I recently had the opportunity to engage in the adventure that is air travel in early 21st century America. I hadn't flown in a while and I was eager to find out about the latest innovations.
My wife and I arrived at the airport about four and a half hours before our flight was scheduled to depart to make sure we would clear check-in and security with time to spare.
"Do you really think it's necessary to get here so early?" my wife asked patiently.
"Don't worry about that," I replied condescendingly. "By the time we clear check-in and security we'll be running to make the plane."
Clearing check-in and security took about 15 minutes.
As we sat in the waiting area my wife glanced at the departure schedule overhead which indicated our flight had been delayed and would now be leaving in six hours.
"Should we start running yet?" she inquired innocently.
After reading the books we had brought for the flight, checking and rechecking the email on our phones, and enjoying a meal purchased from the airport souvenir shop (I had beef jerky, potato chips and a candy bar; she had dried fruit, peanuts, and a disgusted look on her face) we were beginning to get a little bored. I was looking around for someone to ask what was taking so long when a young woman in a militaristic uniform approached the podium, which stood beside our boarding gate.
"We are ready to begin pre-boarding," she said over a muffled PA system.
As we began to gather our carry-on luggage I couldn't help posing this question to no one in particular: If waiting to board an airplane for six hours isn't considered "pre-boarding", what exactly is?
"Pre-boarding will begin with Loyalty Program Members only," said the young woman behind the podium.
"Are we Loyalty Program Members?" asked my wife.
"I'm not sure," I said. "I'll check."
I approached the young woman behind the podium while enduring the withering gazes of those who were certain they were Loyalty Program Members and who had already begun lining up.
"Hey, buddy. There's a line," growled one especially loyal member.
"Yes, I see," I said, not quite knowing who I was talking to. "I'm just not sure if I'm a Loyalty Program Member or not."
This produced a round of chuckles among those in the loyalty line. "How many times have you flown this year?" came a voice.
"Actually, this is my first trip."
The chuckles turned to guffaws and then to peals of laughter.
"Let me give you a clue, buddy," said the voice that had spoken first. "If you don't fly once a week, then you're not a Loyalty Program Member."
"Once a WEEK?!" I said too loudly. "You people all fly once a week?"
"At least," said another voice, nervously. "You can't miss a week. Oh, no."
"What happens if you miss a week?" I asked.
There was a universal gasp and I think one woman fainted.
"You lose your points!" said a businessman in a three piece suit, his voice cracking slightly. "All of them!"
"You don't want to lose your points," said a young woman, looking around nervously as if she were afraid of being overheard. "Once they're gone, they're gone for good."
"That sounds bad," I commiserated. "I guess you wouldn't be able to board before everyone else then."
An evangelical voice came forth. "That's not the only benefit. There's the extra leg room. And bigger seats."
"Bigger seats," murmured several of the people in line, nodding their heads.
Then an older gentleman added, "And the flight is faster in the Loyalty Program Seats."
"Don't all the seats get there at the same time?" I reasoned. "I mean, they're all on the same plane."
The entire line repeated, "The flight is faster in the Loyalty Program Seats. The flight is faster in the Loyalty Program Seats." They were looking off into the distance, but they didn't seem to be seeing anything.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the young woman behind the podium begin to raise a walkie-talkie to her lips. I thought is was best to return to my seat in the waiting area.
"Well," inquired my wife, "did you find out if we are Loyalty Program Members?"
"I don't think we are." I shuddered. "I don't think we want to be."
After a few minutes the young woman behind the podium announced that
people with small children would be allowed to pre-board as well. Then several other categories of passengers with special privileges were also permitted to pre-board.
After a while I looked around an noticed that my wife and I were the
only ones left in the waiting area.
After a short pause the young woman behind the podium announced urgently, "Final boarding! Final boarding! The doors will be closing in one minute."
We grabbed our carry-on and began hurrying to the gate. "I told you we'd be running," I said triumphantly. "I told you."
We sped through the boarding gate, scrambled through the tunnel, stumbled down the aisle toward the rear of the plane, and found our seats which were conveniently located next to the toilet.
After we belted ourselves in and were reasonably comfortable, I turned toward my wife who I consider my most trusted confidant and advisor. "Let me ask you something."
"Do these seats seem slow to you?"