Why we relish reports of airport meltdowns
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: January 18, 2019
Last week, TV networks aired a viral video of an airline customer melting down. These videos surface every few months — a woman’s tirade over a $20 baggage fee in Memphis, an irate doctor’s dramatic arrest in Orlando, a Spirit passenger ranting in the aisle after her plane was diverted, and a mother losing her cool after her family’s flight to catch a Disney cruise was delayed 12 hours. Last week’s viral video featured a woman body-slamming the gate kiosk after her JetBlue flight was canceled, while screaming epithets and calling the attendant a rapist.
Why do we have a sick fascination with watching seemingly normal citizens lose control? I figure we must secretly enjoy seeing irate customers berating airline employees for the delays, cancellations and exorbitant costs we’ve all experienced. Hasn’t everyone on the planet been frustrated with air travel?
And now, as rumors circulate about longer TSA lines due to the government shutdown, thumbs are hovering over cellphone record buttons as air travel causes more customers to unexpectedly reach the end of their ropes.
My last flight was pretty standard, with the requisite number of aggravations now expected of air travel. Providence to Pittsburgh — a veritable hop, skip and jump in the whole grand scheme of things. But distance traveled is not equally proportional to the level of inconvenience experienced at the airport facility. In other words, no matter where I fly, I know it will be a fiasco.
It started at the TSA lines, where I awkwardly met eyes with the same 20 people every time we zigzagged past each other toward security screening. Thirty minutes later, I’d formed a silent kinship with them. In the microcosm of airport society, they were my friends. At the end of the line, I bid them adieu and nervously moved to the next, intimidating step: TSA check-in.
The TSA agent looked from my documentation to my face to my ID, making me feel like a fugitive wanted for heinous crimes. I feared that TSA German shepherds might sense my natural guilt complex and attack, but somehow I passed and was directed to the security screening conveyor belts.
Nothing says humility like a TSA security screening line. Everyone tried to act nonchalant as we fumbled for gray plastic bins. We wanted to appear to be savvy travelers, but we were all made uneasy by the indignity of the process. I scrambled to remember the complicated rules: Do I remove my jacket in addition to my shoes and belt? If my laptop has to be in a bin by itself, does my phone get its own bin too? Will that packet of ketchup in my purse be flagged as liquid? Will the screener think my hairdryer is a gun?
I stood, legs spread and arms over my head, in the futuristic metal detector as an exhaled puff blew my hair into the air. The lady behind me was selected for a random pat-down. I tried not to gawk. We retrieved our bins, and as my comrades and I put our shoes and belts back on, I felt like we’d had an uncomfortable one-night stand.
I stopped to get a cup of coffee on my way to my gate, but the Dunkin’ Donuts line was longer than the one at TSA. Turns out, I had plenty of time. My flight was delayed two hours due to a flight attendant calling in sick at the last minute.
The large latte soon hit my bladder and I went in search of restrooms. Heeding the prohibition against leaving bags unattended, I muscled my wheeled carry-on into the stall, only to realize that I’d dipped the sleeve of my jacket into the toilet in the process.
Thanks to a calming ’80s mix emanating from invisible speakers in the terminal, broadcasting obscure oldies like “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” and “Sidewalk Talk,” I made it to Pittsburgh that day without losing my cool. However, long hours of confusion, inconvenience, boredom and frustration will inevitably bring even the sanest of us to the brink.
So expect air travel to be a hassle, and always keep your phone charged and camera at the ready.