Happy Friday, or Change of Venue Friday, as I call it around here. That’s when we take a more relaxed look at news or events—a lawyers’ blog casual day, you might call it.

It was last Sunday evening, I think, when I heard the radio news story. An airline pilot had arrived at the airport smelling of alcohol. Authorities were called, and by the time they reached him, he was already on the plane.

A snack with your drink?

Another story about the AirTran pilot continued:

“[Airport police] gave him a preliminary breathalyzer test and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.05, slightly above the legal limit for pilots which is 0.04. The legal limit for drivers in Minnesota is 0.08.”

So here is what surprised me (can you see it coming?). The FAA-approved legal limit for pilots who carry us all hither and yon is … NOT zero! Well, that falls in the category of things that make you go Hmmm.

Besides my surprise, my second thought was perhaps a bit uncharitable to the airline, but I mused, Well, it IS AirTran. I mean, do we really expect unimpaired flying for our discount seat?

It also occurred to me that perhaps the pilot was celebrating his airline’s May 2 merger with Southwest Airlines. Maybe he just imbibed a mini-liquor bottle as a toast. Of course, that can’t the kind of PR that Southwest was looking forward to when they got into the AirTran bed.

One result of the news story was that I meandered through the web for related stories. Holy cow, it’s more than a little distressing to see how many results you get when you search for “drunk pilot” on YouTube.

But it’s Change of Venue Friday, so here is a vintage video you may enjoy: the comedian Foster Brooks appearing as a tipsy airline pilot on the Dean Martin Show.

Have a great—and grounded—weekend.

 

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It is a commonplace to deride airplane travel today. It is the rare week that passes in which I am not subjected to some scornful diatribe relating the latest in airline degradations.

“Get over it,” we all want to say. “We know, already. The best days of air travel are behind us. What we have now is bus travel that is airborne.”

And that is why I combat waves of self-loathing as I relate my own airborne story, headed as I am to a criminal-justice conference for Arizona Attorney Magazine.

I write this as I currently wing eastbound across the country at, I’m told by our cockpit-cacooned Ralph Kramden, 31,000 feet.

I climbed aboard a few hours ago, only to find that I was to be housed in an aisle seat in the last row of our Airbus (there’s that bus word again!). Someone else had purchased my tickets, and too late I have learned that I am to be subjected to a non-reclining slab of high-tensile-strength plastic, covered with a cotton ball or two for comfort.

But now I understand that the main problem with this seat — 26C — is not the fact that it is painfully upright for the entire 5-hour trip from Phoenix to New York. No, the real problem is that it is sited in the area I like to call the “toilet waiting area.”

Delightful, I am sure you’ll agree.

But there is no better way to describe the spot where a dozen people have stood in line, like ticketed vagrants, almost from takeoff until landing. The shuffling, stumbling mob changes slightly moment by moment, overly hydrated person by overly hydrated person. But the line never diminishes.

Here is what comes with that pleasure:

People’s midsections: There is no escaping the parade of human body parts that drifts past me at eye level. Wide, narrow and everything in between, passengers display their bits, encumbered most often with poor clothing choices.

Eye contact: Much as most people try to avoid it, eye contact may be inevitable as someone lingers by my seat for minutes at a time. I do not yearn for a connection with any of you people waiting to shit in a closet-sized plastic box. Please, keep your eyes skyward.

Other people’s conversation: If there is one thing mass transit (and I include planes) has going for it, it is relative anonymity. Aside from the occasional cad who ignores your open book or your closed eyes and tries to strike up conversation, most of us understand that silence is best. But that’s not true in the toilet waiting area. There, masses of people who have been stripped of all other forms of self-respect feel a bond with their aisle-mates. That leads them to begin yammering, about where they are coming from (which is the same for everyone on the plane), where they are going to (ditto), and how small airline seats are and how nice it is to stand up (thanks for the original thought).

And they are doing all of that, right now, next to me.

That has led (and may be leading right this moment) to some site-specific invasions of privacy. Here’s what I mean.

People, essentially, were raised in barns. And that is probably why a number of them cannot help trying to read what it is that I am typing AT THIS VERY MOMENT!

YES, RUDE LADY, I MEAN YOU! STOP SNOOPING ON MY IPAD! GO BACK TO YOUR TOILET-INDUCED LOITERING.

Sorry about that. I’m back.

I think what adds to the low quality of travel today is the path that we all must tread to get to our seats, wherever they are. You know what I mean: Every one of us must pass through first-class to struggle back to steerage.

(My apologies if you fly first-class. If your butler is reading this blog post to you, I hope he will omit this section.)

That is a hard path to walk. And I don’t think it occurs in any other realm of life.

For instance, as I drive home from work, and head toward my own humble abode, I can select the most direct route. No law or policy requires me to wend my way through more upscale neighborhoods first. Nothing demands that I observe the upper crust enjoying crustless sandwiches on the front lawns of their palatial estates. They live there, I live here, and we need not intermingle.

Or when I am at work, and the interoffice mail delivers my Friday paycheck, am I first subjected to a viewing of the CEO’s pay stub? Am I forced to absorb the fact that his deductions for, say, life insurance are greater than my entire gross pay for the week? Thankfully for both of us, the answer is No.

Or when I wheel my ancient bicycle up to the take-out window at Church’s fried chicken, I am alone in my grease-addled penury. No one requires me first to pedal past open-air bistros where the elite sip martinis and feed each other coq au vin topped with edible gold bouillion.

And that’s the way it should be.

And yet, on airlines, we make that walk of shame, past first-class, with its hot towels, human-focused seating and other innumerable treats. No matter how happy the occasion that is the focus of your journey, that unfortunate path leads only to sadness — and maybe to a seat near the toilet waiting area.

Making that walk more difficult today was seeing a relative celebrity in first-class. Not typically star-struck, I still was surprised to see a Phoenix Suns former owner ensconced in the comfort of a wide leather seat as I entered with my bags.

The man is a legend and has accomplished much in his life, but he always retains the “common touch,” as they say. He is known to be a friendly and gregarious man, never far from his working-class roots. And in that way, he’s a lot like you and me (butlers, omit that last sentence). But there he was in first-class, and I was headed to the cattle car.

As my slow-moving line inched through the primo section I noted with surprise that the former sports mogul was poking the keys on his own iPad, making productive use of the time before we had to power down electronic devices.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to see what he was typing.

As I craned my neck and hovered over his screen, he suddenly looked up at me and curled his lip in what I believe was derision.

See how rude plane travel has gotten? It’s a crying shame.