A lot of people are traveling this summer, in spite of high prices and long lines.
Recently, while I was checking in to a flight at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the security line stretched the length of the Departures lobby. After two years of COVID restrictions, folks are eager to get out of Dodge while the getting’s good.
I expected to find full flights and long lines, and I wasn’t disappointed. What I didn’t expect on this trip was the dearth of common sense.
Once loaded, my flight out of Atlanta sat at the gate an extra 50 minutes due to a crisis on board: namely, a faulty seatbelt. I am not making this up. There was apparently no way to fix this problem but to wait on the airlines’ seatbelt specialists to arrive from somewhere across the airport and address the malfunction.
For the sake of argument, I assumed there wasn’t an empty seat to swap. And I’m sure there are FAA rules that prohibit a commercial aircraft from leaving the gate without everyone properly buckled.
Such attention to safety should be comforting, I suppose, though I’ve never forgotten the flight years ago in which a bolt had apparently dropped in the cavity between the passenger compartment and the outer skin of the jet. At takeoff and landing, the bolt rattled its way from first class to economy and back again. I had to wonder how safe all that was, of say the bolt had pierced the skin of the aircraft or had somehow damaged the wiring, but those in charge didn’t seem concerned.
I’ve also heard jet engines sound like the final spin cycle of my washing machine, though I’ve learned to take such things in stride. No one—me included—wants to appear to be a dolt when it comes to travel.
And so hundreds of us passengers remained on the tarmac for a full 50 minutes, waiting on someone’s seatbelt to click.
I watched the minutes tick by. I was traveling that Saturday because my Friday flight had been cancelled. Delta management cited staffing issues—i.e. Delta’s pilot shortage when they cancelled 100 flights on May 27, one of the busier Fridays of the year.
Despite such a rocky start, the tailwinds were in my favor. I arrived at my destination only 20 minutes late, and I was able to retrieve my bags and meet up with the driver in the nick of time, albeit stressed.
Returning home, I made the mistake of admitting to a boarding agent that I’d purchased some sweets in the airport lobby. Immediately, the agent whisked me aside to be patted down. My carry-on bags were opened and searched, and my hands swabbed for gunpowder residue. All this because I’d bought a few cookies within the secured zone of the airport.
Later that day, boarding my connecting flight to Charlotte, I was caught up in another onboard crisis. This time, a seat up in First Class would not recline properly.
Flummoxed, the crew called maintenance, though the passenger in question offered to be reseated in Business Class. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have taken him up on it and got the flight under way.
Instead, the pilot called in two maintenance workers to repair the seat, though after 45 minutes of tinkering, they couldn’t get it to work properly. And so the passenger was reseated in Business Class. Duh.
People say that the world will never go back to how things were pre-COVID, and I hate that for us all. What’s passes for “normal” in 2022 isn’t very pleasant. There are long lines and confusion seasoned with healthy doses of ineptitude and wasted time.
So if you’re considering travel right now, expect mountains to be made out of molehills. There are plenty of molehills to go around.
--Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book is Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World: Collected Columns, published by Red Hawk Publications. Contact her at email@example.com