Like thousands of lower forty-eight Americans, I had long wanted to visit Alaska someday. That time recently arrived for me and the visit was every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped. Anchorage, Seward, and Homer were, in different but complementary ways, delightful. Denali Park was breathtaking at every winding turn. I saw a couple of moose, a black bear scooting across the highway and barely escaping being run over, a red fox with her fearless young kit, a few golden eagles, some dall sheep, and most impressive of all, a grizzly rising up to full intimidating height very close to our coach. I also met many friendly people, including a surprising number of college-age students from the lower forty-eight about ready to finish their summer jobs and head back before the cold weather descended. In fact, a few of them by happy coincidence live not far from my own Florida town.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience. However, no more than I began my return home, two odd things reminded me that, in the words of songman Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’,” and not all of them for the better.
The first occurred as my plane was backing out of the gate for the journey to Seattle. As I have often done in the past, I was looking out my little window as the ramp agent waved his illuminated wand to guide the pilot safely onto the tarmac. But safely is the wrong word. The right word is negligently. For some inexplicable reason, he wasn’t paying attention and let aircraft’s wing hit a large object. Everyone on board felt the collision. When the pilot realized what happened, he pulled back to the gate to have the damage assessed. It turned out to be sufficient for the flight to be cancelled.
The plane was soon emptied, and everyone swarmed the gate agents to rebook their flights. The co-pilot happened to be walking next to me as I exited and I remarked, “If I saw correctly, the ramp agent was clearly at fault and should be fired on the spot.” He responded with a cynical remark that is increasingly appropriate in modern society: “You saw correctly, but I don’t think they’ll fire him—they’ll probably promote him.”
The wait for another flight turned out to be over nine hours, which squelched all hope of an easy connection to Tampa. The best I could get was a red-eye to Atlanta followed by a flight to Tampa. It was on that red-eye that the second “the times they are a changin’” reminder occurred.
When I approached the gate for the flight to Atlanta, I didn’t believe my eyes. Two middle age women with identical blonde braids were standing. But what was strange was not those braids but what was on the identical leashes in their hands—two giant Great Danes. “They must be waiting for someone,” I thought. “They can’t possibly expect to take those ponies on the plane.” I was mistaken. At that moment, the gate agent picked up his microphone and made a familiar announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen. We have a full flight this evening, so I need about 17 suitcases to place under the plane. Volunteers please come forward.” I immediately wondered where the ponies would go. I murmured to myself, “under the plane be a great place to put them.” How foolish of me.
As I boarded the plane, I thought of my allergies to animals and decided the plane was a big one and my odds of being near those monstrous beasts were low, so I needn’t be concerned. Once again I was wrong. The plane had a seat layout of two/three/two. In other words, there was an aisle on either side of the middle rows. I settled in to seat D, row twenty-two. Right next to me was the center section behind the bulkhead, with the restrooms on the other side of the partition. Looking up, I saw the two women and the two “ponies” settling in right across from me behind the bulkhead. I immediately told the flight attendant that I am allergic to dogs, so they moved me back to row 32. The dogs were given preference! Nevertheless I was happy to move.
But that was not the end of the matter. Someone else near row 22 evidently complained, so five minutes later one of the “ponies” was moved to the far aisle across from where I was then sitting. “Wait a minute,” I stood and said in a loud voice. “I was moved to get away from the dogs, and now one dog has followed me. I’m no less allergic in row 32 than in row 22.” They then moved the dog up a few rows, evidently letting it lie down in the aisle for the five-hour flight.
I can’t sleep on red-eye flights so I was able to see ahead to the bulkhead during the night. The dog there, the bigger of the two, had his head and shoulders sticking out across the aisle, which meant that paying passengers wishing to use the restroom had to step over him and pray that he would not be startled and bite their legs. After a couple of hours of that absurd situation, an elderly woman had difficultly high-stepping and spoke to a flight attendant, who “solved” the problem by asking the owner to keep the dog’s head out of the aisle. This solution lasted for a few minutes, after which the dog predictably stretched out again.
Let me add one important detail to this strange saga. At one early point, a flight attendant had stated that the Great Danes were “service animals.” That classification was interesting because they wore no vests designating their function. (I’m sure no pet store carries their size). Nor did their behavior indicate such training—they walked behind rather than in front of their owners. It seemed “service animal” was an deceitful way of saying “comfort beast.” When the flight ended, the two animals took their place in the exit line along with the other passengers.
Thus did two absurd, dangerous, and costly situations occur on the same day with the same airline. The first occurred either because the Ramp agent suffers from narcolepsy, was daydreaming, or was attempting to multitask. To reduce the likelihood such causes will occur in the future, the airline should simply screen for all three before hiring ramp agents.
Solving the situation with the flying Great Danes will be more difficult because it clearly involves one or more airline executives. I say this with conviction because no flight attendant, who spends most of her/his workday keeping aisles clear, would ever devise a plan for allowing large, let alone monstrous animals to travel with passengers and thoroughly disrupt flights. What will the executives allow next? Kangaroos? Giraffes? Pythons?
The times are indeed “a changin,” and not for the better. And not for just one airline or one industry, but throughout American culture. The good news is that the solution is the same in all cases—a return to common sense, reasoned judgment, and respect for others. The bad news is that we may not be interested in restoring them.
Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved