Almost exactly 10 years ago, I boarded a Northwest Airlines plane in Minneapolis. As I started toward my veal-pen seat in steerage, I saw the faces of the preboarded aristocrats in business class. But before I could glare at them with proletarian rage and envy, I heard a loud bang and felt a sharp pain on the top of my head. Everyone looked to see what the sound was; even the two flight attendants chatting like village women around the well broke off their no-doubt-vital conversation.
The source of the preflight disturbance? I'd smacked my enormous gourd of a head on a television hanging from the ceiling above the center aisle that hadn't been stowed for boarding. I lifted my hand to my scalp and drew back a palm glistening with fresh blood.
The response from the flight attendants? A shrug from one and the faint hint of a chuckle from another. They went back to their conversation. Dumbfounded, I proceeded to my seat to nurse my head wound, fuming over the fact that customer service at even the most rancid highway-rest-stop taco joint requires providing a moist towelette for seeping head wounds.
It's not the worst flight-from-hell story. Heck, it's not even my worst flight-from-hell story. So what's my point?
Well, for starters, it's a small reminder that flying before 9/11 was already awful, and it has only become worse.
Over the weekend, an idiot walked the wrong way through a secure exit for arriving passengers at Newark airport. An entire terminal was shut down so that everybody on the "sterile" side of the security barriers could be herded back out and rescreened. The entire process took just under seven hours. The cascading delays disrupted air travel worldwide. They didn't even catch the doofus who caused the ruckus. No doubt, if they'd announced his location over the paging system, he'd have been drawn and quartered by a mob of traveling salesmen from 3M and a gaggle of middle school girls returning from a volleyball tournament.
Now, I should back up. When I referred to the "sterile" side of the security barrier, I was using the term narrowly, to refer to folks who'd been through the metal detectors. Because to use the word "sterile" in its usual context in a sentence with "airports" -- those belching Petri dishes of bathroom effluence and unidentifiable noisome miasma -- would be a grotesque abrogation of journalistic trust.