Monthly Archives: May 2011
“Fuck you, I’m French.” Really, this was the response to an air marshal aboard a Delta flight from Nice to New York by a passenger when confronted by flight attendants for repeatedly smoking in the restroom. I guess all the no smoking lamps and little signs aboard the plane were not as strong as his nicotine urge. I can almost understand this. Nice to NY is about 8 hours in the air. If you factor in the time in the no smoking airport you probably have ten hours you have to live without satisfying the urge. But “fuck you, I’m French” seems a shallow defense. However believable.
This blog post is about a slew of whacky events in the air lately. Not that zaniness in the friendly skies is anything new; it just seems to be occurring more often. Let us look at a few events that have made the news in the last month.
Passengers going bonkers for one reason or another and trying to open the door of the plane at 35,000 feet has recently become the act of choice for the unbalanced traveler. Aviation experts are at a loss as to why this is the case.
In one recent event, being over served could have been the cause. Flight attendants make poor bartenders. They really should be trained to recognize a person who cannot handle any more booze and cut him off. I say that although I was on a flight from Santiago to Lima one night when a pair of guys who were getting rowdy and demanding more Scotch were cut off. This was in business class! You never say no to premium fare passengers. The two of them made quite a scene, demanded to speak to the captain, and then, thanks to St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) they passed out. They were so out of it that they slept through the landing and debarking.
Back to recent events. A 43 year old man on a flight from Orlando to Boston was “apparently drunk” when he tried to open an emergency exit door. He was also upset because the plane was late. A flight from Orlando poses other possible reasons a person would want to jump out at cruising altitude, I’ll get to that later.
Two days prior to this a very similar incident happened on a Continental flight over fly-over country.
The week before that a man rushed up the aisle of a Continental flight from Houston to Chicago, pinned the flight attendant against a wall with one hand and tried to open the door with the other. The flight was diverted to St. Louis and the man was led away hopefully in chains. I guess he just thought better about going to Chicago, or maybe he was a Cubs fan.
According to experts, due to the difference in air pressure inside the cabin and the air pressure at 35,000 feet simply prevents the door from being opened The air pressure in a cabin, according to your source, or the carrier, is kept at an equivalent atmospheric pressure of 5000 to 8,000 feet. So what if the plane is below 8000 feet? In that case the door can be cracked open (as is done if there is smoke in the cabin) but the wind speed would still prevent it from opening enough for any fool to leap out.
So let us examine possible causes for these acts of irrational insanity. I will approach this from my personal experience. No, I have never gone bonkers on a plane, at least demonstratively. Henry David Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” If he were around today I truly believe he would expand that gem of wisdom to include all airline passengers. Don’t get me wrong. I love flying. My father was an airline exec and we flew “non-rev” all the time. First class. It wasn’t until I was in college and bought my own ticket that I ever flew “economy”. Talk about desperation.
The difference between first class and cattle class is like the difference between a suite in the Hilton and a park bench. But then so is the price of the ticket.
A big advantage to flying in first or business is accessibility to lavatories. In the rich folks section, you practically have your own lavatory. In cattle class, depending on the airline and the type of plane, the ratio can be a very scary. 72 passengers to each lavatory is the number number for Delta on domestic flights using a 737-800.
In my recent travels on my first flight to Bangkok from Dubai, I took Gulf Air because it was incredibly cheaper than Emirates or Qatar. I found out why. This was a triple 7 with over 250 seats in steerage, and it was full. There was ONE, 1 ,UNO y no mas, working lavatory in the cheap seats. It got so rank that about an hour out of BKK, they shut it down. A passenger unlocked the door to use the toilet, and he was summarily abused verbally by the flight attendants. I flew back on Qatar and will never fly Gulf Air again.
On a flight from Rio to NY JFK a passenger went “berserk” when his access to the lavatory was blocked by a beverage cart. He was returning to NY after an extended vacation in Brazil because he had run out of his anti-depressant meds. His FB profile lists his hobbies as “shooting guns and helping to maintain the freedom of this country and bring the Constitution back into focus.” He kicked over the beverage cart and punched a flight attendant. Upon arrival he was turned over to an area hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. This event was thoroughly covered by Fox news, which just might be responsible for his state of mind in the first place.
I have learned to book my seats in the last few rows, close to the lavatory, and time my bladder discharge with the passing of the beverage cart. And I do not watch Fox news.
Maybe these people desperately trying to open a door just need to pee.
At least that idea was what some flight attendants figured on an American Airlines flight into SFO last month. A Yemeni passenger started pounding on the door to the cock pit and yelled “Allah Akbar” over and over. The flight attendants thought he was trying to say “I have to pee” and showed him the door to the lavatory. Needless to add, he was arrested upon arrival.
