'Be anxious for nothing..." ~Philippians 4:6

Thursday, April 14, 2011

IN THE AIR: To Germany I Go

There you are, happily buckled in your seat--your carry-on baggage stowed. You've greeted your seatmate, and located your headphones. You made it to the airport on time, rejoiced that your bag wasn't too heavy, were led around in a maze like a frequent-flying rat, exposed to a "healthy" dose of radiation, reassured that your blurry, naked photos won't end up on the internet, and were, for all intents and purposes, felt up by a stranger (who insisted they didn't enjoy it any more than you did). (It's life at the airport after 9/11. You may as well wear a towel and flip flops, and send your luggage ahead to your destination, via UPS). There you are, anticipating a pleasant trip, the customary soft drink, and 8.5 honey-roasted peanuts. Suddenly, the seat in front of you comes flying toward your forehead like a runaway missile. God forbid, your tray table is down. You'll be sliced in half like a magician's unwilling assistant. The in-seat video monitor is now at an angle. The movie you WERE watching is now watching the floor. Your soda goes left, and your puzzle book and peanuts go right. You're trapped. You felt like a sardine before, but you could live with that. Now, you're feeling like a SQUASHED sardine. So, you gently tap the person in front of you, point out that the already small space you have has been lessened by 75%, and you ask, as politely as you know how, if they would kindly have a little compassion and put up their seat. (Note all of the extreme kindness involved.) They know what they have done. They were just hoping their move would go unnoticed. They roll their eyes, and ask coldly, "What do you expect me to do?". You tell them that you expect them to be a considerate human being and put their seat back up. They reluctantly put up their seat in a huff, as if you've just told them to go to hell without dying first. Minutes later, after thinking about it, they decide that they don't care about you OR your limited space, and they recline AGAIN. You're startled AGAIN, so you ask AGAIN. "Please, could you put up your seat? It's really cramped back here". Maybe you can appeal to their sense of empathy, but, wait--they have none. They tell you they don't care about your lack of space, they intend to leave the seat in your face, and they turn around, leaving you with the prospect of flying with them AND their dandruff in your lap. They recline even more than before, just to FURTHER show you how little they care about your comfort. You feel like that poor turtle named Mack in the Dr. Seuss story "Yertle the Turtle". Nice, peace-loving and gentle didn't work. As a matter of fact they got totally disregarded. Frustrated and defeated, you decide to:
A. Sit there like a moron sardine and count the number of hairs on their head.
B. Push the seat back up off of you, and out of your space.
C. Call for a flight attendant, and hope a spawn of Satan doesn't show up instead.
D. Assign yourself a new seat, and pray you didn't exchange cramped quarters for an opportunity to be coughed and sneezed upon, or talked to death.
E. Cry.
F. Recline YOUR seat, and lie down in the lap of the person behind YOU, so that HE or SHE can count the hairs on YOUR head.
G. Haul off and slap the daylights out of yourself so you'll be rendered unconscious, thus spending the entire flight not knowing if the seat in front of you is back, upright, or swinging from the ceiling.
H. Really cry...just have a full-out meltdown.
I. None of the above
J. All of the above
Give up? Your best bet may be to sit there like a moron sardine--and maybe cry. Trying to get someone to do the right thing, or see your predicament, may very well land you in jail. If you can find a sympathetic flight attendant, you're fortunate, blessed, and depending on the airline, possibly dreaming. If all you've got on your particular hellish flight are sarcastic, antsy, tired, overworked, power-hungry people who have forgotten ALL about customer service, and only view themselves as post 9/11 sky police, don't even THINK about asking for ANYTHING. The apparent correct answer in these days of behaving badly, is for you to act as rudely and as inconsiderately as the person in front of you, recline YOUR seat, and inconvenience the person BEHIND you. Seems like 'two wrongs making a wrong' is the way to go on occasion, these days, and sometimes, it's just 'too much like right' to acknowledge and correct gross errors in morality.

