The Corner

Dispatch From The Friendly Skies

This just in from a friend here in Silicon Valley:

I am on an airliner in Denver. The scene is how I imagine the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest might play if it were set in the airline equivalent of the cramped World War II submarine of Das Boot.

Here’s the setting: This flight is full. “Hallelujah,” you say, “the economy must be recovering. Well, no. United just cancelled most of its schedule between San Francisco and Newark to make certain this flight, indeed every flight, is full. On the first leg I dutifully stowed my suitcase in the overhead and my briefcase under my seat. On this leg, the second leg, the Das Boot leg, it just won’t fit, because this time I am confined to an aisle seat and aisle seats in the way-back of a United B757 are equipped with lunch-box-sized foot-wells.

Got that? Back to our flight attendant. She races up to me and demands that I move my briefcase under my seat. When informed that it won’t fit, she snaps that I shouldn’t have brought it. When I point out that it fit fine under the normal seat on the first leg, Nurse Ratched waxes Socratic: “Do you think it’s fair that you take up half a bin and someone else will have to check their [sic] bag!?”

“Well, umm, actually, yes. I’m paying $900 to fly to Newark today, I’m on board early, my ‘personal storage area’ is the size of a lunch box and I doubt that the bins will actually be filled to capacity.” Stony silence. A slow burn on Ratched’s part but, since we’re not airborne and I cannot yet be arrested for crossing her, I get away with it….

In a true free market economy, one where insolvent corporations with steady revenue could not endlessly cycle in and out of bankruptcy protection, United Airline’s substantial assets would be sold and commercial air travelers in the San Francisco area could have a fresh start with one or more new choices for air transportation. As it is, some “employee-owners” of this mismanaged, bankrupt, pension-defaulting carrier have had it — for good reason — leaving them trapped, along with us, their passengers, in the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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