Sunday, July 8, 2012

Talk is Cheap. Our Fees are Not. Hey, Valuable Customer, Listen To This!...

'...And may the odds be always in my favor...'
Every time I want to fly west from Japan I go online thinking ‘This time, dammit, I am not flying a Chinese airline.’ And every time the cheapest fare is on another eponymous Chinese airline and I say to myself ‘Okay, dammit, but this is definitely the last time…’ And I promise in advance I’ll be making up for any and all unrequited expectations by going college with the free in-flight beer. (Apparently they know this and return the sentiment by going gorilla with my Samsonite.)

Flying between Japan and New Jersey is a more subtle tragedy.

In his State of Our Awesome Airline address in the beginning of this month’s issue of Hemispheres, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek goes on a rant against the dark powers at work causing his industry to lose $55 billion dollars a year. Poor guy. As I’m reading (a guise to make my kids become uninterested in me and not from any sense of commiseration with a man who just wouldn’t feel right paying himself a penny more than $1.2 million a month), that same smarmy Smisek appears on my personal in-flight video entertainment system screen. ‘We’ve got the most lay-flat seats in the industry,’ he tells me as I fight to wedge my feet around my knapsack, shoved under the seat six inches in front of me. He goes on with his State of Our Awesome Airline addendum by touting how many new planes they have, and how many new Economy Plus seats people somewhere are putting onto those planes. Conveniently he makes no mention of the sticking my twenty-pound two-year-old with the same fuel surcharge Bob the Elephant across the aisle pays, or the shitty disposable ear buds passengers are given for free…for now… or the fact he’s about to stuff my kids full of saran wrap greaseburgers for the next thirteen hours.

I’d say smug Jeffy is trying to capitalize on some (mis)perceived notion of passenger jubilation stemming from the TSA’s recent decision to let children (and terrorists) under twelve through security without having to take their shoes off.

This past week my family returned to Japan, bringing considerably less luggage than the last time we flew across the Pacific. Yet we are paying more this time because one of our carry-ons happens to be my baby daughter. She gets no food or milk or diapers for the flight, though she does merit a boarding pass and thus another Bob-the-Elephant-sized fuel surcharge. Heck, Jeff has to find any way he can to put a dent in that $55 billion dollars, what with a Board rendered powerless to touch his stock.

This is the first time my wife and I are flying with three kids. Based on having to live with three kids for the last three months we are not looking forward to the experience. Yet the baby is sleeping, my older son is engrossed in Cars the Movie even though I’m making him watch it in Japanese, and my younger son, the one with the three-second attention span, is curiously busy figuring out the touch-screen system which will with any luck take him about thirteen hours to master. I’m flipping through the movie selection too, which in itself is a form of entertainment if you’re paying attention.

Checking the kids’ movies with my older son I notice among the Family section listings a film titled Gorilla. Rated R. Among the many dramas is a documentary on the Brooklyn rap group A Tribe Called Quest. Twenty years ago, or even ten, I’d be interested in this solely for the music. If it meant I didn’t have to hear my kids for two hours I’d be keenly fascinated. Now a film like this is intriguing to me for a different reason: I like to know where people come from. And I don’t mean Brooklyn.

We’re seated in a regular row, with the regular amount of legroom. (I refuse to pay Jeffy extra for his ‘Premium’ comfort, no matter how far ahead of arrival I have to begin the process of extricating my feet from under the seat in front of me.) We tried to get bulkhead seats, where they can hang a bassinet on the wall for the baby – or for my backpack and whatever greaseburgers my kids haven’t eaten yet – but there was only one remaining bulkhead seat available. Predictably it was a middle seat. Perhaps also predictably, but what didn’t occur to me at first, was that a couple had (presumably) reserved their aisle seats online, leaving the middle seat open in hopes that no one would take it. Shrewd. It worked. The bitter side of me imagines these people were hovering over their computer, waiting until the system opened up for advance seating – much like people who camp out overnight outside of Walmart for Black Friday, but without the sleeping bags. I hate people like that. And that is exactly what I am doing next time I fly with the family.

The description of another movie in the drama listings goes like this: ‘While traveling through Europe on a train, an American male (male? What, 'priapean human' sounds too primal?) meets a young French woman (oh, sure) and spends his remaining hours with her before he leaves.’

Wow, grab me a pair of those shitty ear buds. At an hour and forty minutes long I can watch it six and a half times. This movie, by the way, imaginatively titled Before Sunrise, was directed by the aptly named Richard Linklater.




Okay, so I gave in and watched the trailer. Which has cleared up the next ten hours for me.

The blurb for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – a popular movie based on a wildly popular book from what I’ve heard – reads as such: ‘After being convicted of libel (yes, that classic thriller catalyst, libel!) Mikael Blomqvist investigates the disappearance of a wealthy patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago to restore his honor.’

It’s the singer not the song I guess.

A flight attendant is coming down the aisle with the drink cart. Now usually on an international flight you have three languages – that of the origin, that of the destination, and gay. But this woman reaches our aisle and asks my older son: ‘And huh-wood you like zum-sing to da-link?’ He can’t hear her because Lightning McQueen and his friends in Radiator Springs are having a ball in Japanese. I tap him on the arm and point to the woman. ‘She’s asking if you want zum-sing to da-link.’ He looks at her then looks at me. ‘WHAT??’

I guess those cheapo ear buds really work.

Meanwhile my younger son has slid out of his seat and bolted down the aisle while I sit trapped under my sleeping daughter. Ah well, it’s not like he can get terribly lost. And if he does I’ve still got ten hours to find him, which is more than Jodie Foster had.

That slickster Jeff Smisek takes every opportunity to sublimate his skewed message into our brains. The cocktail napkins sport the following bit of propaganda in big blue letters: ‘Planes Change. Values Don’t.’ Really Jeffy? Cut out food and diapers for infants but soak them for $400 in fuel surcharges. Let families with three small and wired children wait in line to board your awesome airplane while pandering to people who’ve bought into your Premium and Elite and similarly-named privileges. Six bucks for a can of Bud!! Planes Change. Values Don’t. I haven’t been fed such irony since the 2008 Olympics when Beijing, in between sending the military into Lhasa to quell demonstrations led by those ultra-violent Tibetan monks, tried to pass that ‘One World, One Dream’ bit of bull off on the world.

To top this off, Jeff adds a subtitle to his misguided self-aggrandizing napkin scratch: ‘Your priorities will always be ours.’ More precise would be something like ‘Your change in flight plans will always be our extortionist fee policy.’

When the kids finally settle down I tune them out and watch Hunger Games. What strikes me most about the movie is how the people from the districts show absolutely no hostility, no resentment, no emotion toward the selfish, self-serving, sadistic bastards in power.

'In order for you to really move forward, you can’t forget where you been at.’
~~ Jonathan Davis (aka Kamaal Ibn John Fareed aka Q-Tip aka The Abstract aka etc.) from A Tribe Called Quest