The Lighter Side
Meditation upon a broomstick (an allusion to Jonathan Swift)
By Eric Walberg
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 10, 2008, 00:12

With the insufferable increase in �security� measures at airports, I�ve come to dread air travel, though, in this day and age, we simply cannot do without it, so I make do. Still, could someone please tell me why a transit passenger at Charles de Gaulle airport must go through the humiliating experience of removing his shoes and having a guard stick a hand down his trousers, when this was all very diligently done in Toronto just hours earlier? And heaven forbid you shows even the slightlest soupcon of irritability, lest the attack dogs jump on you, delighted to latch on to a potential terrorist.

Was I being petty when I told the crazed Chinese teen with her pack of frightened hangers-on, terrified they would miss their flight to Caracas, not to barge in front of me, as I waited for the privilege of being shaken down by guards for the nth time? Considering she most likely knew not a word of English (or French), I had to rely on body language to make my point.

But such antics amid stale body sweat and snaking lines are not the end of the hassles these days. Trans-Atlantic flights are particularly uncomfortable as airlines seem bent on packing someone into every last seat, and persist in providing minimal leg room for the plebes. To rub in your unworthiness, on the way to your sitting coffin, you must troop respectfully through first and business class sections, with their reclinging couches, computerised entertainment, and decadent secrets we mortals can only dream of.

To help prevent air rage, here is some advice when booking your seat if you, like me, fly economy:

Book as early as possible to ensure you get an aisle seat so that you can zip to the loo when the ever-present queue abates, and so you can extend at least one leg occasionally to prevent thrombosis. Yes, it means having your seatmates stumbling over you, but just recall being stuck in the middle or the window seat and how claustrophobic you become after eight hours feeling as if you are being buried alive.

Make sure you are not assigned a seat with a wall directly behind you. I made sure that I had an aisle seat on my Air France flight from Toronto to Paris but I neglected to ask about the wall. The seat in front of me reclined and I consequently had nowhere to go. It was like being strangled for eight hours. Perhaps the CIA should include this technique in their �fact-finding� methods.

Worse yet, just before take-off a tough, bald youth and his adoring wife beseeched me to vacate my precious aisle seat in a complex game of musical chairs to allow them to sit together. �We just got married and this is our honeymoon,� the sweet little wifey pleaded, as her bodyguard hubby alternately glared and flashed a steely smile in my direction. I foolishly agreed and found myself in the middle seat with the hubby now jerking his seat back into my face. �Why me?� I asked myself as the interminable flight dragged on.

Even worse yet, I left a bit of cognac in the holder when I went to the loo. In my absence, my window seatmate stepped out, tipping it onto my seat. In the dark I returned and sat in a pool of alcohol (yes, serves me right, in Ramadan!).

The moral of this is: try to fly on a route which is not crammed with frequent flyers. The Air France flight from Paris to Cairo was heaven -- I was able to lie down on the seats beside me for a half hour, to try to recover from the first leg of my journey. The computer screen entertainment actually worked (unlike the transatlantic flights on both Air France and Canada Air which I suffered through this summer). The stewards were able to serve us and help out throughout the flight, unlike the harassed slaves on the long-hauls. And if you must cross an ocean, perhaps it�s time to reconsider going by ship.

Some advice for airline insurance companies: instead of turning a blind eye to the private cabins for the new super-deluxe class, why not make airlines build a room for calisthenics and aerobics, accessible to all. After all, since when are poor passengers any less susceptible to thrombosis and strokes than the rich? Besides, what better way to make new acquaintances and ensure you live to see another day at the same time?

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at

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