Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

I Thought These Were the Friendly Skies

I’m writing this while flying back to Spokane from Tel Aviv via New York, Charleston, Grand Rapids, and Denver. All of this is on the heels of travel that took me to Bonaire (January), Anchorage (February), Entebbe (March), and Istanbul (May). I’ve spent so much time in terminals as of late that I am starting to feel like Tom Hanks in the movie, The Terminal. At least I am not a stateless refugee—yet.

Sure, travel is wearing, but it’s all the other parts—going through TSA, lines, dealing with canceled or delayed flights, lost luggage, screaming babies on 14-hour flights, lines, rude staff, lines, and unruly passengers—that really tires you out. There is a lot of truth in today’s WSJ article, “Passengers Behaving Badly.” I have traveled a lot since I began to discover the world back in 1989, but I must say much of the romance is gone. More and more passengers—and airport personnel—misbehave. Passengers seem to feel as if their entitled as if purchasing a ticket gives them the right to be sloppy and discourteous. No matter the slogan, the skies no longer feel so friendly.

I have a number of peers who travel far more than I do, and I admire their indomitable spirits (at least those, like me, who fly economy). Many fly business class, and I wish them well (sort of). I do look wistfully at those first-class cocoons with passengers who settle down in their gated communities. It’s nice that they have a curtain that separates them from the cattle section where we are warned not to use their toilets. I say all of this with no sense of resentment. After all, they have paid for the luxury—and I am way too cheap to do so. Thirty-nine dollars for extra leg room is about my limit.

Here in the back of the plane where I sit with the hoi polloi, I marvel at—and sympathize with—those who are unusually large—which describes most Americans these days. I am 5’8”, 155 pounds, and I find myself squished in seats that can only have been designed for toddlers. Pity the flyer who is 6’5” and pushing 270. My compassion, however, goes only so far. I have no pity for those oversized passengers who plop in their seats and immediately hog the armrest and intrude into my space.

I do, however, save my more disgruntled thoughts for those in front of me who recline their seats to the maximum position right after takeoff (and my darker, more sinful thoughts, for those behind me who have a habit of kicking my seat). I confess I sometimes wish for bad endings for them, not to mention those who push their way forward once the plane has landed and the seatbelt sign is off. It goes back to grade school. I hate people who cut in line (wait, I am a pastor—I pray for those who cut in line and have no intention of waiting their turn). 

As long as I am ranting, I may as well talk about the TSA-Take Stuff Away. For the most part, they are professional, and I am sure their job gets wearisome. Some are kind, but most seem like those persons on the highway who are on the verge of road rage. These airport sheriffs bark their orders. They have to keep the livestock moving, all the while looking for those on the most wanted lists I am still mystified by one officer who stopped me and asked, “Sir——do—I —need—to —speak—S-L-O-W-L-Y?”

Speaking of mysteries, one of the strange parts of an international flight is airport security. After getting thoroughly searched before departure, one lands only to go through the same maddening search before entering the airport. Did the other security not count? Is there a concern passengers have somehow secured a gun or made a bomb during the flight? Sometimes, passengers are made to go through this once again before entering their assigned gate. What is that about? Is one security check trying to impress the other? Is there a fear I might have taken on some form of contraband while getting a latte in the airport Starbucks? 

I know, I know. Show some grace. People are just getting past a pandemic with its lockdowns.  Who of us doesn’t need a refresher in social skills? The airline industry has taken a hit. Fuel costs, ticket prices, overworked pilots. And now there is a wave of passengers who have been released from quarantine and are screaming, “Get me out and take me somewhere, anywhere but home!” There is also the added stress of being forced to set phones in airplane mode once aboard. Disconnection has its own trauma. I also need to be grateful. After all, I was bumped up to first-class flying from Charleston to Grand Rapids this past Sunday Not only did I get a larger seat; I was served a drink and my choice of pretzels or chips. Life is good,

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