Another thing that perturbs a lot of fliers and for sure me, is when I have to sit next to an obese person.
Many airlines have been criticized for making the obese buy two seats. I will not criticize them for that. If a person is so damn fat that they cannot put down both arm rests they should pay up. Incredibly, some airlines have seat belt extenders for the incredibly obese. There are civil rights activists who fight airlines for profiling fat people. I bet none of their lawyers have ever had to sit next to a 350 pound guy and have him invade the little space you get in a cookie-cutter economy seat. I have not found a reference to anyone going berserk because of this, but I see it on the horizon. Maybe my horizon. But I don’t drink or take meds, so maybe not.
Now, just shudder at the thought of a screaming baby or toddler in your face for 4 to 12 hours. When it happens on an airplane, you simply cannot get away from it.
Remember the guy on the flight from Orlando who went bonkers and tried to open the door? I will be that plane was full of kids who wanted to go back to see Mickey and screamed enough about it to drive passengers Goofy.
There is a lot of talk, just talk, about banning children from business class, and having “family sections” on planes. I cannot help but support this. The only defense is headphones and a good in-flight entertainment system. If you are flying “El-cheapo Airlines” which provides neither, be sure to have an Ipod.
There is a FB page titled “Airlines should have kid free flights.” This page has quite a lively discussion on the subject.
For an example of how bad a flight can be, open this link
The last episode of the mindless in-flight is the story of an “emotionally disturbed” woman in her late twenties stripped nude and ran down the aisle while flight attendants tried to cover her with a blanket. She ran away from them screaming no-no-no. The end result…”she is not expected to face criminal charges” according to NBC. Maybe she was just getting ready for her next TSA experience. Finally some good in-flight entertainment. No photos available, bummer
I hope you enjoyed this. Please hit the share button below so your FB friends can enjoy it too. Make a comment. Share your worst in-flight trauma! I’ll be writing again soon, this time on Safari!
I have a new bucket list item. Someday, someone, anyone, anywhere will pay me to be a travel writer. As long as it is in English, I really do not care if the assignment is to report on the mating habits of Fiji islanders, or to cover the efforts of the DOD to clean up Christmas Island after 4 decades of thermo-nuclear target practice. I might insist on Business class for the latter, but I would go.
It seems fitting that I have this goal. My favorite place to write is in airport coffee shops or aboard an airliner somewhere between tedium and delirium. I love to write in anticipation of what I might see, or in reaction to it.
Maybe Elizabeth drew has the best warning for people like me.
“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”
I choose to write about my travels because I choose not to bore people in person. If you are reading this, heck , you do not have to worry about insulting me. You can just vote with your mouse, and shut me down. In person you might be reticent to turn your back, walk away and mumble “what a putz.”
Still here? Ok let’s see how long I can keep your attention. Take your hand off that mouse.
There are many famous, funny and sometimes poignant quotes about travel. I’ll pop a few in here and add my observation as to their validity and/or value.
The first that comes to mind is “Wherever you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzai
That is actually a piece of Buddhist philosophy intended to suggest that inner peace is the key to happiness and fulfillment. I’ll buy that, but I would rather have a boarding pass in my hands. To me it also means that I carry a lot of preconceived notions about the way “it” ought to be. As much as I make an effort to shed this baggage, it is still there. Smiling acceptance of anything unusual, from a culture that drives on the wrong side of the road to a sub-par French fry at a 3rd world McDonalds, is a hollow effort to outwardly project “I’m cool with that.”
The next quote is by a guy who could not help but be funny “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” –Yogi Berra
This is a very valid and very simple observation. I mean, what else are you going to do, debate with yourself? You could be making the right decision, or not. But only travelling down that road will reveal the secret. The last time I choose the wrong fork was at a dinner part where I embarrassed my much more sophisticated wife…but I digress. Actually I made a decision to see Mexico by bus instead of fly over it a few years back. Talk about the wrong fork. The bus was hijacked, we were all robbed, and yes there was gunfire. My cordite scented memories of Mexico remind me that the wrong fork can lead to more than being embarrassed while ingesting a shrimp salad. But hell, I’m still here aint I?
Now a word from the hippy-dippy weatherman. “Kilometers are shorter than miles. Save gas, take your next trip in kilometers.– George Carlin
Examined in a way I am sure Carlin did not intend, this is a call to get away from the normal, the proximity to the mundane. When things are measured differently than you are used to, yes, you are now travelling. But remember, people who drive kilometers instead of miles are usually doing it on the wrong side of the road.
