Imagine you get a phone call advising you that you have to fly from Chicago to Houston for a quick business meeting. No problem, you think. You fly all the time. You’ve flown for years. You know how it’s done.
You go online to purchase a ticket, but when you get to American Airline’s website, you receive a “404 Page Not Found” error. That’s weird, you think, so you contact a travel agent (“Wow, a travel agent. That’s sooo 1994!”). The travel agent advises you that American Airlines is in the process of forming a joint entity with the United Nations so that people all over the world can fly for free. “It’s called UN-American!” she tells you. “Un-American?” you ask. “No, UN-American!” she says. “It’ll be great!” “Won’t that put you out of a job?” you ask. “Oh, I don’t think so,” she says. “The government would never do that.”
She then tells you that, after spending $6 million, they expect to have the website up and running in about six months. “And it’ll be run by the government, so all your private information will be safe and secure,” she says happily. In the meantime, she can sell you a ticket the old fashioned way. Swing by and pick up your paper ticket any time, she says. But there will be a $45.00 surcharge to cover your carbon footprint. “You know, since you have to use your car and all,” she says sniffily. When you tell her you tried to purchase your ticket online, she interrupts you. “You know that you are now required to travel with luggage,” she says. “But I don’t need luggage,” you tell her. “It’s just a day trip.” Better bring a bag anyway, she says.
So, on the way to the travel agent, you go to Marshall’s and pick up a nice suitcase, on sale, for $150.00. In it, you place a business suit, casual shoes, dress shoes, clean underwear, cosmetics and a blow dryer. You pick up your ticket at the travel agent’s office, then drive to the airport. The parking rates have doubled. Odd, you think. I wonder why nobody mentioned that?
When you arrive at the check-in counter, your bag is taken from you, placed on a conveyer belt and incinerated. You are then handed a paper sack containing a pair of men’s size 11 Croc’s, a t-shirt from an Ah-Ha concert circa 1981, and a cardboard carton of shrimp fried rice. “That’ll be $450.00,” says the clerk. He has acne. He is wearing horned-rimmed glasses and he needs a haircut. And a shave. On his forearm is a tattoo of Che Guevara.
“What happened to my bag?” you ask. “Oh, that old thing,” he replies. “It was substandard. This is better. Way better. Ah-Ha was more than just “Take On Me,” you know.” But I can’t wear a men’s size 11 pair of shoes, you tell him. And I’m allergic to shellfish. Instantly he gets huffy. “Well, I should know better than you about what you need,” he says. “After all, do you have a degree in art history with a minor in gender studies?”
He then informs you that it’s time for his break, and flounces away. He appears to be wearing a onesie. It occurs to you that if this is what customer service looks like, the actual flight will probably be a disaster.
As you envision flames coming out of the engines, you decide maybe it would be better just to cancel your trip. However, when you try to cash in your ticket, you are told that you are not allowed to do that. “What if everyone cashed in their tickets?” you are asked. “The airline would run out of money and no one would be able to fly for free! What’s wrong with you? Are you selfish? Don’t you care about the children?”
Maybe I should just rent a car, you murmur. “Can’t do it,” you’re told. All alternative means of transportation have been cancelled. It’s now illegal for you to purchase any other means of getting from Point A to Point B. And, since you have considered something other than flying, you will need to contact your accountant to figure out how to pay the additional $750 Alternative Travel Method Research Subsidy Fee. “Alternate Travel Method Research Subsidy Fee?” you ask. “What exactly is that?” “Oh, the ATMRSF,” says Justice Roberts. “It’s a tax.”
A commercial comes on the airport television screen, interrupting a CNN newscast showing Barack Obama shaking hands with a guy wearing a keffiyeh and carrying an RPG. A little nerdy guy in a bowtie tells you that H & R Block can help you with the ATMRSF on your 2014 tax return.
“What about the pilot?” you ask desperately. Pajama Boy strolls past, apparently coming off his break. “If you like your pilot, you can keep your pilot,” you are told. “But don’t worry, if you have to fly with a pilot’s assistant, they are usually just as good. And cheaper, too. Cheaper is better for everybody.”
What can you do? Along with everyone else, you are herded towards the gate. You clutch your paper bag in one hand and your checkbook in the other. Maybe you can learn to like shrimp fried rice. With foreboding in your heart, you board the plane. Although your ticket says you are in Seat 26B on a 737, you find yourself directed to Seat 3. You are on a 1974 twin-engine Cessna with no seatbelts.
“Are we going to die?” you whisper to the old man sitting next to you. “Don’t be ridiculous!” he proclaims robustly, swigging down his gin and tonic. “I voted for this! We all have to make sacrifices! Besides, the government knows what’s best for us!”
You look out the window and sure enough, smoke is coming out of the starboard engine. As the plane slowly wobbles down the runway, the flight attendant gets on the intercom and burbles, “Won’t it be great in 2016, when everyone gets to fly like this?” The plane picks up speed, bounces once into the air, comes back down, blows a tire and skids through a billboard for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. As the plane shudders to a stop, in the seat behind you, a baby starts wailing. “Don’t worry folks, it’s just a glitch!” says the pilot. “No one could have predicted it would be like this!”
“I could have told you it would be like this,” you say.
Unfortunately, no one is listening.