West by Northwest

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

Invited to a swanky Hollywood party in Beverly Hills this weekend, the family and I bundled up for another of our hellish adventures in travel. We do not seek out trouble nor are we loudmouthed, obnoxious, or difficult to deal with. All we ask is for a flight that leaves on time, gets to where we want on time, and brings our baggage with us. On its’ face, this seems to be an easy enough chore given the bazillion air miles worth of experience shared by the airlines. When it comes to Blum flying, nothing ever goes as planned.

In what was a well timed trip from Syracuse to Los Angeles this Friday morning, we were scheduled to leave at 6:00 a.m., spend a glorious hour in Detroit and thereafter hop a plane for a short four flight to the City of Angels. It was all good and peace reigned throughout the land.

It all came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. I got an email from my host in CA who was going to have us picked up and chauffeured to our overpriced Beverly Hills hotel. The email said they were going to meet us at the airport at a time 3 hours later than our expected arrival time. Upon further inquiry, our LA confidantes had contacted the airline and were told of the new arrival time. Something was amiss and an investigation ensued.

Well here it is, Northwest Airlines summarily cancelled our flight. They did so without telling us and if not for serendipity of a friend, we would have been sitting for more than 3 hours at Syracuse’s airport. Thanks to my phone call, I found that the flight had been ended and Northwest was not flying its 6:00 a.m. flight. When I impressed upon the person to whom I was speaking that I had meetings and events booked and could not arrive three hours later than expected, they rushed to my rescue.

First thing they did, and for reasons set forth below I fully regret, was reroute us through a sister carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines from Syracuse through Atlanta and then on Delta airlines from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Besides the extra 2 hours of actual flying time, the Northwest ticket agent did manage to get us booked into LA only an hour later than our original flight. Job well done said I; not really looking forward to extra hours airborne but thankful I was nearly back on schedule. The world looked good again.

No good deed goes unpunished and no well thought out plan goes off without punishment. Unbeknownst to me at the time the tickets were changed, the same idiot who threw us onto three different airlines seated our family of three throughout the airplane from Atlanta to Los Angeles. At least the guy at the gate in Syracuse was kind enough to fix that problem as I was not looking forward to 5 ½ hours with a jabbering salesman. I wanted to sleep, to take off my shoes, loosen my pants, and curl up in fetal position and start snoring to drown out the engines. Wow, thought I, this was working out better than I expected. We were told that we were seated in the emergency exit row and that I was responsible for opening the door and standing there until everybody got off the plane. I said “don’t worry, I will do what has to be done" and I quietly promised my Mrs that when she and my kidlet were safely off the plane, that I would be right behind them. They are my primary obligation. In the recent Hudson river landing, the guy at the doorway said the exact same thing; that he left when his family left.

So things were starting to improve; until we arrived at the TSA screening. It was there we learned we were “selected” for heightened security screening. I later found out why – because we changed airlines. Remember we did not change airlines, the airlines changed us. But we had suffer the punishment and degradation of a full body search. Apparently according to the giant brain that runs our nation’s security apparatus, changing airlines is a major red flag. It took almost 30 minutes for us to pass through this checkpoint, after being hand searched and patted down, having my shoes searched and swabbed (staining the white laces), and having our carry on luggage emptied out and every item scrutinized and swabbed for explosives. All I wanted to do was check in, drop my stuff with the family, and sprint outside for a quick smoke before I entered the no tobacco zone. By the time security finally let us pass, having green lighted the contents of my rectum, there just was not enough time for that last butt before boarding.

There are not words sufficient to describe the horrors and harassment of a full TSA search. The entire process offends me and cuts to the bone of the 4th Amendment’s rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Yes, it is not unlawful nowadays to set up random screenings just as it is lawful to set up random traffic checkpoints. But our selection was not random in that we were selected just because we changed air lines. Northwest / Delta owe more than apologies. I could not have been more offended and annoyed by the experience. Many would argue that it is a minor inconvenience for a greater good. But I question what greater good there can be when a normal white family is searched in depth. There is no reason for the grief suffered by us and no dollar amount will do us justice, Northwest took away our peace of mind. The experience was just one more reason why I boycott flying. After September 11, 2001, the entire nation went nuts. Apparently most of the stale bitter and empty headed nuts landed at Syracuse in the employ of TSA. You have no idea how it feels to have some pimply faced 13 year old punk running his hands all over my body while some little highschool girl is swabbing every item in our carryons. They did not care when they dropped my laptop and don’t seem to give a crap about the shame and harassment passengers endure. Look no further than this experience if you want to see why the airlines are in trouble. Flying has become more of a grievance and experience in pain that just getting from point A to B.

