By Wayne Harada
Since it’s all fresh in my mind, having just returned from a two-city trip (New Orleans, New York), I want to share some travel observations.
Don’t expect a spare seat next to you, to sprawl out during the flight. The planes are crowded like sardines. The terminals don’t have enough seats to handle the awaiting crowds, so gate spill-over is very common.
Since I’m one of those who simply can’t sleep on a plane, I people-watch, from departure to arrival, from the airport gate to inside the plane.
I usually fly United and use Mileage Plus miles to upgrade to first class to get more leg and elbow room to avoid the crunch that even Economy Plus hasn’t quite resolved; nowadays, there’s an added charge ($150 to $250, depending on routing and schedule) that I have to cough up, but it’s worth the price for the extra space you get. And you can get a drink or two or three (one’s enough, thank you) — and a few precious perks, like early boarding.
But sleep escapes me, period. It’s got to do with the uncomfortable seats (I need a bed), the hum of the jet engine, the incessant chatter of a pair an aisle away, the captain announcing arrival time just when I’m about to snooze. Fellow insomniacs, help me out here.
With United and Continental in the midst of a marriage, changes are under way, flight patterns included. Policies come and go, like planes flying out and into town.
Some quick observations:
• Pillows are no longer available in first class; blankets are still available. On one leg, I caught a Continental plane, there were no pillows or blankies in first class; I missed ‘em, because it does get chilly on a flight. A pillow provides neck comfort, so I carry on a cushy log-shaped number filled with some kind of light pellets — much lighter than the sobakawa mini-rock version I long ago retired.
• More people are hauling in more food, because you have to pay for meals in coach (still provided up front). That means more clam shell containers and take-out boxes, containing anything from a burger to pasta, from Danish pastry to salad, from frozen yourt to pizza, boarding with the roll-aboard and one allowed hand-carry. But let’s get serious: you’ll always have more than the allowable hand carry stuff; there’s always that cup of Starbucks or that bag with the Big Mac, that last-minute purchase for auntie in New York, that newsstand snack and paperback. Hope not, but will there be an in-flight garbage disposal charge down the line?
• More food means a bizarre blend of odors resulting from all of the above during the flight. Food court, anyone? I haven’t personally experienced this, but the outbound Hawaii jets commonly have Spam musubi, takuan, and dried ika that local palates favor — surely a peculiarity for home-bound visitors.
• Some passengers are totally devoid of class; I see more strewn newspapers in the aisle during the exit; and debris can range from peanut shells to plastic cups half-filled with soda, probably left by the jerk who spills his popcorn and nachos in movie theaters. There oughtta be a neatness police who patrols the aisles before the flight lands — and yes, hit ‘em with a $5 penalty. Or something.
• For all the extra charges made by the carriers, at least they monitor and adapt in-flight programs. As I reported in a blog earlier this week, United has added “Hawaii Five-0” reruns to the entertainment package. Just the stress-buster or action tonic until season two launches in September.