Airplane!

Jul 01, 2001 9:30 PM  By

My 12-year-old son jokes that if you want to punish people, you should hand them over to customer service. He doesn’t specify airline customer service, but that must be what he means, because what else could approach that level of infuriating condescension?

On a recent business trip, my flight home was delayed more than three hours. This, by itself, is nothing to carp about; to those of us who have spent many a night at the airport, three hours is downright reasonable. It was the flight crew’s handling of the wait that reached service lows you and I can’t even dream of. But let’s assume that they were just being charitable, working hard to come up with do’s and don’ts for the rest of us, as shown in this replay:

Scene 1: Talk to me. The plane has been stalled on the runway for more than an hour. Passengers are getting up and clustering around the cockpit. Uniformed men named Dave bustle up and down the aisle, trailed by flight attendants looking harried and self-important. I ask a crew member what’s wrong. After much pestering, she mumbles something about a “malfunctioning bracket, which may or may not be permanent.” (Oh, dear. What if, at 37,000 feet, it decides to be permanent?) About a half-hour later comes a mystifying proclamation that some “paperwork” must be completed before we can take off.

Scene 2: Hold the schmaltz. After two hours on the runway, we’re treated to announcements about the wealth of “possibilities” for alternative flights. The purser is practically in tears over the plight of hapless travelers making connections in London, Kuwait, and Athens. Every two minutes the PA system erupts with effusions of “sympathy” and “understanding.” Chill.

Scene 3: Don’t overwhelm. I’m late. I’m tired. I’m a prime candidate for travel rage. It’s not a good idea to hurl gate numbers, destinations, and contact names at me at this time. Tell me where I can find someone to help me, and leave it at that.

Scene 4: Don’t titillate. If I have a choice, let me know right away. Well into the third hour of entrapment, we’re told that we can take another flight if we so desire. People stampede to yank bags from the overhead bins. My elbows are still black and blue.

Scene 5: Don’t be ridiculous. Our captain finally decides he’s fed up with tarmac duty and drives the aircraft back to the gate. “Put your seat backs up and your tray tables upright,” he says. “Flight attendants, prepare for arrival.”