Marriott Hotel, Tbilisi, Georgia, 11:19pm
Four trips to Georgia and I'm still a novice traveler. My suitcases are now packed, well 95% packed. There will be some last minute shuffling of items prior to zipping them shut. But now I must pack and try to get some rest, or not. I hope my luggage makes it through security screening. I am carrying many bottles of wine and a bottle of Georgian chacha.
We will meet in the lobby of the Marriott Tbilisi at 1:30am to a catch a 4:10am flight to Munich. From Munich we fly to Atlanta. Thus begins a long day of travel.
Tbilisi Airport, 2:27am
Waiting on the 4:10am flight to Munich, glassy-eyed and not looking forward to the long day ahead. We drank a cup of coffee while waiting for our flight. I also purchased several bars of Russian chocolate to take home.
Munich Airport, 5:39am
The Munich airport is a confusing place: terminal one, terminal two. I suspect all unfamiliar places can be confusing. However it has been my experience that there is usually someone available to ask questions, directions, etc. Not so in Munich at 6am. We fumbled around the airport trying to find our gate for the connecting flight. Instead we found ourselves going through Customs as though we were going to stay in Germany. In doing so we needlessly garnered an additional stamp in our passports. Thankfully our connecting flight doesn't leave for about four hours so we have time to wander around, get lost, make mistakes and still make out flight. If not for this time we would have faced a terrifying, nail-biting, erratic rush through the airport. I do not relish these situations.
A word about the Airbus A319-100 we arrived on. I sat in the center of the aircraft and over the main wheels, apparently right over the main wheels. I have never experienced a noisier gear extension/retraction, ever. The whole transaction was an alarming cacophony: a series of bumps, whines, thumps, scrapes, and squeaks. I grasped my armrests thinking any minute I was going to fall out the bottom of the plane.
During our final approach into Munich, after the wheels were lowered, the aircraft emitted an annoying whistle. It was impossible to determine where it was coming from. I looked around for an open window! What in the world? Was this by design? And if so, why? Who would want to announce their presence with a whine or a whistle every time they land?
On Peanuts and Flying
We are offered peanuts. No concern about peanut allergies? Have the airlines found a solution? With all the peanuts proffered on flights not once have I ever witnessed an allergic reaction on an airplane where dozens of peanuts are consumed simultaneously inside an airtight metal tube zipping through the sky at 550 mph. Do the airlines serve hypoallergenic peanuts? Do peanut allergy sufferers abstain from flying world-wide? Are peanut allergies restricted to school cafeterias?
What is the purpose and how does it work? How are zones assigned? How are they enforced? Has anyone considered alternative zones, boarding by seat position, i.e. aisle, middle, window? How about zone deplaning? I'd like to see them try that!
The term suggests quicker boarding (for those that qualify). It does offer a separate queue for boarding, sort of parallel processing for humans, but this process cannot escape the theory of constraints. There will be a bottleneck in the form of a single ticket agent, ticket scanner, a narrow boarding door, a narrow aisle, or, most likely, a chucklehead who failed Physics and cannot understand why their luggage will not fit in the overhead bin. (I once sat, stunned, seat belt buckled, of course, while I watched a man board carry what appeared to be a bumper for a Chrysler 300. He walked down the center aisle matter-of-factly and no one batted an eye!)
Shoe Removal as a security measure
After one incident where a blockhead tried to ignite his Nike's, we are all subjected to removing our shoes as a security measure before boarding a plane. Who's idea was this and why hasn't he been flogged for being criminally stupid. I get angry every time I'm subjected to this process. In fact the whole security process is an annoying, nerve-racking experience. As I reclaim my laptop computer, belt, shoes, and 3-ounce containers of liquids (in little quart-size plastic bags of course) from the X-ray scanning machine I am forced to hastily keep moving while trying to put everything away and redress. I feel like Lucille Ball working in the candy factory. What a silly, stressful process. Show me the authority behind this process and I will flog them! Of course I'll make them remove their shoes first.
Truth in Advertising
On the plane from Munich to Atlanta we were served a meal, which included an individually-wrapped pat of butter. The packaging read:
Irish Creamery Butter
And just like that the mystery of butter is revealed!
Lunch was horrible by the way. I will not waste time describing it.
