Flying the friendly skies? Get real, say these hardened road warriors

PLANE PAIN: Suspicious seatmates, strip searches are only the beginning

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When airbus' super-duper A380 jumbo jet starts commercial service one of these years, business-class passengers could enjoy wider seats and onboard business centers, lounges and rest areas.

Yeah, right.

Current conditions indicate this tableau is Tomorrowland-or more likely The-Day-After-Tomorrowland.

While Suze Orman, Ms. Fiscal Responsibility herself, can admit to flying private at $300,000 to $500,000 a shot, most of us are relieved just to reach our destinations and squirrel away a few frequent-flier miles.

U.S. airline passengers logged more than 800 billion miles aloft last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, but a little bottle of water can bollix a business trip even before travelers board those flying sardine cans.

Why wait for a JetBlue tarmac delay to ruin your trip when your loyal federal government, in the form of the Transportation Security Administration, can handle that just fine?

While Israeli security-world-renowned for merciless training and stringent questioning-might look askance at American procedures, they're a little too thorough for Patricia Mast, the new talent manager at Tangerine PR, who tries to maintain a sense of humor about making it from the curb to the gate.

a sheer camisole

In preparation for her fourth flight in one week, Ms. Mast had her laptop at the ready, her shoes off, her liquids bagged. The TSA, however, wanted Ms. Mast to take off her jacket-her suit jacket, the thin layer of material separating the outside world from what she called "a very tiny and sheer camisole."

Not wanting such exposure amid the suit-jacketed males around her, Ms. Mast first tried to argue that she shouldn't need to take off her jacket. Then she tried to persuade security personnel to "wand" her or let her take off the jacket behind a screen.

The end result: The whole line found out the color of Ms. Mast's bra.

And then the underwire set off the alarm.

Alexandra Neophytou, an account supervisor at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, just hopes she'll be seated next to someone normal. On one of her recent flights from Europe, she sat next to an obviously nervous man who wanted to know when they'd touch down on U.S. soil and it would all be over with.

"He did nothing but write in a diary and look out of the window for seven hours and ask me every hour on the hour if we were over U.S. ground," she said.

When Ms. Neophytou looked over at what he was writing, she saw only the words "kill those."

Trying not to lose her cool, she hoped she could talk this guy out of whatever terrorist mission he might be on. Turns out he was a preacher on his way to start a new church in the U.S. Ms. Neophytou finally got a better glimpse at what he'd been writing: his sermon, in which he was asking followers to "kill those demons inside of us."

Whatever the mishap, don't expect sympathy from your clients. The business meeting must go on, as Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, found out in his former life on the agency side. His flight was held at the gate for three hours due to some glitch, so Mr. Burg, former president-chief operating officer at WPP Group's Mediaedge, arrived late to his client meeting. When he got there, everyone was shocked.

"The agency president told me that when they called the airline to find out where I was, they were told that the airline was not releasing information about the flight. They then assumed that the plane crashed and that I was dead," Mr. Burg said.

That didn't stop them from conducting business as usual, though.

let it slide?

Steven Sanders, VP-management supervisor at the Martin Agency's New York office, had to fly from LaGuardia to Atlanta to deliver crucial ad materials to clients in person. But soon after boarding the plane, he found himself sliding down an inflatable slide onto the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the plane had made an emergency landing after the left engine blew.

His client's reaction: "Glad you're OK. So, are you going to get on the next plane and come down here with the rough cut?"

Until teleportation becomes a viable travel option or cars get much faster, airplanes seem to be the only option that will see us from the left coast to the right coast and back in 24 hours' time.

In the meantime, we need to make peace with the experience, as Mariana Sanchez, exec VP-global equity director at Saatchi & Saatchi, discovered after one attempt to return to New York from Hong Kong.

She'd been in the air for more than 14 hours when a storm in New York diverted the flight to Toronto, two additional hours away. Once in Toronto, the passengers were informed they were not authorized to disembark.

Seven hours later, her flight was cleared to go to New York. Again, two more hours. (Are you adding this up? We're at 25 hours on a plane now.)

However, due to the storm, there was a mess of planes waiting to land. Ms. Sanchez's flight circled the airport for another hour and a half before touching down.

So how did Ms. Sanchez make peace with this 26-and-a-half-hour ordeal? She happened to be reading "Life of Pi," by Yann Martel, about a young boy stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger for months. She decided, quite simply, things could be a lot worse.
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