The next is by a Pulitzer prize winning author famous for his self-critical prose. I pride myself on self critical prose, but pining for a Pulitzer is well beyond my wildest delusion. “The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.” – Russell Baker
OMIGAWD, that is SOOOO true. One of the worst things that can happen while I putter around a foreign location trying to look like Peter Lorrie is to have another American ask “Wheah ya fruhm bud?” I find myself inspecting myself looking for what tipped him off, before I come to the realization that there are not many 6’1” locals in Nepal buying sixties era love beads.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
I do not know where in the volumes of Chuchill’s writings this quote appears. I do not even know if it applied to travelling. But it does for me. In my much simpler lexicon, it means “if where you are sucks, get on down the road.”
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”. – Unknown
Yes, I agree with Mr. Unknown. You can always get laundry done. Travel light and treat yourself to the occasional great meal.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain.
Yes it is. I have found that when dealing with people of other cultures and religions, I find more in common with them than I ever thought possible.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Yes again. It is the Stranger in a Strange Land idea. Deal with it.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Oh Mr. Twain. If only the entire world could do that. And yes, I do not want to lie on my deathbed wishing I had finished my bucket list
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener
This one is for people who watch Fox News.
“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot
Well, this sounds great, but sometimes I must disagree, especially twelve hours into a flight with crying babies onboard. I just want to get there, now.
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling
This from a man who spent a lot of time in India. Take him at his word.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
Yes, but sometimes you find yourself wondering ”Who designed THIS place?”
“Most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting.” – Robert Thomas Allen
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Sit someplace and stare at the scenery, or people watch. In the right place you can do it for hours, while your mind “travels” in glory.
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
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This is my third trip to the second biggest city in Thailand. In a small way I have become a local. The baristas at Starbucks remember my name. They also remember not to ask me if I want yak milk when I order a black coffee. The owner of my favorite haunt for breakfast asked me if I really needed a menu “you know it by heart” he said. The ENT doctor at the Chiang Mia Ram hospital was gracious and said “nice to see you again, time to vacuum the ears?” I walked into Gecko Books and the owner looked up at me and said simply “Nope”. I had no idea what he meant. I shrugged my shoulders and he said “I have not gotten in any Hornblower novels yet.” It had been 4 months since I asked him if he had any. Most importantly, my dentist and all his assistants remember everything about me and treat me as a valued customer.
I know my way around the parts of town I need to know my way around. I know how to tell a Tuk-Tuk driver where I want to go. I know how to flag down a Sungtow (it is pronounced that way, the spelling is optional) headed in the right direction and how much to pay him.
I have adopted the attire of a resident expat, as opposed to a tourist expat. It helps fend off attempts at overcharging for transportation or other items. The difference I might pay if thought of as a Dickerson from Iowa as opposed to a local farong might be as much as a quarter in real money. It is a point of pride.
I have done all the tours and adventures already. So this trip is about finishing up a course of dental work and just “being a local.”
Of course I am not truly a local, but I am starting to think I would like to be, someday. It has become imperative that I eliminate or encounter other possible retirement locations before I convince my wife that there is no better place to hang our hats, watch our hair turn silver and feed the pigeons.
As said, this trip is hopefully, although doubtfully, my last trip to the dentist. Originally, almost a year ago, I came here to see my cousin. He has lived in Chiang Mai for 6 steady years. He seldom leaves. He blogs about it and emails me about it all the time. Once my wife and I settled into life in the UAE, I looked a the cost of flying here from Dubai. It was less than flying from our previous home in Central America to Los Angeles. Then I looked at the cost of dentistry in Dubai vs the same work done here in Chiang Mai. In short, it was less expensive to fly here, stay in a hotel, eat in restaurants and get my teeth fixed than it would be to have the dentistry done in Dubai. Plus I got a vacation, and Mary Ann got me out of the house.
My dentist here is the best dentist I have ever had. I have, since birth, had terrible luck with my teeth. So, I have seen enough dentists to fill a phone book. I once had an excellent dentist in Lima, Peru, but he was so expensive that my credit cardcompany sent me an emergency message that I was probably being robbed.
This dentist in Chiang Mai has equipment built tomorrow. He was educated at UCLA and speaks English perfectly. He explains everything so that even a fool like me can understand. He laughs at my jokes, which originate in nervousness. Yesterday he was screwing in an abutment. I told him I felt like a car. He turned to his assistant (yes, his CUTE assistant) and said, “Hand me the adjustable spanner.” She did not get it, but we had a good laugh. Plus, a BIG plus, something I cannot over emphasize, he is painless.
