Illustration by Jan A. Igoe
So, here I am, sitting in an airport, waiting for a replacement plane, because the one that was supposed to take off seven hours ago is officially—drum roll, please—broken.
First, it was just a couple of “minor repairs.” An hour later, it was “an over-fueling problem.” Three updates after that, the spokesperson gingerly announced, “The smell of burning oil has permeated the cabin, so we’re fumigating.” Even if that stench wouldn’t have everybody reaching for the airsickness bag, it was bound to make us awfully nervous. So they wisely started hunting for another plane.
You’d think there would be some spare 707s just waiting to take off from an international airport, right? Afraid not. The closest one was “just a few hours away.” That’s when the frequent flyers lost their manners. Everywhere around me, stranded masses of weary, post-blizzard passengers began buzzing like angry hornets. I’d buzz, too, if I thought it would help. But my primary goal in flying is never to find out if the inflatable life vests actually work. (I’ve yet to see one inflated.) As long as I’m still wondering, I’ll gladly wait for a healthy plane.
The airlines have a lot of experience explaining broken planes to irritated travelers, so they’ve had plenty of time to study passenger mindset. Apparently, it’s never good to come right out and say, “Look, kids, you’re going to be stuck in this terminal longer than Tom Hanks. Your connecting flights have already left, so suck it up. Go have a few $8 beers, and drop what’s left of your money in some of our wickedly overpriced shops. Stop back in a few days for an update.”
No, they won’t do that. They soften the blow by predicting 30-minute delays 23 consecutive times. Using this psychology, the airlines figure fewer people are likely to become homicidal. But after the fifth delay, when they start breaking out free refreshments, you know it’s bad. Airlines would sooner let you bring a buffalo on board than give out free stuff.
If Wilbur and Orville are watching this show from the great flying machine in the sky, they must be flabbergasted. Those crazy Wright brothers had the foolish notion they could fly when bicycles were the newfangled rage in transportation. Some folks warned that the evil, pedaled contraptions would lead to social decay and promiscuity. (Something did.) Anyhow, that generation wasn’t ready for mopeds, much less modern aviation.
In the early 1900s, when the featherless duo was first spotted flapping around the Outer Banks, trying to imitate shorebirds, the general consensus was that Wil and Orv weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.
In the scheme of things, that wasn’t all that long ago. So, before I grab a Starbucks, tap into the airport’s free Wi-Fi and jump on Facebook to kvetch to “friends” on three continents about this appalling inconvenience, it’s only fair to marvel at the genius that made the delay possible. When I’m done marveling, I’ll kvetch.
JAN A. IGOE is still amazed every time a 200-ton plane takes off. Even if she’s delayed, it’s usually faster than walking. Write Jan at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.