If you're tall like me, knees against the seat in front of you are inevitable--especially if the person, sitting IN the seat in front of you, decides to recline. You're not being annoying as you adjust your knee caps, you're just trying to minimize the swelling and bruising. Be warned. Moving in ANY way may be construed as an antagonistic, aggressive, provocative, combative and hostile response, and may cause the person who thinks it's perfectly alright to lie down in your lap, to freak out, alert a flight attendant about YOUR inconsideration, and brand you a criminal. You have to keep "vewy, vewy" still. Touching the seat in front of you may land you in "big trouble" with the nasty law enforcement authorities waiting at your destination--"and you don't want THAT". You MUST keep in mind, as your circulation slows to a screeching halt, that you were just flying to spend time with friends, family, or maybe business associates--not inmates.
I get it now. The passenger in front of me had a "right to recline". I didn't, however, have a "right" to be comfortable. I was told I had the same "right" to be a pain-in-the-neck to the person behind me. What you DON'T do is push the beloved seat in any way, thereby making the person in front of you FULLY aware of the discomfort they are causing. If you do, suddenly THEY will feel offended, wronged, uncomfortable and inconvenienced. Whether it is on purpose, or a knee-jerk reaction to the back of a chair coming at you unexpectedly, any attempt to protect yourself, or hang on to what little space you DO enjoy, is a definite no-no. It doesn't seem fair, right, reasonable, or even HUMAN for that matter, to find that your inconvenience is considered frivolous, and your position meritless. You're just supposed to deal with it, behave as badly as others do, or "Don't fly". Don't fly? I heard that being said to one too many people:
*The mother of a 3 year old who was chosen for a second bag inspection.
*The parents whose young son got up to go to the restroom seconds before the captain indicated there was turbulence ahead.
*The woman who was told her luggage required her to shell out another $600.00.
Uh, Dear Airline President, is the scripted message that flight attendants are being taught to say to passengers these days, "Maybe you shouldn't fly"?

(When people don't care--if it is their nature to be selfish--not much except divine intervention can change that.)

I didn't feel like a valued customer OR a passenger yesterday. Yes. I DID have a choice of airlines to fly, and I'm beginning to think that the little parting speech at the end of the flight is, often times, just something to say.
I've flown for years on numerous airlines, and yesterday's flight was by far the WORSE experience I have ever had. The turbulence I could deal with. The incessant bumping and rocking was NOTHING compared to being yelled at, being treated like a potential convict, and threatened with arrest upon arrival in a foreign land. I have seen rude flight attendants and uncaring, unhelpful, stone-faced agents before, but yesterday was by far the absolute WORST example of customer service and conflict resolution EVER. When I observed bad behavior toward passengers BEFORE I boarded the plane, I should have known there was a possibility that MY turn was coming.
I was SO happy when the plane touched down, I wanted to cry. A flight attendant stopped me on my way off of the plane, told me she saw what happened, and suggested I file a complaint with the airline. "You HAVE to write it up", she said as she gave me her name. Perhaps she knows something that I don't. Maybe over-the-top rudeness is the norm among her colleagues, and I wasn't the first passenger who has been treated so horribly. I've considered drafting a letter, but I honestly don't know how much good it will do. When I took out pen and paper to write, the rudest of the flight attendants saw me, and made sure I knew his name. "That's right! Joseph!" he said in a manner that made me conclude that his brand of customer service has gone unchecked, and now he thinks he has a license to be a certified jerk. I looked at him and shook my head. I'm surprised he didn't spell his name for me. I suppose he thought he'd won. I suddenly felt pity for him. Maybe the power he wields on board the plane is all the power he has ANYWHERE.
I can't get yesterday back, but I do know what to do--and what NOT to do--in the unfortunate event that it happens again. I did sincerely pray that there would be a different flight crew on board when it's time to return to the states.

The whole discussion of whether something is a "right" should be SIMPLE. If it negatively impacts upon, or infringes upon the rights of another person, it seems that there should be NO question whether a particular behavior is inappropriate or abusive. I WISH I had seen this article BEFORE I boarded the plane. Better late than never, I suppose. Here's the link. Apparently there's a new phenomena called "Air Rage".

I TOTALLY understand how the defendant in the case feels. My situation didn't involve me assaulting another passenger--just trying to reason with her (to no avail), and attracting the attention of flight attendants-- who wasted no time berating me. It seems that pushing an occupied seat out of your way is the same as pushing the person who occupies it. Someone reclining their seat and infringing upon your space is ALLOWED by virtue of the fact that there's a 'recline' button on their seat. Your reasonable reaction to their sudden, invasive movement is NOT allowed, by virtue of the fact that there is a 'recline' button on the seat. Got it?
I've never had the pleasure of having the captain of a plane come, kneel down by my seat, and personally talk to me in all the years I've flown. Fortunately, this one was somewhat sympathetic, and still knows what "customer service" means. Even the passenger next to me tried to help me plead my case. Nothing we said counted. The conclusion of the matter was, if someone is rude to YOU, your only recourse is to be rude to someone else. No. I won't be embracing that philosophy, and no, I'm not going to stop flying. Lesson learned. After 9/11, passengers on planes became potential suspects. People are nervous and waiting for ANYTHING to jump off. Nerves are bad. Patience is low. Tolerance is too. Make a move and someone will jump in your chest first and ask questions later. Nice and law-abiding has nothing to do with it. Child or adult, you are at the mercy of the crew on board an airplane, and have mercy on YOU if they missed the customer service seminar.