One other medical thing I take care of here is to have my ears vacuumed. Don’t ask. All I will say is that if I cut my head off, my health would be just fine. I walked into a first class hospital without an appointment, got the procedure done by an excellent doctor, and walked out less than an hour later. Total charge? About $30. Try that anywhere else.
But a person can only spend so much time in the dentist chair.
I planned this trip so that I would be here on a Sunday night. The Sunday night market in Chiang Mai is a colorful, vibrant and exciting event. Here are a few shots.
Besides the market I did not need to go anywhere or buy anything. Besides that, it has rained a few days during my visit. So, I have been reading quite a bit.
One of the reasons to love this city is a certain bookstore in town called Gecko Books.
An expat name George started Gecko Books about a decade ago. He has a handful of storefronts. They are all chock full of interesting books. He does not necessarily survive off of travelers, his local customer base is quite large as well. He buys books a customer/traveler is done with, and orders books both new and old from Australia, Canada, and the USA. If you buy a book from him, you can sell it back for 50% of what you bought it for. There is a time limit on this buy-back option, but I forget what it is. It has never been an obstacle. I have been able to find most anything I want to read. The popular authors such as Grisham are well represented. But it is not just a leisure reading bookstore. His shelves stock histories, science, theatre, dance, religion, and of course travel.
Anyone considering where they could afford retire to should consider Chiang Mai. My cousin is doing really well on about US$1200 a month, which includes rent, utilities, a great health insurance plan and he eats all his meals out. That is US$1200 a MONTH folks. Friendly people, very low crime, fresh air, great restaurants and a vibrant expat community.
Thanks for reading, tell a friend and make a comment. Next post….from KENYA!
As I start packing for yet another intercontinental flight, I came to the happy realization that I am now quite good at this. I know not to take more than one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, and save the weight and space for a few extra pair of BVDs.
In the last year I have been in five continents and if you want to get technical, I could claim two sub continents. India is known as a subcontinent, but the Indian people are fond of telling you that they are their own continent. It is hard to argue with 1.2 billion people. And then there is the Middle East. I live here and I’ll be damned if I know what continent I live in. This aint Asia, nor Europe, nor Africa. I have never heard of anyone calling this area a subcontinent, so what is it? I’ll just go with subcontinent for ease of calculations.
As far as air travel goes, the Middle East is Middle Earth. Both Dubai and Doha bill themselves as the cross roads for the world. In a way that is very true. A person can fly from Dubai or Doha to anywhere important directly. Both cities are home to an excellent airline. Dubai boasts Emirates Air, and Doha is the proud home of Qatar Airlines, subtitled “The World’s Five Star Airline”. There is virtually no major country that is not served by either of them, together they have the globe covered. On top of that Emirates Air just reduced their fares because the price of oil dropped. Name me one other airline that did that!
I live in the UAE, about a half hour away from the Dubai Airport. This being Emirates home base you would think that I would be loyal to the home boys and that at least the majority of my travel would be with them. However, as any of you who know me are thinking right now, not necessarily. For my trips to Thailand, the third of which I am packing for right now, and for our trip to Hong Kong last month, I take Qatar. Why? Well, simply put $. Hundreds of $’s less. More $’s to spend on tours and stupid souvenirs. To fly Qatar I must first fly to Doha, which is a very short flight, then change planes at the Doha Airport. Qatar is building a new super airport, but I have no idea when it will be completed. For now, all planes coming and going must park in the next county. Passengers must ride a bus into the terminal, and then another bus back out. It is a bit annoying and adds at least a couple of hours to my travel time, but it is the price I pay to save the $s.
Now that I have been a steady customer of Qatar, I am starting to climb up the ladder of their frequent flyer program. Soon I will be a Silver Flyer (please do not confuse that with Silver Surfer) and with a little creativity I will enter the ranks of the Golden Ones (please do not confuse that with getting older). As anyone who flies a lot and stays loyal to one carrier knows, stepping up a rank means multiplying every mile you travel towards the grail of a free ticket. Someday, Qatar will owe me a free trip to somewhere I would never pay to fly to. (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me) I am considering adding that to my bucket list; “Get a free flight to somewhere, anywhere at all”. It would not be my first time to achieve this, but last time I did it, mining companies were buying my tickets and it did not mean as much to me.
Back to my inspirational moment that led to this posting. Being good at international travel means more than leaving room in your suitcase for underwear (clean and otherwise) and souvenirs.
Let us consider proper travelling clothes. First let me say that anyone who dresses up for a flight is living in the fifties. Today, unless you have to go to a meeting right off the plane, it is ridiculous. Think of flying like taking the bus, it will simplify the journey.
So what to wear?I’ll do this from the bottom up.
