You Can't Get There From Payson



The holidays are behind us, at long last. Hopefully you've taken down the tree and outdoor lights, deflated the giant blow-up Santa, and chucked those fake luminarias.

Now that Christmas is over, it's time to critique the airline industry and its ability to take America home to Grandma's house for the holidays.

I didn't go to Grandma's house, but I did go to San Francisco for a family gathering, and I have returned to give you this firsthand account of the state of the airline industry.

I got to Sky Harbor the requisite two hours early, and it's a darn good thing I did. When I went through security, this big burly guy motioned me off to one side.

"Have you got a Swiss Army knife in your carry-on," he said humorlessly.

As I was packing the night before, I remembered wondering what I had done with my Swiss Army knife when I took it out of the carry-on before my last flight. Now I knew. I put it back in when I got home.

The big burly guy told me I had two choices -- to give my Swiss Army knife to him, in which case I would never see it again, or go back into the terminal and mail it home to myself. I opted for the latter, even though it meant coming back through security again.

Having finally cleared security, I headed for my gate. That's when I encountered that quaint ritual all travelers experience every time they fly -- "last gate syndrome."

You know how it works. You show up at the airport brimming with excitement and enthusiasm.

The airlines, however, don't want people on their planes brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. They prefer surly and exhausted.

To get you this way, they make sure your gate is the farthest one in the entire airport. And don't ask how they manage to make everyone's gate the farthest one in the entire airport. They just do.

Seriously, has your flight ever left from Gate 2? No, it's always Gate 87B, right? I think the people standing at Gate 2 are cardboard cutouts.

Once at Gate 87B, the person working the counter announced that our flight had been delayed in Providence, R.I., by a snowstorm. I want to know what the heck Southwest Airlines is doing in Providence, R.I., anyway?

The plane finally arrived 93 minutes late, and the person working the counter announced that we passengers would have several "boarding opportunities." Now I have heard the way Southwest boards passengers referred to as a lot of things before, but never as "boarding opportunities."

After selecting the appropriate "boarding opportunity," we got in a "boarding opportunity" line. As we waited, a repeated announcement kept warning us to "report any suspicious behavior."

I looked around suspiciously, casting sidelong glances at my linemates. Then I realized that if I were someone else in line, I would suspect my own behavior was suspicious.

I decided to calm down and wait in line patiently -- until I heard the unmistakable sound of someone speaking Arabic in a loud and agitated manner.

I turned around to see the man behind me talking on his cell phone. He was a dead ringer for Saddam (and this was before Saddam had been caught) and he did not sound happy.

Fortunately my son was there to put everything in perspective, as only sons can do.

"Dad," he said, "just because a guy who looks like Saddam is hollering in Arabic on his cell phone doesn't constitute ‘suspicious behavior.'" You want to say, in a fatherly tone, "Then what the hell does it constitute," but instead you decide to let him learn the hard way -- when the man's shoe explodes.

Finally aboard the aircraft, we taxi down the runway, rise into the air, and head off into the blue. That's when I noticed another unmistakable sign of "suspicious behavior."

Hanging out of an overhead compartment a few rows ahead of us was a hank of what appeared to be human hair. Honest.

I turned to my son, who was already totally absorbed in a book, and told him there was a body in the overhead compartment.

He glanced up, snorted derisively, said, "Or at least a head," and turned back to his book.

I could go on, but you get my drift. We may have just celebrated a century of flight, but in some respects we haven't advanced very far from that first flight above the sands of Kitty Hawk.

But there is good news. I was only gone three days and my Swiss Army knife was waiting in the mailbox when I got back to Payson.

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