Saturday, May 2, 2009

Northwest Airlines is a cold dead place

What's better than driving from Denver to Detroit and back?
--Flying to Detroit and back.

What's better than flying from Denver to Detroit and back on Northwest?
--Everything else.

Here comes the not-too-frequent time when I post a blog that has absolutely nothing to do with music or really anything other than me complaining about something that no one else is likely to be interested in.  Stop here if you're not interested in hearing my whining.

The beginning of my bad fortunes came with my seating assignment on the plane home from Detroit to Denver.  By some luck of the draw, I had the middle seat in the row just behind the exit row, which I've always been told is the row with the least leg room of all, as it loses a slight bit of space in giving the exit row more room.

Things took another turn for the worse when my seat mate to the left arrived.  Turns out he was quite a large man, thus meaning that we were going to have to defy certain social rules of flying, most notably the one where you are expected not to be in physical contact with your seat neighbors.  This rule was broken right away, as my new friend came to inhabit the entire shared arm rest, plus about 3 inches into my seat's airspace.  We spent a good deal of our 3 and a half hours together with shoulders and upper arms touching to varying extents.

I calmly tried to maintain my composure and avoid having a meltdown.  After taking his seat, it became clear that my seatmate also was literally about to overheat trying to find his seat belt.  After a few valiant attempts, he gave up the ghost and flipped on his ipod to a Rick Warren podcast, apparently trying to calm his nerves after the seat belt fiasco.  Now let me say here, before anyone gets angry, I don't hold anything against this fellow passenger, as I think he was probably just as uncomfortable as me, and possibly even more so.  We were both victims of some cruel universal destiny.  To make this destiny even worse, the drink service finally started about 45 minutes into our adventure.  My friend ordered diet Pepsi, which he proceeded to sip feverishly, to the point that I thought I was going to have to start him on an I.V. drip of the beveridge.  In yet another cruel twist of fate, every feverish sip of his diet Pepsi brought his elbow further into my space, gently nudging my ribs every 10 to 15 seconds for about a 5 minute span until the can was empty.

As I noted, the exit row was directly in front of me, and to my great fortune, the woman directly in front of me leaned her seat back, giving me just enough room to blink my eyes if I turned my to the side.  Once again, not the person's fault, but this woman was about 5'2", and hence literally a foot and a half shorter than me.  At various times I saw her stretch her leg up into the air and wiggle her toes.  This really added to my overall flight experience, given that I really couldn't even feel my toes by this point.  The amount of space they had compared to me was almost obscene - I think that they actually built a fort with their seats at one point, and they were playing twister at one point as well.

It turns out that Northwest Airlines has fairly recently come under the control of Delta, and in so doing have apparently acquired step-child status in the company.  Of many things that were advertised, such as their capability to use credit cards and their listing of of drink options, many were simply not available - not as in not working or "we're out of that," but rather, they just never existed.  In addition, the "pay to check bags" policy now delays each flight by at least 10-15 minutes, because persons refuse to pay and thus bring their huge bags on the plane and try to stuff them in the overhead bins.  On both of my flights, we spent an unreasonable amount of time waiting for people to get their luggage stowed away, with some eventually having to check their bags because there is no more room.  I can't imagine this is good for business, as the only ones not really affected are the 16 elite humans in first class, who avoid such drama by getting a preflight massage during this time.  Everyone else is driven to a silent, or at times not-so-silent rage, with no good outlet for their frustration except to buy a $7 croissant sandwich. 

So first class is what it is - people who can afford to pay extra fly in the lap of luxury compared to those of us in seat 10B, and we can't do much about it.  Northwest, however, goes so far as to ask coach passengers not to use the bathroom in the front of the airplane "in the interests of safety."  No, they don't say it's federal law, but for the safety of our 1st class passengers, poor persons should please refrain from pooping in the front toilet.  To add insult to injury, they have two straps that velcro together to form a barrier between 1st class and coach.  Of course it doesn't stop anyone from getting through if they want, but serves as a reminder that you don't  belong up there.  I caught a few glimpses of the first class passengers lounging around.  Looked like a couple of guys had just finished up a tennis match and were getting ready to hit the showers, while others were spending time in the sauna and hot tub up front.

My final annoying travel note came in the form of a man sitting on the other side of the plane, in my row, who somehow talked the woman in front of him into changing seats (i.e., hobbit row seat for an exit row seat) so he could "sit across from his friend."  The woman knew what he was doing, but graciously let him move up anyway.  He subsequently turned around from his new seat and asked the woman if she wanted to put her bag in front of his seat, because he had "plenty of room" in front of him.  The woman clearly just didn't want to talk to him, but he continued to tell her thank you and make small talk about Greek proverbs, etc. etc., to the point that I really wished she would ask for her seat back.  He talked to his friend for about 30 minutes, and proceeded to sleep for the next 3 hours in his spacious seat.  It's situations like this where I think we all really want to believe in karma.

Our flight arrived almost an entire hour later than scheduled, as headwinds apparently slowed the plane to a crawl.  I managed to get away without any lasting physical or psychological damage I think, so I guess I can't complain too much.  However, if you see Justin Townes Earle, Explosions in the Sky, or Monahans, tell them thanks for me, because without them and my trusty 3 year old ipod, I probably would have lost my mind somewhere over Iowa.  

In closing, looks like I'll be sticking to Southwest as much as possible, given that at least when you don't get a good seat there, it's more a result of you not checking in early enough, rather than the feeling you get on Northwest, which is simply that you're just the poorest person on the plane, and hence why you are sitting in 10B.  If you're the fortunate soul in 9B, however, don't forget to bring your yoga mat on the flight, because you'll surely be wanting it when you see the expanse of floor space you have in front of you.

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