The flights of the infrequent passenger

Children flying in the middle of the night are cranky.

United_planeDuring the second week of July, I flew from Albany, NY to San Diego, CA and back. I had not been on a plane since May 2009, when my daughter and I took round-trip flights to Charlotte, NC, via LaGuardia, NYC to attend my niece Alex’s high school graduation. This time, I went to help out my sister Leslie after her bicycle accident on June 4. This will be a transportation report; I’ll write about the medical situation soon.

Because my understanding the flying landscape is nil, I got to the ALB airport a couple hours early. I paid for a checked bag (why was it $35 out, but $25 back?) because I don’t know how to pack for five or six days with carry-on bags.

I was surprised to discover that I was designated for TSA PreCheck line for the flights in both direction, which is “a U.S. government program that allows travelers deemed low-risk… to pass through an expedited security screening at certain U.S. airports. Qualifying travelers don’t have to remove their belts, shoes or lightweight jackets.”

How that this happen? I didn’t sign up for it, and I’m hardly a frequent flyer. They must have determined I’m no longer a likely terrorist.

It turned out that the plane to Newark was about 75 minutes late. I had some cushion, but I was starting to think I was going to have to run through the next airport. Some guy flying from Newark to Minneapolis was apoplectic, giving the United representative grief continually.

In both legs of the flight out, and my return trip from San Diego, I had a window seat in rows 25 to 35. My shin was right up against the seat in front of me. And the toilet was tinier than I recalled.

Children flying in the middle of the night are cranky, based on one boy deplaning in Chicago wanting his mommy though she was right there, and one girl at O’Hare who couldn’t get her tablet (which was the size of her head) to work, so her mother took it away and the girl wailed so loudly she could be heard four gates away, no exaggeration.

Odd thing about the flight from Chicago to Albany. I was in row 10, on the left aisle, two rows behind first class, and my knees didn’t reach the seat in front of me. Joy, seriously! On the opposite side, some tall guy, definitely over six and a half feet tall, stuck in the middle seat, had an app that told him that there was an aisle seat in row 35 of that plane that was available.

But the flight attendant said he’d have be even less legroom. Do the legroom is less the further back you’re seated?

Then the guy on the right aisle got bumped up to first class, allowing the tall guy to move to the aisle seat. Did the flight attendant facilitate that? Je ne sais pas, but the lucky passenger in first class seemed pleasantly surprised, and tall guy was relieved.

The worst thing about flying east is that it took me three or four days to catch up on my sleep. It’s almost never a problem flying west three time zones, but it’s almost always an issue on the return flight.

Getting prepared for the whatever

Living in upstate new York isn’t the worst place to be

An article in Forbes notes that “nine states will no longer allow travelers to board an airplane with just their state issued driver’s licenses as of January 22, 2018. To get past TSA security checkpoints, another form of identification will be required: passport, permanent resident card/green card or a military ID.”

The states are Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington.

However, this map from the Department of Homeland Security suggests that more than half the states, plus Puerto Rico and all of the territories, are under scrutiny. These include California, Illinois, and New York by 2020 at the latest, if their drivers’ licenses aren’t compliant.

“DHS is currently reviewing extension requests from states with extensions that expired on October 10, 2017… In the meantime, there will be no change in enforcement status for these states. States will have a grace period until January 22, 2018, meaning that Federal agencies (including TSA) will continue to accept driver’s license and identification cards issued by these states in accordance with each agency’s policies.”

As it turns out, I always travel on planes and trains with my passport, which doesn’t expire until 2020. It HAS come in handy. I looked at it recently and realized I had stuck a rarely-used credit card and a $5 bill in there. The Wife’s passport expires when mine does, but the Daughter’s has lapsed, and we need to fix that.

This has been all part of a preparedness mentality the last few years of disasters has created. We have a manual can opener because the power can go out. We need to replace our bottled water; I assume they feel the plastic will leak into the beverage.

That said, I’m thinking that living in upstate New York isn’t the worst place to be. It’s not prone to wildfires (western US) or hurricanes (mostly south of here) or flooding or tornadoes (Midwest) or drought.