Your reaction is key! No matter how badly you're treated, how you respond is the difference between your cause being supported, you being reprimanded, branded an instigator, or labeled the bad guy.
You can have expectations that people will do the right thing in any given situation, but kindness, compassion, consideration, and fair play are among things in life that have to be taught. Some principles are either instilled and embraced, or promptly adopted as a result of finding ONESELF in the uncomfortable shoes of someone else.


Two smiling faces greeted me after I went through customs and got my luggage. God how I appreciate nice people! The kind lady who'd sat next to me on the plane gave me a hug and told me that "God is in control". She also alerted me to the cultural nature of what happened on the plane. I never even considered cultural implications. Good grief! Was I looked upon as the proverbial "Angry Black Woman"? Is that why the flight attendants automatically assumed I was at fault? Is that why the captain was summoned? My seat mate told me, "You Americans ask, 'Is it okay to do this or that?' You are too polite. Everyone is not like that". I sure THOUGHT I had been polite. Good grief.

Even at speeds that MY speedometer only gets to display, but never experience, the ride to Ramstein, after my ordeal, was so WONDERFULLY pleasant. I just admired the scenery, and snapped a few pictures. There was a bottle of purified water (that I desperately needed), candies and mints for me in the car. With every mile, I could feel myself calming down. Before I knew it, I had drifted off to sleep. At the Hotel Merkur, everything had already been taken care of. My room was ready. I was escorted to my room where a beautiful floral arrangement and gift basket awaited me. I thanked God profusely. It was nice to chat with my host for a while, and nice to be shown kindness and hospitality. "Do you need anything?" My eye was on what I needed--a very clean, neatly made, comfortable bed.

Germany. Eight days. I don't know where the rest of Wednesday went.
Day ONE began with excitement and anticipation and morphed into offense, hurt, hostility, threat, accusation, defeat, and sadness; then peace. It seemed like EVERYTHING I read or heard when I got to Germany was fighting to help me forget or at least, have a different attitude about flight 952. A character on an animated program on the CBBC was explaining the definition of "subjective", and how to determine what IS and is NOT funny; then I heard the "Rocky" theme. After that some character said, "We're going to keep on doing this until you get it right". The TV stayed on all night, and drilling of some kind began outside my window at 8:00 AM. I didn't care. The Sun was shining bright, "Scooby Do" was on, and someone told Shaggy, "Cheer up. Enjoy the parade". You couldn't tell me that message wasn't for me. On another channel, I listened to Tobias Megeman play his tuba, and Katrin Zellner's musical nose instruments. I watched "Loose Women" and heard, "If you keep comparing yourself to other people, it's going to drive you nuts!" Even the Coke commercial preached, "You should lighten up". Judge Judy declared, "You're mad at the wrong person! We're going to start again. I'm going to try and calm down..." Then an injury lawyers' commercial prophesied, "You can say 'It's fate', or you can say, 'I absolutely didn't deserve that'.

Day TWO brought pondering, questioning, praying, residue, displays of kindness, exhaustion, and spirituality working overtime. I had dreamed that there had been a fire drill at the hotel and everyone on the plane was lined up against the wall in the hallway--except me. I had heard an alarm and a man's voice coming through the TV speakers telling everyone to leave their rooms. I went to the bathroom, saw a weird bug and promptly killed it. The door was open and I saw another one crawling on the carpet. Then I heard the door to the room open. I screamed, "Excuse me! Wait a minute!" until the door closed again. I noticed when I woke up that the door handle in my dream and the actual door handle were very different. There had been no fire drill, false alarm, line up in the hallway or bugs. It really was all a dream, but the ordeal on the plane was real, and I was still feeling it. Anger is a great motivator, but I was determined I would not be motivated to wreck the rest of my stay by dwelling on it. I looked at my beautiful flowers and thanked God.
Everything I heard, saw and read seemed to be a comforting, encouraging reminder to put the events of the flight behind me. They were just a distraction. Even my bag of Uncle Ray's potato chips was ministering to me! Who knew you could learn anything from a bag of chips except the calorie count and saturated fat content? I have to hand it to Uncle Ray for the lesson on "Persuasiveness".

Day THREE has brought joy, relief, laughter, refreshing, and fellowship...I'm SOOOOOO grateful.

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