Coping with Air Rage

Once upon a time flying by commercial aircraft was fun. No longer. Since 9-11, we have allowed governments and airline companies to treat passengers like cattle. We have allowed governments to erode our freedoms in the name of safety while airlines have crowded us closer and closer together for longer and longer periods and then nickeled and dimed us with fees, all in the name of profit.

I remember in the 1970s flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. The Boeing 707 stopped in Honolulu and Fiji and passengers were allowed off the plane and could walk around the terminals. Now the same flight is a non-stop, 15-hour nightmare with more than 400 passengers squashed into an aluminum tube, with little leg room and where, when the passenger in front of you tilts his seat back it lands in your lap. And now American Airlines has decided its Boeing 737s have too much leg room so they intend to give us less leg room and squeeze in another 10 passengers. This is at a time when many people are getting fatter and more obese.

Then there is overbooking. This came into focus recently when a man who had paid for the seat in which he was sitting was essentially beaten up by law enforcement officers and dragged off a United Airlines flight to make room for other flight crew members. In another case, Delta Airline employees kicked a family off an over-booked flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles because the father would not give up a seat he had bought for his 18-year-old son who had returned to California by an earlier flight. He was attempting to use the seat for his two-year-old. He was threatened with jail for breaking Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

It appears that by U.S. law, airline and airport personnel have absolute control over passengers who are actually paying customers. They are treated in the same way as cattle because they have no rights once they enter the airport. They are herded together in the airport (feedlot) but at least they can walk around. They are herded through a tunnel (chute) onto the plane (cattle transporter) for the journey to their destination (slaughterhouse). Sometimes for one reason or another passengers are kept in a plane on the ground for hours during which they are not allowed to use the lavatories. At least the cattle are able to pee on the deck of the transporter.

Why do airlines treat their customers that way? Because by law they can. It is time for a Passengers’ Bill of Rights, but don’t hold your breath.

As for government security on the ground, it is a dog-and-pony show meant only to con passengers into believing that flying is safe. According to news reports, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners miss 95 percent of prohibited items carried by investigators posing as passengers. Items missed include guns and bombs. Because “profiling” is so politically incorrect, we treat four-year-old children and grandmothers in the same way we treat swarthy young adults from Pakistan or Iraq.

And we are supposed to feel safe?

Excuse me, but I thought there was an inconvenience called the Bill of Rights. While we are disarmed and stand to be screened and groped by TSA agents who require that we take off our shoes, the Fourth Amendment states that we, the people, shall be exempt from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed. Then there is the Second Amendment which states that the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed. It appears that we have allowed nine black-robed lawyers with life-time appointments to “interpret” the Constitution according to their own political beliefs, far from the original, quite clear meaning of the amendments in the Bill of Rights.

But there is a solution to much of this deliberately demeaning unpleasantness. For years now I have had a rule: If you can drive there, don’t fly. Recently it took me three days to drive to Philadelphia from San Antonio. I was able to wear my concealed handgun for much of the trip. In Maryland I had to unload it and stow it in the trunk but for most of the trip it was at hand.

The advantages to driving are that you get to see a big chunk of this beautiful country, you get to eat in strange restaurants, and you are much more in control of your own safety than you are in a plane. You can also carry more. When I go to the Shooting, Hunting Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show or the NRA Show, I can carry back the dozens of glossy brochures and samples in my vehicle.

Of course, this rule won’t work if you are traveling to Sydney, or London, or Tokyo. My wife Anita and I did sail our 27-foot sailboat from Vancouver, Canada, to Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s but it took us two years to go there and back. But now when we cross oceans at 30,000 feet and arrive in strange airports, we look for unattended baggage and people acting suspiciously.

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