Flying Low

What single sentence do you hear more than any other in the airport these days? That's easy: "Watch out when you go to the men's room." I'm tempted to say it's the hands-down winner, but I have my pride, you know.

Of course, anybody who flies anymore has had just about all his or her pride stripped away. Overheard nearly as much is "Damn. I'm going to miss my connection." And of course there's "I despise the airlines!!!" — although that might actually be No. 1.

The hellish journey begins before it begins. We start at the check in stockyard, where we mill around and unsuccessfully try to avoid trampling each other in the chaos.

Surviving that and the long lines at the TSA strip search, you now begin the long journey to your gate. Why is it that every flight I take is at the last terminal, somewhere in the next county?

It really doesn't matter. Your flight will be delayed. The only ones that take off on time are the connecting ones, which depart moments before you get there.

Frankly, I'm surprised how pleasant ground personnel and flight crews are in the face of the anger they confront from desperate passengers and abuse they take from cost-cutting, greedy management. It's amazing that they can smile. Or are they gritting their teeth?

Yes, this is a mild rant. Yes, I've just spent three days flying. What always strikes me is how routine all this hassle has become. I traveled on three different airlines: Cattle Car, U-Haul and SovietAir. Those are not their real names. But I kept wondering whether I'd be better off flying FedEx.

Be not discouraged. Washington is aware of the problem. Government is exploring corrective measures. Our courageous leaders are suggesting that airlines study improvements that they'll consider making sometime. Maybe.

Calls for tougher action are rejected by officials who insist that any solution has to be market-based, which is to say, decided by the henhouse foxes. It must also not be a threat to deregulation, which is sacred national policy, after all.

For those who debate whether torture is national policy, forget about enemy combatants. Think airline passengers.

In fairness, we get to where we're going. Eventually. At least we do for now. The system is just NEAR collapse. "Cheer up," they said, "things could be worse." So I did. And sure enough, they were.