Smoking and transportation

She thought she was finally being booted off for her transgression.

break-cigarettesSome months ago, Mark Evanier wrote about the bad old days, when smoking allowed on most airplanes. He linked to a New York Times article, What Flying Was Like Before the Smoke Cleared, which was terrible, especially for the flight attendants.

I wrote in this blog some years ago: “Airplanes used to have smoking and non-smoking sections. I remember sitting in row 22, the last non-smoking row. Wouldn’t you know that the smoke did not have the courtesy to go back from row 23, but instead wafted forward?”

Still, here’s a story about a smoker I did feel just a little sorry for:

It was in the early 1990s. My then-Significant Other and I took the bus from Albany to New York City for the day. The 7:30 departure back to Albany, then on to Montreal, was so busy that the bus company needed a second bus, which we got on.

About 20 miles north of New York City, the bus driver, while continuing to operate the vehicle, yelled back to the passengers, “Is someone in the bathroom?” The SO and I were sitting three rows from the back, and I hollered back, “Yes.”

“Is someone SMOKING in the bathroom?” My ultra-sensitive nose knew that someone had lit up somewhere near me. I didn’t want to rat out anybody, yet he was clearly seeking confirmation of what he already expected. “Yes,” I replied.

The bus driver pulled over on the side of the New York State Thruway, and walked towards the back. By this point, the woman in the loo had come out and returned to her seat.

He walked up to her and said, “There’s no smoking on this bus!” She said nothing.

“Do you want me to let you out here?” She replied, in a distinct French Canadian accent, “Oh, no, no!”

We get to Albany without further incident. But then everyone was supposed to get off our bus, with those traveling north of Albany getting on that first bus that left NYC.

The smoker did not understand; she thought she was finally being booted off for her transgression from a couple of hours earlier. No, they just needed one busload to go from Albany to Montreal. I’m not sure HOW she finally figured out to get on the other bus.

THAT smoker I ALMOST felt sorry for.
***
The Great American Smokeout is today. Tobacco undoubtedly contributed to the deaths this year alone of our friend Bonnie, actor Leonard Nimoy, and many others. Chewing tobacco killed baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn last year. The sooner one quits, the better.

Fair and balanced news

Here’s something I DON’T understand: the European Union Court of Justice’s “right to be forgotten” ruling.

NewsMusing on what passes for news these days, I was taken by this story: The distorting reality of ‘false balance’ in the media. It’s saying, essentially, that if you have two people on the news debating whether the Earth is round or flat, you unnecessarily elevate the flat earth argument to be equivalent.

I haven’t written much about either the awful shootdown of Malaysian flight or the Israel-Gaza war, other than I found it depressing as all get out. (What does “depressing as all get out” mean? In this case, I want to get out from all this sadness.)

There is a certain arc to stories of tragedies on television: 1) The bare facts – airliner goes down, 295 aboard, likely no survivors. Wait, it was 298 people – those first stories understandably never get it quite right. 2) The speculation, official and otherwise, about caused the tragedy. 3) The narrative of the actual people who died, which is the worst for me to watch. This catastrophe was particularly painful for the Dutch, who lost the majority of the victims. Awful for the HIV/AIDS community, which lost some prominent scientists and activists. Add to this the treatment of the bodies and the crime scene in Ukraine and [throws up both his hands]…

The story behind the story in Israel/Gaza recently has been NBC pulling veteran reporter Ayman Mohyeldin after he witnessed Israeli killing of children in Gaza, also noted here. Maybe the coverage wasn’t McNewsy enough.

Once upon a time, in the Mesozoic era of Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley, it seemed that facts were, you know, facts. Now “reportage” seems to have an inordinate amount of opinion. One of the things I’ve only obliquely heard was this “blame Obama” mantra regarding the shootdown of the Malaysian flight, which somehow almost always leads to the deification of Ronald Reagan even though Reagan did little after a Korean flight was shot down in 1983.

Now, particularly with user-created content, it appears (SHOCKING!) that sometimes people LIE in order to drive their political agenda, falsifying reports. After all, almost everyone has a camera these days. Amnesty International has launched a video verification tool and website, which sounds really useful for them..