Another curiosity of international travel is the concept of “duty free”. This experience ranges from the well-lit, tidy, organized store in the airport to the woeful cart paraded up and down the aisles of an airborne tube traveling at 532 mph at 32,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. In both cases the customers, always captive in some way or another, are encouraged to purchase goods “duty free” at inflated prices created and perpetuated by a relative scarcity created by the captivity. I've never seen one duty free item that wasn't available cheaper and in greater variety (and quantity) somewhere else.
I don't understand the attraction and will never succumb to this desperate vagabond marketing. I have no interest in purchasing duty free in an airport or aboard a cramped metal tube careening through the sky. And another thing, duty free creates enormous and unnecessary traffic up and down the aisles of the aircraft turning a potentially peaceful experience into a sad, noisy bazaar. As I always request an aisle seat, this is particularly annoying if not dangerous. Few things are more tiring than the constant elbow extension and retraction, the leaning to and fro of the body, to avoid being clipped by the beverage or duty free cart.
Nothing says, “I’ve arrived” like a moist towelette. At one time the airlines offered the weary traveler a freshly heated cloth towel, piping hot with a dash of lemon to refresh after a long flight. The flight attendant would hand it to you, with a smile, using wooden tongs. Now you get an impenetrable foil package containing a cold, wet, gauze to cleanse 14 hours of recirculated muck off of one’s face. And it is tossed at you from a moving cart like you are Iron Eyes Cody in the 1970’s anti-pollution public service announcement on TV.
The Beverage Cart
A taupe Naturalizer shoe, size 5 I think, presses down on the green pedal releasing the brake. With a nudge the static friction is overcome and the cart lurches into motion, the beginning of another sortie. The beverage cart! I can hear it, propelled by a red-haired flight attendant. Her unnaturally red hair shaped as though it was one of those Eastern European fur hats like the ones worn by the castle guards in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”.
She bumped my arm again with the cart.
A few minutes later, another cart is launched from its slip in the back of the plane: hot pizza! It smells inviting but I suspect it will be a gummy, undercooked affair. I will be a good passenger and acquiesce to this offering. Ha! But I will reject the moist towelette appetizer.
A girl sitting across the aisle from me laughed hysterically at all three in-flight movies. They looked awful to me even without sound. Maybe the translation from English to German actually improved the movie. The girl next to me is about 20 years old and she is destined for Buenos Aires. Apparently many of the young passengers, maybe students, are on a school trip. I pity them because they have another long flight after we land in Atlanta.
The pizza cart is looming. I can hear the cello's carcharodon carchariasian swagger. The cart blocks the aisle like a blood clot with no less peril.
Such is life aboard a long, trans-Atlantic flight. We are currently flying over Lake Erie in route to Atlanta, Georgia. The only thing standing in my way (aside from the carts) is a doughy, cardboard-encased snack dressed up to look like pizza. I must pause here, I cannot write as my hands are out as if I am receiving the body of Christ at communion. Guten Appetit!
I predicted the pizza experience down to the last doughy morsel.
I found a condiment packet on the floor; it contained honey. I don't know where it came from as I was never served honey or anything requiring honey. It probably belongs to one of the other passengers. I picked it up to examine it to see if it offered any clues to its origin. I expected another revelation similar to my earlier butter experience. No luck. Here comes the cart again and pushed by the character from “Oz” no less. I tore the honey package open and dropped it into her vest pocket as she bumped my arm (with a smile) yet again. As it slid from my hand I gave it a gentle squeeze to ensure the honey got the freedom it so justly deserved. As promised, new memories are made aboard _______ flights. Thanks _______ Airlines!
When we touched down all the students cheered. I know it has been a long flight. I know the movies have been insultingly and mind-numbingly bad. I know the food has been on par with camping cuisine. I know the beverage carts, food carts, and duty-free carts have provided an uninterrupted caravan of entertainment requiring a wearying vigilance of all the passengers to avoid injury and to allow timely access to the restrooms. Maybe the cheer was a gleeful sigh of relief as they recognized their impending liberation from this airborne memory machine?
The plane stops at the gate, everyone jumps up – immediately, and we await the next leg of our journeys: the accordion-motion baby-shuffle off the plane. Welcome home.