Monday, June 7, 2010

Plane Crazy Part I

Hello, Gentle Readers.

My mother is terrified of flying.  I've been trying for years to convince her that there's nothing to be afraid of.  Unfortunately just as I'm putting the finishing touches on a highly convincing pro-flight argument, something awful happens that destroys my line of reasoning like a toddler versus a house built entirely out of Garfield playing cards.

It's not like I love to fly, it's just that it's a necessary evil.  If I want to continue to see cool stuff on this awesome planet, I just have to accept the fact that I'll constantly be subjected to nosy questions, abuse of my property, legal molestation and being immobilized for hours in a pressure-sealed flying tin can subsisting on hermetically-preserved, individual-portion-sized gruel servings that even Gil Grissom would be hard pressed to identify.

I got acclimated to this strange process in my constant travels back and forth between home (Stephenville, Newfoundland) and university (Halifax, Nova Scotia for those Kind Readers with short-term memories).  Despite some hairy occasions courtesy of Maritime winter weather and annoying pit stops in Sydney, I began to regard these one-to-two-hour flights as mere milk runs.

These routes were almost always served by a squadron of Dash-8 aircraft.  Here's a snap to show you just how friggin' tiny they are:

Whoops!  This might be a bit more apropos:

Or maybe not.

Now, aviation experts can drone on and on about safety records but to me these planes represent the lowest common denominator for air travel.   Here are my top five reasons to avoid flying on a Dash-8:
  1. The thing skips along air pockets like a Japanese Zero.  
  2. Your most elaborate in-fight meal is likely to be a pack of carbon-datable corn chips.
  3. People of girth tend to spill readily into your personal space.
  4. The bathroom is the size of a broom closet which can only hold one broom.  A very small broom.  Like a "Swiffer".  But only if you're good with, like, spacial relationships and crap. 
  5. The prop engines are so loud you might as well strap two power saws to your head for the duration of your flight. 
Now I don't want to complain too readily about these sturdy little planes, since they've always delivered me to my intended destination physically (if not mentally) intact.  Plus I soon learned that it could be worse. 

When the Stephenville airport began to fall on hard times, "Canadian Airlines" began to scale back their services and eventually backed out entirely.  This resulted in more humble carriers moving in to pick up the slack.  One was "Air Labrador", who used aircraft even smaller than the Dash-8.  Whereas the Dash- 8 has two double-row seats separated by the aisle, this one has a single aisle and then one double-row.  Ladies and gentleman, I give you, the De Havilland Dash-6 Twin Otter:

Crap, sorry.

When I boarded this thing for the first time I was alarmed that there wasn't much in the way of safety protocols.  Not two seconds after we were seated the "stewardess" threw some pre-made Tim Horton sandwiches at us (overhand) and we were off.  I examined the lunch with tremendous caution, since the bread and lettuce looked kinda "vintage".  As the old woman sitting next to me tore into her sammy like a rabid wolverine, I looked towards the front of the plane and was horrified to realize that there was no cabin door to the cockpit!

I watched in horror as the pilot and his co-conspirator began to mouth-wrestle their own whole-wheat ham and swiss sandwiches while piloting this friggin' plane!  It was worse than the bus driver and the "Roll Up The Rim" cup!  After the oral orgy, they bundled up the bag, wrapper, napkins and the rest of the garbage and just crammed it behind their seat.  A stray Pepsi can popped free and rolled around in the aisle for a bit until the stewardess picked it up.  I felt like I was driving around in the back seat of a buddy's Mazda RX Dash-8 instead of some sophisticated aircraft.   Scary stuff.

When it came time for sales conferences or work contest trips I mercifully got to move up to bigger aircraft.  The downside is that the company I worked for often booked the most inefficient, devious and hare-brained itinerary you could possibly devise, likely for the sake of saving a few shekels. When you fly from Halifax to Toronto to Miami to San Juan things are bound to fall apart.

One piece of sage advice to people who haven't flown a lot: go to the airport early, make sure you've got a seat assignment on your boarding pass and don't rest until you've reached your next gate.  Back when I wasn't so experienced a flier I often made the mistake of trusting the staff to actually, y'know, take care of me and stuff. The truth is: they don't care! 

One time I took my boarding pass from the check-in girl and didn't notice the absence of a certain electronic "LR" code and seat assignment for my connecting flight.  I got to the connector queue way ahead of schedule but just as I was about to board the plane, security sent me packing to the front desk because my boarding pass wasn't coded properly.  I shlepped all the way back, battled to get a seat assignment and then ran back to the plane "Amazing Race"-style.

For the record, wheeled carry-on's are only convenient when you're not running like Usain Bolt and dragging your bags on the non-wheeled side.

But most of the time, my issues with flying are with going home and/or coming back, especially since the Stephenville airport has all but shut down.  "Beloved" Newfoundland politician John Crosbie bought up a crap-load of land around the Deer Lake airport and when it came time for either Deer Lake or Stephenville to expand their operations, guess which one got the contract?  Yes, despite the fact that Deer Lake's runway needed to be extended and Stephenville already had an American-built runway large enough to accommodate an emergency space shuttle landing (, Stephenville got screwed.

Well, that's all for now, folks!  More flights of fancy next time on "You Can't Get There From Here"!     

Thanks for reading...



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