Sunday, January 04, 2009

The curious case of Wilbur and Orville

I write this as I sit at Newark Liberty airport,waiting to get to Pittsburgh. It's been a long, crazy journey. Unfortunately,in these times, when anyone can afford to fly, when anyone can practise amateur terrorism, when any firm can buy two planes and call themselves an international carrier, my long crazy journey is probably not unique. It is becoming the fate of millions like me. Millions like me who are getting frustrated and irritated at too young an age. Flying to us, is not that glorious ride in the heavens, amidst the cottony clouds, overlooking mountains and sea.... nein. To us flying is but a necessary menace.

Let's start with the aircraft service that desperately needs more airplanes if it aspires for any kind of excellence. Even as I type out excellence, I realize I've dug my own grave. By today's standards the aircraft service I refer to is probably considered excellent. Why ? Because it manages to maintain a high profit margin. How does it do that ? It crams too many people in too few planes. It takes care of them with too few people. There are no 24 hr manned desks in the airports. They use their manpower wisely by manning the desk only for a few hours around the time of the flight departure. Another way to increase profit. They tie up with other airlines. Another way to increase profits. They are, in other words, simply excellent, bringing the
entire world to your doorstep. It is such smart cost-cutting techniques that make traveling by air such an affordable nuisance. It is going to grow to the point where mankind will depend on it to the extent that any overhaul of the behemoth will be impractical and impossible. What complain can you have of services that manage to bring the world to your doorstep ? My complaint is, by the time I open the door to get to this world, I am so miffed that I simply do not want the world. I'd rather have my door open to a simple, decent, predictable, faithful yard. Maybe even a few weeds won't really bother me.

So they have this way of bringing all the passengers from far and wide in india to brussels. They then mix em up and redistribute them to many place far and wide in the US. It's a lovely idea. Until, one of the incoming flights gets delayed at Brussels. Then all the outbound flights have to wait until this incoming flight arrives. When I was going from Pitt to Chennai, my only problem was the wait. The wait, I managed to deal with by sleeping on one of the many couches that brussels airports is so thankfully filled with. When I was coming back however, I had a connecting from new york to pittsburgh. And of course, if my flight to new york got delayed because of fog in delhi, then I'd miss my connecting. What do I do, I asked ? Of course, there are
three different answers you get. And you are faced with this daunting task of figuring out which of these three people are saying it like it is. Of course, they've been taught to apologize profusely. That bit truly is very endearing. One of them told me that the staff were working at the reconnecting and will make an announcement. Wow! I thought. Efficient. But it is also true that most of these people will not do anything for you until you tell them to. We're a species that try and perfect the art of doing nothing in order to get rewarded. Another told me that I will have to arrive at new york and talk to the jet airways staff.But my connecting is american I screamed. h! Then you'll have to talk to them, they said. I didn't wanna believe any of them.

Then someone came up with this brilliant solution of routing me through newark because that flight was actually on time, and I could take the continental airline from newark to pittsburgh. Interesting. They could do all that ? Wow. The digital age and all that spunky stuff I thought. Sure. Go ahead I said. But... my checked bags ?The checked bags were sitting in a red box (the transit box), and by policy they could not be taken out until they reached jfk. Security is always the most pressing issue see ? It was getting muddier already. How in the world was I supposed to feel comfortable to go to Pitt via newark on the continental, while my bags would come to
pittsburgh via jfk on an american airlines.It looked like an ingeniously architectured passing the blame game. Ingenious- defined as the inability of me to figure out who to sue (continental, jet, american, the wright brothers ?) should I be insane enough to sue. There were too many factors involved. I couldn't trust anyone could do it right. But of course, me being terrorist suspect and all, cannot be allowed to walk into that red box and say "that and that- they are my bags", and wheel them behind me to the newark flight. It actually only need be that simple. But it is so full of loops that mr terror can use, that simple minded souls such as I are being forced to live
extremely complicated lives. I am not allowed to walk into mr red box. I had to renege control of my own darling bags. This is the mad world we're living in. And the story got worse. At pittsburgh I was supposed to file a claim about this weird baggage story at the continental desk. And the continental people would take care of bags that were going to come on an american flight.

If Alice, of alice in wonderland were with me, she'd have tagged along with me instead of the hare or the mad hatter. Lewis caroll would have taken my story instead of his, because I was living in the land of "curioser and curioser". With some reticence I managed to get myself to newark, where the continental staff had no clue about my situation. Speak to the jet staff they said. The jet staff of the jet desks that get manned only for a few hours a day. By this time I had a cruel cold. A cold is the one of the most annoying things in the world that can happen to you. It puts you in a limbo- you aren't truly ill, but neither are you fully well. And when you fly with a
cold your ears get blocked. And i was finding myself doing way more speaking than a nose and ear blocked person ought to. With all the echoing in my own ears I wasn't speaking loud enough for anyone.And when I did speak loud enough, they asked me not to panic. Whether god was by my side, holding my hands, nudging me to be as good a person I can be, I cannot say. But I can vouch for a certain mr murphy seriously considering marrying me for life in sickness and in health(muted whispers), for better(muted whispers) or for worse, till death finally, and thankfully rents us apart.

Then the jet airways at terminal B give me this piece of ancient looking paper that was supposed to be presented in order to obtain a boarding pass at terminal a. And with that boarding pass I had to proceed to terminal c where my flight was scheduled to leave 4 hours later. Back to the present. That 4 hours is now.I just passed security clearance. Another one of those banes of terrorism coming free with air travel. You get to be frisked. You've to take of your shoes and your belt. You are expected to limit cleansing fluids to 6 oz. And finally, sometimes they will
sweetly tell you that you have been selected for "digital screening". They make it sound like its a great treat, almost making you feel like you had to have worked and toiled long and hard in this and previous lives (where I hope to god and hubby dr murphy that I had the sweet fortune of dying a natural death). And after passing digital screening, I sit here waiting for my flight to leave, knowing that when I get to pittsburgh, I'll have to file a baggage claim with continental, who I expect are going to look at me cluelessly as I explain to them what happened. And somehow if my bags don't come they'll offer me compensation. There are many other compensations I would like. Like maybe merging all the continents together into a modern day pangea. Or maybe making hyperspace travel a reality.

There's that age old philosophical question. If you were to replicate someone molecular by molecule, bond angle and bond distance to bond angle to bond distance, with no space for error at all (Heisenberg's uncertainty be damned) will this new person be the exact same as the old person. I believe fervently, that it s/he will be. If there is no error at all, the person, and the emergent behavior will be the same. And of course, there are going to be errors, and I may end up being a slightly different person, and so, they say, is the disadvantage of hyperspace travel. But honey, I'll so take that. Because, this real time travel, its making me a person I don't wanna be. Its called bitter. I live in the hope, that hyperspace travel will not do that.

And as I write this, my parents are traveling rather peacefully from chennai to bangalore. In the irctc (indian railways) everything proceeds like clockwork whether you are making profits or not. And they managed to do this even in the days without the computer. There's clearly a lesson to be learnt in all this. We should simply leave flying to the birds and the penguins of madagaskar animations, and restrict ourselves to foot and sea. The only air travel we should be doing is when our soul finally departs the body as we rest in peace after having lived a comfortable, non-annoying life. Amen!

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