In the News: Fear of Going Mad While Flying

Note: This is a repost from June 2013. Since I posted this essay three years ago, the flying experience has gotten even worse! Hardly a day passes now without some unpleasant airplane incident going viral and hitting the headlines.

The doctor who was dragged off an overbooked flight and injured after refusing to give up his seat.

Parents of a toddler wanting to hold onto his separate seat kicked off flight.

“Chaos erupts at Fort Lauderdale Airport when Spirit Airlines cancels flights.”

And today – “Passengers get into fistfight aboard Southwest flight.”

To be fair, passengers are not always well-behaved and flight crews do not have an easy job. But how responsible are the airlines for creating such stressful experiences? Should the airlines be regulated, as they were here until 1978? After that, several airlines competed for customers. Flying was fun! In the last decade or so, our 10 major airlines have merged or decreased to four. And the four are not fans of making anything fun.Flying

“I feel like shrieking,” I said to the woman next to me on the airplane. She was squirming even more than I was, squished in between me at the window and her husband on the aisle. “But, don’t worry, I won’t.”

We were three hours into our 5½-hour flight, which was an hour late taking off. We sat at the gate and then on the rainy runway at JFK Airport behind dozens of other jets before we were cleared for takeoff. The pilot kept saying, “Another 20 minutes, another 20 minutes …” while cell phones came out and people made calls to change their pick-up times.

She and I had exhausted almost all activities: reading, napping, checking phones and computers, looking out the window, watching a movie (she with headphones, me without, but I was desperate), getting up and bumping down the aisle to the teeny bathroom, drinking, eating.

Eating used to take more time on these flights.  Now that many airlines no longer serve free meals, at least in less than first class, there is not the fun of opening the little packages and trying to figure out what the globs are and gobbling them anyway. On my flight going east a few days earlier, I didn’t catch the flight attendant in time to order anything. (It takes them forever to get down the aisle, but if you look away for a few seconds, they are gone.) And my two connecting flights were so close together I didn’t have time to pick up anything at the airport, like a $10 granola bar.

This time, I was smarter and quicker in the airplane and I scored a $10 turkey sandwich with potato chips. I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours and it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. I tried not to wolf it down, instead savoring every bite for the taste … and the filling of time.

The woman next to me whipped out something from her tote that looked and smelled delicious and I wondered where she got it, but I kept quiet, licking the salt and potato chip crumbs from the bag. Sometimes I prefer not to talk to my seatmates. Suffering in silence beats an onslaught of personal drama or incompatible political or religious philosophies. It’s the luck of the draw – or the airline’s software program.

I once sat next to The Bug Man, as his hat said. I asked what he did, thinking he might be an exterminator. Turns out he was an entomologist (bug scientist) and a well-known bug wrangler who works in Hollywood overseeing movies with bugs and insects (such as “Arachnophobia”). He was interesting and single! (But with rooms full of bugs at home, he said, not appealing to me, a bug phobe.) Later, I saw him interviewed on television and wondered why he didn’t fly first class.

Joking with the woman next to me broke the silence and we soon were off and running (mentally, not physically), sharing our love of yoga and how much we were looking forward to getting back to it. She had been away for five weeks, visiting her son in Spain and her daughter in New York. We discussed our work, children, cats. It was a pleasant conversation and before I knew it, the San Diego skyline appeared underneath us and we were swooping in for a landing.

I’ve always loved flying, especially the take-offs and landings. I’ve never had a fear of flying, but now I’m starting to dread it. In the past, I’ve flown to Australia and Europe with less discomfort and inconvenience than I’ve endured recently on shorter trips. These have included cancelled flights, delayed flights, arbitrarily reassigned seats and airport connections and lost luggage. And it gets worse each year as the airlines think of new ways to torture us.

If the airlines are cutting back to be competitive, why aren’t they offering better service, not worse? Fewer flights perhaps, but at least on time and maybe a little meal?

I cannot image a restaurant or store doing business this way and keeping customers. “You have a reservation for 7? Too bad. We won’t be serving dinner until 8:30. You wanted the booth by the window? Too bad. All we have left is the table by the back wall. You want to leave? Too bad. We locked the door and you can’t leave until we say so.”

How many of us would come back? If we want to travel quickly, do we have a choice? Would a covered wagon be better? I’m beginning to think so. There might by dysentery and wild Indians, but at least we could lie down and get comfortable for awhile, gnaw on buffalo jerky.

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In the News: Planned Parenthood

Flash back a few decades. Without realizing it, I have chosen an authoritarian (old white male) obstetrician to see me through my first pregnancy and deliver my son. I am very young and new to this business of Ob/Gyn oversight, not to mention marriage and pregnancy. Alone, no friends in San Francisco. No birth centers, a sense of participating, surrounded by family. No, the kindly doctor took over with a paternalistic pat on the head and other parts. Fortunately, it was an easy birth and my son was born beautiful with a full head of blond hair.

So, then I asked for birth control pills. “No, you will have to get them somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t prescribe them.” The good old doc was Catholic.