Then they called the flight. When our turn came to board, we entered a plane whose internal temperature was well above sweltering. Our flight crew must be from warmer climates because a 30 degree morning in Syracuse in mid January is shorts and tshirt weather. The plane took off on time and I had a glorious view of the sunrise over the Atlantic seaboard. In the peace of the dawn, I wonder what travails and adventures await us still. Perhaps a flock of seagulls?

Thank God for Atlanta airport and the heartland of Tobacco country. Whereas Syracuse and most of the Northeast has gotten all anal and abolitionist about tobacco use by implementing a complete and total ban on tobacco products, southern cities recognize that human beings still have rights to live out their lives without the State playing Mommy and Daddy. Atlanta airport, like so many others I have visited in the South takes the time and energy to set aside areas in the airport where trapped passengers and travelers can spend a few minutes swallowed up in a cloud of their own smoke. In doing so, stress is reduced and people are actually recognized for having their rights to live their own life. It is a great shame that Syracuse airport and most of the northeast bans smoking completely from the premises. Doing so is selfish, arrogant, and is a direct assault upon the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy.

The other nice thing about Atlanta was that the planes actually ran on time. In fact, ours was kind enough to take of a tad early and the pilot promised an earlier than expected arrival. That I will believe when I see it. Luckily our seats on this leg of the journey, airline personnel planted us in the bulkhead row. What that means is we get an incredible amount of leg space and no row in front of us. It is first class space at coach prices. Of course, there is a downside in that I am expected to be the one who opens the emergency exit and helps everybody get off the plane; with myself being among the last. With two winks and an “uh huh OK”, I consented to be seated in the row. I tried to tell them I did not need a bulkhead to get off the plane because in case of emergency, I would be more likely to chew my way through the fuselage rather than stand quietly waiting my turn as the plane is sinking. In light of last week’s incident on the Hudson, I heard the guy who sat guarding the emergency exit blab on national TV how he did not wait and instead went out the door first. As much as I promised I would not let my family go out alone, I know me and know that indeed I would stick around to make sure everybody else got off safe. It is fun to be a hypocrite and talk trash but when push comes to shove, I like most folks will do the right thing. Even if that right thing is running up and down the aisles screaming like a little girl.

If you find yourself in the airline hell that has swallowed me, make sure you bring plenty of food. Sandwiches of the grossest nature cost more than $7.00. Trail mix and MM’s and Pringles cost $3.00. Alcohol (gasp) likewise costs $7.00 which pretty much leaves me out in the cold, sober, and hungry like a wolf. Thankfully, there is a Mexican feast awaiting my arrival.

And now I have to settle into the dark good night that is called a nap. Having to sit here for another 3 hours with nothing to do and $4.00 for headphones, I am going to have to pass on the in flight entertainment. At best, my pharmaceutically enhanced peace of mind should shut down my brain and I wont have to be thinking about the smells and noise of the constant steam of visitors to the bathroom right in front of me. In fact, I can probably diagnose several major diseases just by analyzing the smells that follow people out when they are done. One guy is having a serious intestinal problem. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was caused by airline food.

Ultimately, that from which we attempted to flee followed us in our travels. The downside of winter is that everything is snow covered; white everywhere you look. Here I thought that headed west and out of the snowbelt, the white would disappear into the browns and greens. No such luck. From my vantage point of 36,000 feet, I saw nothing but white cloud cover from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, temperatures were in the 60’s and it was overcast and raining. Sunshine. I need sunshine. Bright glorious retina burning sunshine. Rumor has it that the sun will again shine on the day after we return to our homestead in Syracuse. Again, the story of my life.

We are now resting in a hoity toity Beverly Hills hotel enjoying all the amenities of the good life. For the price we are paying, life is not so good. It is fantastic.

To be continued …

Back to the MarkBlum Report

It is always a far better thing
to have peace than to be right.
But, when it is not,
or when all else fails

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