I live in “flyover” country. That means two things when I book a flight out of Lincoln. First, I will be flying on a “regional jet” which is airline-speak for small, cramped, and run by a company that is nearly bankrupt but holds on by supplying the big carriers with passengers from “flyover” country” while pretending to be part of the big carrier. Second, you will always find that the “regional jet” parks at an arrival gate that is far, far away from the center of the airport. And such was our experience this time as Joan and I flew to Denver and then on to ABQ (Albuquerque) and back.
One of the good things about flying a regional jet is that the air crews are often composed of decent people rather than the devils in human form featured in the old Saturday Night Live bit, “Total Bastard Airlines.” This time the pilots were funny and informative–and you could even hear them over the audio system.
For example, despite our late departure out of Denver returning to Lincoln the captain demanded that we refrain from calling his airplane a “toy.” He bragged that he could fly as fast and as high as a Boeing 737 and his plane was more stylish. Despite our late departure, he promised that we would be on time (we were supposed to arrive at midnight). As the pilot predicted, a “screaming tail wind” pushed our little space capsule to 600 miles per hour over the ground and allowed us to get to Lincoln exactly as scheduled. (Will someone take it real slow and explain to me once again the difference between “air speed” and “ground speed” and why I should care?) This triumph occurred despite the fact that, as our captain warned, the landing might be a abrupt “’cause we will be using the short runway–the one that’s not all torn up.” He also instructed us to blame the first officer for any herky-jerky landing complaints.
As for the flight attendant, and despite the fact she was obviously exhausted, she was pleasant and talkative. She told us she was from Georgia and asked us to forgive her heavy accent. She was clearly tickled by the pilot’s banter. Before we got to Lincoln, she asked over the intercom if anyone knew where the nearest “Jimmy John’s” to her hotel might be found. It turns out that there was one near the Holiday Inn where the crew stayed, and she beamed with delight. It was then that I knew the flight crew had their priorities in the right place. “Freaky fast.”
I turn next to the second part of this post. Although to be honest, both parts are related. I just don’t how.
The Denver airport is huge. It is populated with young and old people in perfect health. That is true even for old folks. It is not unusual to see a perfectly tanned very old man in spandex, running shoes, a huge backpack with water bottles hanging off it, fast-walking through the airport and eschewing the “people walkers.” I hate those guys. Especially the ones with the “arm candy.” (If she is reading this, that’s not to say that you, Joan, aren’t “arm candy.” It’s just . . . .)
Before returning to Denver, I decided that I needed a wheel chair when we got to the mile high city. I’m still short of breath and unsteady on my feet from the chemo and the stint in the hospital. Our regional jet was scheduled to use a gate that was at the very far end of the airport, and our Lincoln gate had not yet been assigned. What was worse, we were going to have to exit on the tarmac, walk off the tarmac to a long corridor underneath the main concourse and climb a set of stairs to the main level. There we would find out our next gate. I didn’t think I could handle that trek.
As I exited the plane, and limped down the stairway (festooned with a tarpaulin topped with fringe), I noticed the other passengers staring at me. I could read their minds. Surely, I must be faking it. Even Joan seemed to melt away, distancing herself from me much like you would distance yourself from a traveling companion who displayed a neon sign that flashed “Kiss me, I’m a leper.”
Averting the eyes of my fellow travelers, I climbed aboard the wheelchair and the very nice man assigned to the task pushed on. In truth, I am glad I called for the wheelchair. Nonetheless, it was a humiliating experience. “Bogus” requests for wheelchair assistance have become such a problem that the Wall Street Journal ran a feature article on the subject. See Long Lines Lead to Rise of Wheelchair ‘Miracles’, Wall Street Journal (updated April 5, 2013) (“At Los Angeles International Airport, airlines and companies that provide wheelchair service estimate 15% of all requests are phony, said Lawrence Rolon, coordinator for disabled services for Los Angeles World Airports. Airport officials estimate nearly 300 wheelchair requests a day are bogus. ‘It’s just a big mess,’ Mr. Rolon said. ‘Abusers are really impacting the operation.””) As I glided away on my wheeled magic carpet, the word “schmuck” rang continuously in my ear.
So, that’s my riff on regional jets and wheelchairs. Like the Indians used to say (before we killed most ’em off or consigned them to reservations that are the perfect example of hell), “walk [or in my case wheel] a mile in my shoes” if you desire to know me. On second thought, don’t bother.