The somewhere else I went was Planned Parenthood. Visiting my parents in the beach area of Los Angeles, I took the bus 20 miles into downtown LA, to the closest Planned Parenthood. My memory is smoggily vague. Did I have my son with me or did I leave him with my parents? Did I have an appointment? Did I wait long? I just remember lying in a greenish space with curtains and a strange (young) man coming in and examining me and okaying the pills. Did I get them there or go to a drugstore?

I know I was relieved as I rode the bus home. And within months my husband and I had moved to San Diego and I had a new, younger male doctor named Dr. Rights. And birth control for two to three years until I got pregnant with my second son.

Flash forward, recent years. A young woman I know is a student. No money. She goes for a checkup at Planned Parenthood and they discover cervical cancer. She undergoes treatment and is doing okay.

I walk by our neighborhood Planned Parenthood. It is closed! Oh no. But I see it has moved to another location two miles away. Not far. And the new center looks larger. That gives me hope. Government funding may be wavering, but the spirit of the organization is strong, determined, not about to give up after 101 years. Helping women who are between doctors or jobs, without resources. What would I or my friend have done without them? I could have found another doctor, maybe gone to my mother’s, but the delay might have meant an unwanted pregnancy. My friend with cancer may have been able to borrow money, but if not, she would not be alive today.

The conservatives are big on people taking personal responsibility. Planned Parenthood is big on teaching women how to do this with birth control, family planning, health care. So why the gap in logic and compassion? Many religious conservatives are against abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood, even though it is legal in this country. And even though family planning education will reduce abortions, the Planned Parenthood foes would rather shutter all the clinics and kick poor women out onto the sidewalk than continue to support the organization.

This would be like me, a vegetarian, refusing to help a food bank or soup kitchen because they distribute or serve meat. Just because I am personally opposed to eating animals, I don’t think I have the right to impose my viewpoint on others.

The foes of Planned Parenthood, including those in government office, are trying to inflict their religious beliefs on us, in opposition to the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion …”

Vice President Pence the Pilgrim may criticize Muslim sharia law, but he’d be the first in line to brand and stockade a woman with a mind and body of her own if he could get away with it. In his worldview, he cannot even have dinner alone with women. He is more comfortable sitting around a conference table with other old (mostly white) men deciding that women are their vessels and not separate people with rights.

If their wives are okay living that way, that is one thing. But most of us have outgrown the stranglehold of authoritarianism and will resist its being forced on us. By now, my San Francisco doctor is long dead and Dr. Rights, closer to my age, died two years ago.

That means the younger generation, with less restrictive beliefs, are moving into government and medicine and other areas where they can make a difference. Like Planned Parenthood. And, yes, healthcare for all.

Let’s hope they move quickly, with agility and honesty, leaving the tyrannical T-Rexes in the dust.

In the News: Driving Me Batty

Bagged saladsThe recent news that someone found a dead bat in a packaged salad mix is pretty horrifying, but I admit a welcome relief from other current news in the world, such as Number 45’s latest temper tantrum tweet or a passenger being violently dragged off a United Airlines flight for no good reason.

Also, I’m not missing news of April the Giraffe. Is she about to give birth? Any day now for two months. I wish her well but also wish the vets at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York had more accurate information.

So, for a while I get to ponder the bat issue. From both the bat’s perspective and imagining myself opening that bag.

That poor bat. How did it go from hanging in a cool, dark cave to hanging out in a lettuce field or factory? Was it exploring or confused when it accidentally got stuck in a head of lettuce or assembly line machinery? Did one of these workers see it and decide to leave it (for any number of reasons): http://www.oceanmist.com/video/romaine-harvest-2/

After interviewing a scientist who wrote a book and a blog about food safety, I usually stay away from pre-packaged salads. They are the most likely to be contaminated, she warned. But there are the occasional times I’ll grab a bag of greens, especially when I’m entertaining. I would NOT be a happy host if I got down my special salad bowl, poured out my lettuce and out plopped a flying rat. Or would it be folded inside, clinging to the cellophane? Actually, it was dead, partially decomposed, and the two people already munching away on the salad had to go for rabies testing. In another recent incident, a woman opened her salad package to find a LIVE scorpion still crawling around inside.

I’ve only had two experiences like this in my life, neither as horrifying. When I was about 11, my mother showed me a box of oatmeal crawling with weevils. It took me YEARS to get over that. I still ate my oatmeal most mornings (my dad was Scottish) but I cringed with every speckled bite. Do you have any idea how many specs of dark color appear in oatmeal?

My second experience involved a rice cake 20 years ago. You know, those faux crackers supposedly good for you made of sawdust and cardboard. In an effort to be virtuous and save time while out running errands, I bought a single, wrapped rice cake in a health food store. I opened it and took a bite. Then I noticed a black what looked like wire sticking out from the piece in my hand. I looked closer. A roach! A whole roach inside the rice cake. Since then, rice cakes have evolved into flavored and seasoned snacks, but there is NO WAY that attempt at sophistication has me fooled. Gag me. I will not eat you if you are the last food on earth. No wait, that’s roaches ….