Out of the Blue

Terminal Velocity

The greatest show on Earth

By Deborah Salomon

A friend asked recently, “Where do you get ideas for columns?”

I rolled my eyes and answered, “Stuff happens.”

And then more stuff happens — or stuff changes — all in plain sight, if you’re watching closely.

So, after 40-some years of column writing I watch closely, all the time: things, people, animals, weather, trends, politics, fashion, relationships and, in desperation, myself.

Certain places seethe ideas. The greenest pasture . . . airports. I am impoverished but fodder-enriched by four or five trips per year to see my grandsons, who live in Canada. A layover in New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte or Philly fills a notebook.

That’s right, paper and pen. No tablet, no laptop, no voice recorder. I get a perverse satisfaction from living unplugged for a few days, except a cell, for emergencies. And basketball scores.

That’s OK. Gadgets have changed, but not human nature, not since Egyptians painted on walls and Moses carved in stone.

I justify the airport backdrop by citing a popular 1940s radio show called “Grand Central Station,” which began, dramatically, “the crossroads of a million private lives, a gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily . . . ”

Upon entering a terminal, the first change Rip Van Winkle notices is everything. Young adults have traveled their whole lives without dressing up. No suits, no heels. They claim comfort, although the difference between sweats/tank tops/flip-flops and chinos/blazers/loafers on an hour flight escapes me. Then, particularly in big-city airports, note airline personnel who supervise boarding. They have a grand ol’ time laughing and interacting with each other, then turn a grim countenance to passengers. They read scripts explaining the boarding process so fast it sounds like Greek, which is fine by me, since the process offends by grouping passengers according to how many perks they added to the base ticket price. Do I want more leg room? Sure. Am I going to pay $25 for it? Don’t be ridiculous.

Then, since checking a bag (never say suitcase) adds another $25, most passengers make do with carry-ons, hoping for free gate check. If not, a stampede to the overhead bins dominated by, you guessed it, folks who paid $25 to board first. True, once the bins are full, airlines check a bag free to their destination, which causes major separation anxiety.

New airports are spectacular in design and amenities, reflecting contemporary demands, beginning with rest rooms. The need often originates during flight, where small, squished-together seats make getting up to use the lavatory positively gymnastic. Therefore, expect line-ups at terminal facilities, themselves a multiple choice: women, men, handicapped-accessible, family (politically correct), men with diaper changing stations, breast feeding nooks, even relief areas for service and support dogs.

About those support animals. Regulations have been abused to the point where an E*Trade TV commercial lampoons a support snake.

Snakes on a plane . . . get it?

I think passengers with bona fide support dogs (and old ladies with bad knees) should always be offered the roomy bulkhead seat at no surcharge. What great PR! Besides, think how confinement is stressing that poor comfort bunny.

Airport chapels are fading fast. Too bad — often the only oasis of quiet, perfect for a snooze.

Food. Eons ago, out of pity for the captive audience, fast-food franchises agreed not to jack up prices. That didn’t last long, although McD, Wendy’s, Burger King are still the cheapest. Others gouge: a slice of Sbarro pizza, $6.50. Pre-made sandwiches at Starbucks et al: $8-$12. Bottled water: $3. Worse yet, sit-down restaurants post menus minus prices at the entrance knowing that once seated, few customers bolt. On board, when snacks are offered, the choice will be pretzels or Biscoff cookies. Why a Belgian-made cookie that crumbles easily and oozes fat, leaving fingers slippery, I’ll never know.

Of course the biggest change is digital, electronic, whatever you call the addiction to constant communication/entertainment/information. Long ago I observed that denim and running shoes were the common denominator. Back then, passengers came to blows over the single electric outlet in a departure lounge. Now, seats are arranged around charging stations and at least 90 percent of boarding pass-holders are either earbudded, Kindling, playing a game, watching a game, sending an email, receiving a text, tweeting or conversing with someone just to look busy. I fly 2,000 miles without seeing a single discarded newspaper.

Because, in the aviation milieu, only nobodies are not glued to a screen.

One of those nobodies is me, watching the most fascinating screen of all. Real life.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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