticket, and I used it to board the Miami-Detroit flight. But when I got to Detroit and tried to board the Traverse City flight, the gate agent told me my ``ticket'' was not a ticket. She then looked in her computer and told me, quote, ``You're not in the system.''

``But I'm here,'' I pointed out. It was true. I was there.

``Well, there's no record that you're here,'' the agent said. She called a supervisor, who checked the computer and also concluded that I was not there. I continued to argue that I WAS there, but I could tell they both believed the computer. Finally, just to get rid of me, they put me, with no ticket, on the flight to Traverse City, where there was also no record of my existence. I'm wondering if this is what happened to Amelia Earhart. All I know is, I was never charged for either leg of my trip to Traverse City, which for the record is a very nice tourist destination, featuring an annual ice-fishing festival, where this year the most popular attraction by far was - I swear I am not making this up - a giant toilet carved from ice.

But my basic point is that air travel has become less and less pleasant, as more and more passengers are being crammed into planes that appear to have been configured to transport bait. This is why there is talk of an Air Traveler's Bill of Rights, which would require airlines to determine their fares on some basis other than lotto drawings, and serve food that is not made from the same material as flotation devices, and provide seats that allow for the possibility - however remote - that some passengers might have both arms AND legs.

As a frequent flyer, I am for these basic rights, and would like to see them expanded to include the following:

1. A passenger has the right to know that the pilot is alert and in good physical condition. When boarding the plane, the passenger may check the pilot's reflexes by challenging him or her to a game of ``slaps.''

2. If the in-flight movie is The Waterboy, and this has also been the movie on the past four consecutive flights that a passenger has been on, the passenger has the right to demand that the pilot fly the plane into a mountain.

3. If a passenger is standing at the ticket counter with some hideously complex airline problem that has caused the other airline counter personnel to be sucked over, one by one, until they are all gathered in front of the problem passenger, staring in bafflement at the computer terminal, and this has been going on for 25 minutes, then the passengers waiting in line behind the problem passenger have the right to emit a hoarse cry of rage, rush forward in a mob and stuff the problem passenger into the little box that indicates the maximum size of carry-on baggage.

4. If, during the flight, a passenger hears a funny noise and asks the flight attendant what it is, the passenger has the right to not be brushed off with some condescending statement such as ``that's a hydraulic compressor; it's perfectly normal.'' The flight attendant should just admit that the plane is going to crash and everybody is going to die. Likewise, during the preflight safety lecture, the passenger has the right not have the situation sugar-coated. ``In the event of a water landing,'' the flight attendant should say, ``you are Purina Crab Chow.''

5. Passengers changing planes in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport have the right to be provided with some way to travel the average 17 miles to their connecting gates other than walking or taking a ``tram'' that travels at the speed of fingernail growth and at one point passes through Mexico. Also, the Miami, Atlanta and Detroit airports should be renovated with nuclear weapons. The Denver airport is nice but should be moved to the same state as Denver. The Boston airport should also be moved to the same state as Denver; that way it would be easier to get to it from downtown Boston than it is now.

So those are my views on Air Traveler's Rights. If you're a frequent flyer, and you want to share your thoughts on this topic, I'd love for you to get in touch with me. Unfortunately, there is no record of my existence.

© 1999 Dave Barry

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