Issue 40

Airline Labyrinths


                I have uncovered a conspiracy almost too horrible to reveal: we are nothing more than lab rats when we travel on airplanes.

                Consider the scenario: there's no place to run, no place to hide, and absolutely nothing to do for several long hours.  After you've exhausted the possibilities for entertainment in the lavatory by reading all of the warnings labels three times each – destroying a smoke detector will cost you $2,200 (my local hardware store sells them for less than $10) and flushing a barf bag down the toilet could conceivably cause the plane to crash – even the most creative of us find ourselves desperate for any form of intellectual stimulation.  Taking a plane trip is a desperate test of endurance.  I won't go so far as to say I am bored, but I am open to the suggestion of doing just about anything legal to break the monotomy, and I'll even consider things illegal, depending upon whether they'll cost me as much as replacing those expensive smoke detectors in the bathroom.

                I didn’t understand the true horror of flying until just recently. I've never been able to sleep on planes, so I stayed up for 32 straight hours before my flight.  Even then, only with difficulty did I manage to finally drift off to sleep in my luxurious iron-maiden of a chair. Forty-five minutes later the stewardess woke me to ask if she could get me anything.  She didn’t really want to get me a soda.  She needed me to be awake for the battery of tests they had prepared for me.

                Don't think the fact that the airlines have a captive audience escapes them.  For example, have you noticed that you never have the same meal twice, even if you fly the same segment over and over again?  This is not because airlines shop at the Grocery Closeout Warehouse or because different cities have different food.  No, the airlines have sold the rights to your mouth.  Next time you fly, watch how many people will eat everything put in front of them, regardless of the quality (the term "quality airline food" is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence) or if they even like Beef-Cartilage Stroganoff.  Then notice how the remains of your meal are not thrown away but rather carefully collected in special bags so that trained personnel can later evaluate what was half-eaten and what was devoured.  This is valuable marketing data, and the opportunity to taste test your captive palette is sold to the highest bidder.

                That’s only the beginning. Soda selections from each flight are tabulated daily, sold, and reviewed in an effort to create more effective advertising campaigns.  They’ve also tied in psychological tests to your choice.  For example, have you ever seen the guy who asked for Coke get the whole can and then you only get half a glass if you pick Pepsi?  Those stewardesses are actually graduate students testing the people behind you to see if they’ll ask for Coke because they don’t want to get screwed like you did.  And don’t underestimate just how uncomfortable your seat is.  These same students designed them so they can simulate a small child kicking you incessantly in the back to see what your breaking point is before you buy a beer or stiff cocktail to relax.

                Have you noticed how there isn’t time for an in-flight movie anymore but there is time for a couple of TV sitcom reruns complete with commercials? Are you desperate enough to watch a show you wouldn't be caught dead watching at any other time?  Were you surprised how easily it entertained you?  Will you perhaps add it to your viewing schedule?  That’s the real reason why the airlines stopped charging for headsets.  And because you’ve completely lost your sense of time, you don’t notice just how many commercials they’ve managed to stuff in; in fact, you’re actually thankful for them.  I also suspect that someone has added subliminal ads to the videos because every time I fly back into San Francisco I have an inexplicable urge to visit Alcatraz yet again.

                It’s a horrible knowledge to possess.  I can no longer look at them as merely bags of peanuts but rather as part of the complex system of rewards and punishments that they really are.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's shocking the lengths I’ll go to to earn that extra bag.  And I don’t even like peanuts.


Home ] Up ]