7/13/2010

When I am King: The Plane Truth

When I am King...



There will be no more flight safety instructions before the plane takes off.

I'm fine listening to the repetitive drivel that precedes the 15 minutes pre-takeoff joy ride around every runway in the airport. I'm even okay with the lesson about buckling and unbuckling the seatbelt, if only because I have kids that still have trouble getting their belts fastened in the car on the first try, and the folks on the airplane certainly have more patience explaining this instinctive behavior than I do.

But I draw the line at the fake Hollywood-wannabe approach of airlines in the last few years. All airplanes have television screens, many of them in every seat back so you can't fail to watch TV no matter where you look on the plane. It's like being in a sports bar with assigned seating. The airlines have figured out that they can use these TVs to avoid to pay people to deliver the speech live. Or maybe it was the flight attendants' union, fed up with years of saying the same damn thing on every single flight to every single passenger that had already heard it several times that year, and probably one or more times that very day on previous legs of their tiresome journey. "Enough," they said in the polite but firm tones that they learn in flight attendant school, "is Enough!" And so the airlines hired cut-rate crews of actors and film producers to produce the world's most boring movies (with the possible exception of most of Kevin Costner's films).

First, you have the "pilot" turning around in his pilot seat to face the camera, as if the film crew just popped into the cockpit unannounced, Candid Camera-like, and Pilot Jim thought he'd give them a quick explanation of the flight procedure. The best part is that he spoke into his radio microphone, as if the camera crew forgot their audio equipment. Meanwhile, the pilot-actor was comprehensible, which meant two things: he couldn't be a real pilot and his voice obviously wasn't being recorded through a real cockpit microphone. If either of these were the case, it would have sounded just like it does every time the pilot comes on during the flight to update everyone on the fascinating bits of your progress between Atlanta and Omaha: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is Jim Carbenherm, your pilot today. We've now reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet en route to rrrmmm mhem grrrgreem ehrhehhre. Off to your left, hrmmmth fffrmmrmrmrm greb foogub, just ahead on the right. Now sit back, relax, and feegstl crab. Flight attendants, bring me another scotch."

After the pilot/actor finishes his bit, it's time for Scene 2. A flight attendant/actor appears and gives the typical speech about the seat belts (Oh, *that's* where the clip goes!), the bit about saving yourself before your screaming whelps, and some helpful information about the seatbelt light (which provides a nice callback to the seatbelt fastening discussion). All of this is fine - we've heard it millions of times. I'm pretty sure we could all get up and do it if we had to. There's probably a performance-art troupe somewhere that does just this, each person getting up one after another and repeating the same shtick verbatim, each with their own personal interpretation of the words. They get zip for an audience, but it's an important statement in the arts scene of Bakersfield.

But the twist with this Meryl Streep understudy is that she's obviously received direction ("What's my motivation?") to smile every chance she gets. Apparently, people listen when you smile. Or take you seriously. Or something. And it's true - a smile, even one that doesn't go further than the lips it's pasted on, certainly makes us feel better than someone drooling or dripping blood from gnashing teeth. But a smile interjected before, during, and after every word spoken, is more than annoying - it's stupid. It's the smile of someone who's just puked their evening's consumption of rum and coke down your front, smiling because they don't know what else to say, and are doing anything they can to ward off probable physical response.

It's as if she's excited - Really! Excited! - that we all get to sit down, put the belt on, and sit in our amazingly cramped seats for 5 hours. And! we! should! be! just! as! excited! as! she! is! And maybe we would be, too, if we got the same medication that she's on.

Consider how much time and energy it takes from all of us to hear this over and over in our lives, even if most of us pretend to not listen and focus instead on the important task of leafing through the Sky Mall magazine to see what kind of crap people actually buy when bored out of their minds on long trips. I figure the speech takes about 2 minutes. If you assume about 250 people on the flight, that's just over 8 hours of life that they've sucked down the tubes on that single flight. Multiply that times the number of flights happening all over the world every day of the year and it's plain to see that this little airline speech accounts for millions of lifetimes per year. This is the biggest travesty and waste of life since Reality TV and the waiting line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

When I am King, there will be a much simpler system installed for plane flights. No more mindless tedium of the speeches,either live and rehearsed or recorded and pathetic. Instead of the speech, there will be a written contract on the TV screen on the seat back in front of us. In order to get to the entertainment channels, we'll have to click through the contract and agree that we read and understood it in order to proceed. It'll be just like every software or website agreement we've ever dealt with - we just zip to the bottom, click on the "Agree" button, and continue on. No time or brain cells wasted - we can do this operation with muscle-memory. Having saved all of that time and energy, we can hurry onto worthwhile pursuits instead, like watching some Reality TV while leafing through the Sky Mall magazine.
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