If freaking out over airport frustration is enough to get you clapped into handcuffs and slammed into a holding cell, we are all doomed. At least, those of us who still can remember a time when a 2:58 plane left about 2:58. That same day, I mean. And getting to that plane did not feel like an episode of “Survivor: Departure Gate.”
The tragic case of Carol Gotbaum leapt to the top of conversations last week not just because she died in custody at the Phoenix airport. Not just because this was possibly the result of her accidentally smothering herself while trying to writhe out of her handcuffs. (Handcuffs that were placed on her after she allegedly fought with security officials, who then wrestled her to the ground and arrested her for disorderly conduct.) We are talking about the case not even just because it’s so sad that a 45-yearold left behind a husband and three children.
While all that is true, what seems to be most shocking is the realization that if you happen to get agitated at the airport and do not proceed to display the utmost, saintliest, gold-star decorum, you, too, could find yourself in police custody. And the reason will be that you were acting “crazy.”
Is it crazy to feel beside yourself when, say, your 6-year-old is singled out for “wanding”? Crazy to roll your eyes at the security agent who insists you show your boarding pass as you go through the metal detector, even though this is the exact same boarding pass you just showed to another security agent 20 feet away?
Is it crazy to snarl when your plane is delayed because of “weather” and the weather is 74 degrees and sunny? Crazy to clench your fists when, three hours late, you finally are boarding your plane, and the flight attendant chides, “Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot prepare for takeoff until everyone takes their seats,” as if you’re causing the delay? Stopping to smell the backrests, perhaps?
And how crazy is it to fall to pieces when you actually miss your plane, as Gotbaum allegedly did? Granted, it’s a bad idea to scream or fight or whatever it is she may or may not have done. Self-control is admirable. But it’s a sorry state of affairs when self-control in spades is what’s required just to get from point A to point B.
“I feel like not only will the airport workers not help you, they are almost pointedly trying to goad you into saying something so they can say, ‘Flight rage!’ and get you into trouble,” said my lawyer friend, who didn’t want me to use her name (for fear, of course, of getting on that list we all assume is out there. I’m probably on it now). “Everyone is scared because they can just summarily take you off of planes.”
That’s not the only thing that has changed; so has the whole experience of flying. Gone is the romance, replaced by stamp-sized snack packs of sesame sticks. And waiting.
At the end of the summer, my kids and I were traveling to Chicago. The night before we left, I baked cookies for a friend who ended up not coming over. “What should I do with them?” I asked.
“Bring them on the plane and share them with the other passengers when your flight is delayed,” said she.
By golly, that’s exactly what I did. And it was fun – for the first two hours. That third hour, not so much.
I know there are great people working in the airline industry, airport security and even in baggage control. I’m thrilled that the number of fatal crashes has – well – plummeted in the past 10 years. But the fact that going to the airport demands one exercise Buddha-like behavior is enough to drive you crazy.
You’d just better not show it.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age.
©2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.