If journalism is the pursuit of truth – OK, my working theory – Here’s something I DON’T understand – the European Union Court of Justice’s “right to be forgotten” ruling. The unintended consequence is that it can become a disinformation tool. Fortunately, those whose articles are being delisted, many of which are journalistic institutions, aren’t going to simply lay there and allow some third party to selectively edit their publications.

“The Bolton News (UK) just received notification from Google that one of its stories was due to be vanished from Google’s search engine. Needless to say, this request has produced another story highlighting the original story the filer(s) wanted delisted.” Brilliant response, I say.

Finally, sometimes when you do write a piece accept praise for something great in your story, even if you didn’t mean it. This HAS even happened to me, in a blog post or two.
***
I was sad that actor James Garner has died. I watched him religiously in the TV shows Maverick, in which he played a gambler, and The Rockford Files, as an unconventional L.A. private eye. But I also saw him in 8 Simple Rules and First Monday, the TV movie My Name Is Bill W., the films Victor/Victoria, Murphy’s Romance, Maverick, and Space Cowboys, and probably others. He had a relaxed genius as an actor. Loved those Polaroid ads with Mariette Hartley. Oh, and apparently Rockford anticipated our current police state way back in 1978.

“The plane is missing. We still don’t know where it is. We’ll update you when we do.”

The media once again proves that line from reporter Jack Germond : “We’re not paid to say ‘I don’t know’ even when we don’t know.”

malaysia-airlinesMy daughter, who’s almost 10, was watching the news with me the other day when the story about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 came on. She is a compassionate person. Yet she winced, “Oh, no, not again.” She hasn’t done that with stories about GM recalls, or other multi-day stories.

Maybe it’s because the news outlets feel an obligation to cover it, but, far too often, they really don’t have a heck of a lot to SAY.

I saw on the local station WTEN (Channel 10) this week a news piece about singer Courtney Love’s theory about the flight – that it crashed – and about the number of Twitter retweets it got. I gently told my television set, “Please shut up.”

And if the local and national networks are bad, CNN is worse. The network has asked whether perhaps God stole the plane, if a black hole took the plane and whether a psychic had any insight. Yet an anonymous CNN executive praised the 24/7 station’s coverage. “It’s in our wheelhouse.” To which, as The Daily Kos noted, is totally correct:

Little actual information to be conveyed? Check. New “facts” constantly being trotted forth, only to be retracted as false a few hours or days later? We got that. Rampant uninformed speculation, often by people with absolutely eff-all expertise in anything remotely resembling the actual topic at hand? Oh yeah….

I subscribe to what Mark Evanier wrote recently, referring to Joe Brancatelli, his friend who covers the airline industry:

Baffling.
I’m not even sure we’re clear yet on what crime has been committed but yeah, Joe’s right about the lack of facts and more right about the shameless way the media once again proves that line from reporter Jack Germond that I quote here all the time: “We’re not paid to say ‘I don’t know’ even when we don’t know.”
I do think people expect real-life mysteries to be as “pat” as fictional ones and this expectation leads them to think they have something all figured out when they don’t.

Evanier, quoting MSBC’s Chris Hayes: People with zero evidence about what happened to that missing plane should stop using the situation to promote some fear-based agenda…

It’s not that I don’t care, or that I’m not interested, or fascinated. But it reminds me a bit of ABC News’ coverage when John Kennedy, Jr.’s plane went missing. They were on the air for seven hours straight, when a breaking news item, followed by regular updates would have been more appropriate, because, except to restate what they had already noted, there wasn’t much to say until the plane was found.

So I check the news once a day. Did they find the plane? No? Too bad. If I want to read all about it, the news websites will have more info. NBC News, for one, has spent less time on the Nightly News on the story, referring folks to its site. The New York Times article on why we are limited to options that flight crew can disable is important stuff.

Still, I’ll either check the TV news tomorrow or if something actually substantial DOES happen – they saw something well off the coast of Australia on Thursday – I’m sure I’ll get a notification on one of the news feeds to which I subscribe.