In earlier days, I used to fly rather frequently, but my flying days are just about over. One reason is that flying has become such a hassle. The required early arrival, the security lines, the shrinking seats and legroom and several other inconveniences make it pretty much not worth the effort unless it is absolutely necessary.
I go back to the days when every seat on the plane had at least adequate legroom, and I could — and did — carry a pistol onto a plane, and no one even bothered to check. The late Sparky Saunders and I once picked up a prisoner in Florida and brought him back on a commercial flight. We were both armed, and we handcuffed the prisoner before we deplaned. No one said a word.
How times have changed. Today, too large a bottle of shampoo causes a problem at security, and some TSA agents seem to take great delight in wielding their power, particularly over people who seem the least likely to cause a problem.
I have flown on more than 35 different airlines, and a few stand out. Thai Airline is one of the very best ever, and Air France is an experience I never want to repeat. The one that is hands down the very worst is the last one I flew.
For years, my favorite airline was Air Tran; I used to fly with them frequently to Florida and Texas. They had a fairly new fleet of planes, and their biggest attribute was that I could easily and cheaply fly business class. I would buy a ticket, paying $20 more for an extra legroom seat. Then I would log onto their website exactly 24 hours before a flight, and if there were business class seats available — and there always were — I could fly business class for an additional $20, making a business class seat just $40 more than economy.
Unfortunately, Air Tran was bought out by what became my least favorite airline. I won’t mention their name.
About five years ago, we decided to take a Colorado vacation, and I booked seats on Air Tran’s successor. I had flown with them years before, with no problem. In fact, it was rather enjoyable. This time I found that they did not assign seats in advance, so to be sure of having sufficient legroom, I ignorantly paid considerably extra for what they called “Business Select” seating. It supposedly guaranteed that we would be among the first group to board, allegedly enabling me to get a seat with the extra legroom my 6-foot-5 frame needs.
At the airport, we found that this airline queues passengers up in boarding order, like cattle preparing to head down a chute to the slaughter. I felt like someone was going to staple a number tag to my ear at any moment, but sure enough, we were right at the front of the line. What they hadn’t told me was that anyone who claims to be handicapped — and I use the word “claims” for a reason — is allowed to board first. At least a dozen “handicapped” people served as Judas Goats, leading us onto the plane and taking the best seats.
I have no problem with extra privileges for the genuinely handicapped, but there obviously were some people who were gaming the system. There’s no question that they were flying for considerably less money than I had paid and still getting the best seats on the plane.
When someone arrives at the gate in a wheelchair, laboriously limps onto the plane, then leaves the flight at the destination walking like they could run a marathon, there’s obviously something going on that is not quite kosher. Handicap boarding should be limited to people who really need a wheelchair or some aid in walking.
Bob Newhart once did a very funny derogatory monologue about flying on an airline he called “The Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company.” I now not so lovingly refer to my least favorite as the “Airline, Cattle Hauling and Instant Rehabilitation Company.”
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.