Wear flip-flops or sandals. Not all airports make you take off you shoes, but when you have to, it is really nice to just kick off the sandals. In fact, a lot of TSA types will just let you pass if you are wearing nothing but flip-flops. If you are unfortunate enough that your destination is, say, Minnesota in January, you can pack a pair of mukluks and put them on before you leave the terminal.
Pants. Loose and baggy. That way they do not creep up on you and cause a lack of blood flow to sensitive regions. Also, if you can find loose and baggy cargo pants, then you can carry some essential in-transit items on your person, such as a couple of power bars, Ipod and ear plugs, reading glasses, stuff like that. Yes, it means divesting your gear in one of those little trays before you pass through the security gate, but the trade-off is worth it. If you put all these things in your carry on bag it just causes more work for you once you get to your seat.
Shirt or blouse. Planes are notoriously over air-conditioned. What I find works best is a long sleeve cotton T.
Head gear. Most people do not wear anything. I always wear a ball cap, even when I am not travelling. I have found that this strange custom of mine is great on an airplane when I want to sleep. I can pull it down over my eyes. Combine that with the Ipod and you can drift into another world, while on your way to another world. The hat also keeps your head warm.
These days airlines have started stocking their inventory with planes that have the acronym ER at the end of the type designator. I.E. B777ER. The ER stands for Extended Range. If you look at international routes available you will find some TRULY Extended Range flights. I think the longest regularly scheduled flight these days is from Atlanta to Johannesburg. That is something like 19 hours. Dubai to Los Angeles is 16 or so. Just a few years ago either of these flights would have been impossible. You would have had to change planes and probably carriers in London, or Amsterdam. Maybe more than one stop. If you think 16 hours is too damn long to be cooped up in a steel tube at 38,000 feet with recirculated air spreading flu germs, well you are not alone. A lot of people still opt for a lay-over in some city. But the problems with that solution are scarier to me than catching this years flu bug. Let’s take a look at them.
Lost luggage. Every time you switch planes in transit you give overworked underpaid luggage handlers another chance to send your bag to Shanghai when your destination is Topeka. Don’t even bother wondering how they do it, but misdirected luggage is still a significant problem even though the world’s airlines are getting much better about getting your bag on the same plane you are on. That being said, it has never happened to me (knock knock) .
Another disadvantage of a lay over is the extra costs. An overnight in say London could just about double your airfare, considering hotel, taxis, meals and a night on the town.
Maybe all you want to do is get out of the flying tube and walk around an airport for 4 hours between flights, like the good old days. Consider this, count meals, that trip to the book store, some time in the bar, the cute souvenir refrigerator magnet at the gift shop that you would not have bought if you had not made the trip to the bar and before you know it your travel budget has taken a hit. Plus, that gives the luggage handlers four extra hours to choose which plane to put your bag on.
I always opt for the non stop on the ER. Just remember, you get on the plane, and sooner or later, you get off the plane.
Now about that recirculated air. Well, other than looking like a Tokyo traffic cop and wear a surgical mask, there just is not anything you can do. However, the air up there is not the only source of exotic diseases in an airplane. The plastic tray and the arms on your seat can hold and transmit all sorts of maladies. And then there is the toilet. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and I use it before and after I touch anything. I think of it as preventing others from catching what I have, so I don’t feel like a paranoid. I also wipe down the food tray and the arm rests. Why risk it? Catching one of the worlds staphylococci can really ruin a nice vacation.
If the person sitting next to you is coughing, hacking, sneezing or bleeding uncontrollably, ask to be moved. Same thing if they stink, or especially if they are so fat they should have been made to buy two seats. If there are any empty seats, the cabin crew will try to help you, if you ask nicely. If you are not nice to them, about anything at all, they will not be nice to you, about anything at all. Frankly I think it is pretty shitty job which I would never do. Nobody tips you and some passengers can be real jerks.
Always carry a pen with you because you will need to fill out one of those immigration forms before you stand in the long line to have your passport inspected. Borrowing a pen from another (read: better prepared) passenger is embarrassing and brands you as a novice.
Many people will go to the trouble of finding the local currency exchange and buying Rupees (whatever) before they leave home. I wonder if they have ever heard of an ATM machine? Also, I just can’t understand why anyone uses travelers checks these days. These must be the same people who dress up for the flight. Hello? Eisenhower is not President anymore.
Thats it for today. I am off for Thailand now. All packed in my style, which means I probably forgot some stuff. My next blog will be from Chiang Mai. Stay tuned, tell a friend and please make a comment. Even if you do not know me, just tell me what you think about this post, even if you think it stinks like the guy who sat next to you on your last flight.