Posted by: 4initalia | July 8, 2012

Cryin’ Air: How To Make Enemies Without Even Trying

My favorite view on an airplane.

We’re settled into our seats on Ryan Air, a low-cost European airline. We’ve boarded the plane in our usual way, which involves making our fellow passengers homicidal.

The boarding process at Ryan Air is a cross between a stampede and a Bingo game; not even the pilot gets an assigned seat.

While the kids and I take our places in the clump of humanity that constitutes an Italian line, my husband Andy makes his way to the front of the pack. He calls this “boarding the plane” but I call this “trying to get us killed at the airport.” He always reaches the gate attendant several minutes before we do, and because Andy holds the tickets and passports for all four of us, the attendant is forced to retrieve us from the back of the line.

Unlike Andy, I am the same size as an Italian. So on our way to the front,  I look directly into the outraged eyes of the many people we pass; maybe that’s why they call them “passengers.”

Once in my seat I try to recover from the trauma of our trip through security. No matter how many flights my kids have taken, or how many hours we wait in a security line, when we at the checkpoint, my offspring are shocked to learn that they must empty their pockets and put their carry-on bags onto the belt so the bags can be x-rayed. Shocked, I say.

With four thousand frazzled travelers behind us, Annalise insists on removing random items of clothing and body parts in compliance with security regulations of her own making, while Alex devotes his entire attention to a detailed explanation of an obscure computer game.

In a desperate attempt to keep the line moving, I grab an empty basket and slam it down in front of my son, hoping to interrupt his soliloquy on the philosophical underpinnings of ”Half Life 2.” Before I can stop him, he takes up his usual position at the furthest point along the conveyor belt, just before the entrance to the baggage x-ray machine, where he pauses to contemplate an unspecified spot in space.

After a frantic bark from his irrationally harried mother, he reaches into the seven hundred pockets of his cargo shorts, and slooowwwly extricates five hundred and twenty seven bits of effluvia, which he arranges, alphabetically, in the plastic container. He is carrying enough metal to stock a foundry – where does he get all this stuff? And why does he carry it around?

Wait, there’s more…..

Meanwhile, Andy is busy disassembling his computer and creating his own Metalhenge, which leaves me plenty of time to notice that we’re backing up the security line for several hundred miles. All four of our carry-ons litter the floor behind him, so I frantically pile our bags onto the belt. But I can’t move the bags forward because Alex is blocking the entrance to the x-ray machine, and he’s still got three hundred pockets to empty. So our luggage, Annalise’s unnecessary offerings, and Alex’s overflowing container take up the entire belt.

In spite of my explanatory pantomime, no one seems to grasp that all of those things could, with just a little effort, slide forward so that other people could put their stuff onto the belt.

Once I am finally able to clear the family logjam at the x-ray machine, we repeat the same process in reverse on the other side, which takes even longer, and causes my blood pressure to triple. On a positive note, hyperventilation ensures that in case of a loss of cabin pressure, I won’t need oxygen.

There should be an option to board early for people with a dangerous medical conditions, like traveling with my family.

Now that we’ve walked to our seats and adjusted our seat belts, we’ve enjoyed all of the amenities available on this flight. Free beverage service? A small bottle of water costs 6 euros – about $8.50, and if this airline could find a way, it would charge you for your own spit.

To keep prices low, Ryan Air imposes incomprehensible weight restrictions.  Each checked bag must weigh less than 15 kilos, or the square root of 27.3 hectares. Even carry-ons are limited to ten kilos, or 14 degrees Celsius. Because the airline can charge $70 extra for a bag that is an ounce over the weight limit, Ryan Air baggage inspectors lie in wait in every nook and cranny of the airport, including in the stalls of the rest rooms, in the hopes that humidity or the purchase of a pack of gum increased the weight of the bag enough to trigger the fee.

When we flew to Bari, we were close to the weight limit on all our bags, which meant we couldn’t shop without fear of baggage fees on the return flight. So I couldn’t buy anything in Bari, except for a small jar of broccoli in olive oil. And a ceramic plate. Okay, and also a large bottle of limoncello, but no one has ever sipped limoncello and thought: “Baggage restriction.” True, yes, there was also a set of framed photographs of the trulli in Alberobello, but photographs are a lot lighter than ceramics, and where were the baggage inspectors when I was buying the plate?

I suspect that I have a passive aggressive response to the Ryan Air weight restrictions, but don’t tell Andy, because he thinks I’m just crazy.

Although weight restrictions on low-cost airlines mean that passengers are not allowed to bring aboard nonessentials like insulin and heart medication, even Ryan Air flights include a duty-free cart, which sells alcohol and perfume. Duty free carts on airplanes have always puzzled me – why does the fear of dying in a plane crash make buying overpriced Scotch and a liter of Chanel No. 5 seem like a reasonable thing to do? And why do airlines sell just those items? Why not offer something useful, like craft supplies?

Welcome aboard! As a service to our passengers, our flight attendants are now coming through the aisles with all the supplies you’ll need to construct your own combination neck pillow/passport holder/airsickness bag.

On Ryan Air, you never have to remove the emergency information card from the pocket of the seat back in front of you, because there is no pocket on the seat back in front of you. The safety information is printed directly on the seat back, which is conveniently located just beyond your eyelashes.  I study the safety information sticker.  A series of cartoons provide helpful information, such as what I’m not allowed to take with me if the plane crashes any harder than it does on a regular landing.

According to the drawings, if the plane crashes I should leave behind my glasses. If I take off my glasses, I won’t know whether the plane has actually crashed, so that should help prevent panic. And without my glasses I would be so blind I wouldn’t be able to leave my seat; that should also cut down on crowding in the aisles that would delay the safe evacuation of the rest of the passengers.

Another cartoon indicates that I must leave behind my high-heeled shoes, but since I’m going to die in my seat that shouldn’t be an issue.

A third drawing is puzzling. If the plane crashes, I can’t exit the plane with what appears to be an angry clam and some oddly shaped linguine. Perhaps Ryan Air is trying to prevent a safety crisis caused by passengers fleeing with spaghetti in spicy clam sauce.

There’s also a series of drawings about how to use my life jacket in the event of a water landing. Water landings require no restrictions on pasta with clam sauce, so I’d prefer to crash into water, if anyone wants to know.

Now that I know all about the plane I can relax and enjoy the rest of the flight to Pisa. At least until we get off the plane, and have to get on an escalator. If I get on the escalator first, I can exit as safely as a Ryan Air passenger without glasses, or shoes, or Pasta Vongele Arrabiata.

But if I’m behind Andy or the kids, I know that when they get off the escalator, they will put down all of their luggage and stand.just.beyond. the. last. moving. step. When the escalator spits me off, I will be propelled, flailing, into the wall o’  luggage that protects my family members, who will wait till the last possible nanosecond to move out of the way. My desperate attempts to avoid a collision amuse all of the passengers we have antagonized while boarding and in the security line, so we live to take another flight.

Travel is so relaxing. I wonder if they sell barbells in Pisa?

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