Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bad people doing bad things

I’m on a flight from LA to San Francisco at the moment. It’s not the flight I was scheduled to take. That would have been a flight from Ontario, which was cancelled due to mechanical problems. The automated United Airlines cheery male voice called my cell phone to tell me I’d been rescheduled on a flight tomorrow morning.

Waiting until tomorrow morning to fly out of Ontario would have been absurd, so my colleague Jeff and I decided to return the Avis rental car (a shiny white Buick Lucerne) to LAX and fly from there. The friendly woman at a United Airlines call center with whom I was chatting offered us each $100 vouchers on a future United flight for all of the trouble. I would have preferred a $100 refund, but was happy to keep driving just to get out of there.

Anyway, United’s typically bad behavior is also making me think about how badly behaved so many passengers on the plane are. On this particular flight, I’m in Economy Plus, a window seat next to Jeff who was graciously willing to take the middle seat I always offer to take when I’m flying with someone else. Everyone seems tired and well behaved on this flight.

On a typical flight, especially if I’m upgraded to what passes for first class on this crackpot airline, I’m surrounded by aggressive business-types who are punching away at their Blackberries and chortling on their cell phones. Blackberry users are the worst. In fact, I think I hate everyone who has a Blackberry.

The flight attendant makes an announcement to please turn off all electronic equipment and that Blackberry user keeps going, fumbling gracelessly with those miniature keys. Then the flight attendant walks down the aisle checking seatbelts and that Blackberry user hides that sucker until the flight attendant has passed and then pulls it out again and starts scrolling and tapping. Then another flight attendant is walking toward the front of the plane and that Blackberry user doesn’t happen to notice her and is gently reprimanded to turn off the equipment. He reluctantly shoves it into the seat pocket, but doesn’t turn it off, pulling it out once again after the flight attendant has passed and taken a seat. With flight attendants safely prepared for takeoff in their jump seats and no longer patrolling the aisle, that Blackberry user is at it again, exchanging messages with some bleak middle manager as the plane ascends.

I am describing the man in front of me, in seat 2B on my flight to Denver, as I was en route to Fargo last week. Mr. Blackberry user. Mr. Salt and Pepper Hair. Mr. Petulant Frog. He was reading Licensed to Kill.

He finally put his Blackberry away once the flight attendants unbuckled themselves and started prancing around to begin their important drink-pouring rituals. One flirty female flight attendant who was servicing first class approached Mr. Salt and Pepper and asked for his order. I couldn’t quite hear what he ordered but it was abrupt. Flirty flight attendant tried to cozy up and said to him, “I bet you hear it all the time, but do people ever tell you that you look like George Clooney?”

“No.” That was all he said.

The flight attendant moved on and asked me what I wanted to drink. As I requested my sparkling water, I tried to sparkle with ebullient warmth to make up for the ill-behaved toad face in front of me. George Clooney he was not. She was being far too generous. I would say he bore a greater likeness to the recently deceased version of Don Knotts with salt-and-pepper hair.

Going down. Later in the flight, the announcement went out to put away all electronic equipment in preparation for landing in Denver. Mr. Blackberry Salt and Pepper Petulant Frog carried on the same antics as he did during takeoff. And several minutes later, the announcement was made to bring all tray tables and seatbacks to their upright position in preparation for landing. Of course his seat was totally reclined and he clearly had no intention of abiding by the flight attendant’s request. When the flirty friendly flight attendant did her final check, she gently assisted Mr. Petulant Frog to put his seat upright. As soon as she passed by his row, he put the seat back in the reclined position and left it reclined at the gate, even as he gathered his belongings to get off the plane.

On my return trip from Fargo, an aged dreary businessman shoved his way into the seat next to me and clacked away on his Blackberry, just as Mr. Salt and Pepper had done two days earlier. This guy was unpleasant in that fussy old man way, and requested seven small bags of the “Deluxe Snack Mix” from the frazzled flight attendant. He kept shredding paper throughout the flight. He kept scribbling on white paper with a No. 2 pencil and then would shred two or three sheets of paper at a time. He was visibly irritated with me when, upon his return from the lavatory with lingering fart residue in his khakis, I decided to take the opportunity to avail myself of the facilities before he reclaimed his seat. I suppose I was interfering with his ability to eat more Deluxe Snack Mix, scribble with his No. 2 pencil and shred paper. He was clearly an important person and had important things to do.

The flight attendant came by to offer old fartypants another drink. He replied, “Bring me a Seven-Up – I want the whole can. And also give me a vodka on the rocks. And give me a couple more bags of this snack mix.”

Meanwhile I played my role, warm and supportive, interacting with the flight attendant to let him know I wasn’t a Blackberry user: I was his polite gay brother. I would have a glass of water. I would not spit pretzels and sesame stix in my lap like Cookie Monster shredding paper for a pet guinea pig. I was a courteous human, happily unconnected from the email world around me.

I suppose I will never be able to get a Blackberry. It’s a shame, really.

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