Friday, December 23, 2011

The 9 Circles of Air Travel Hell

Over the past 15 or so years of my professional life, I've travelled too much.  I've seen some amazing things and places, ate some amazing foods, met some amazing people that I count as friends for the rest of my life.
Unsuspecting Travelers...
Before 9/11, my wife and I both have traveled in some unorthodox ways that I will not document to protect the relatively innocent.  Early on, achieving premium traveler status was joyous, but the loyalty cards quickly became badges of shame.  Today, on American Airlines, I am Platinum for life and have over 3 million lifetime miles.  Sad.  Post 9/11, I don't look forward to air travel anymore and often joke that it's exotic: exotic long lines, exotic delays, exotic lost luggage, and exotic mechanical issues.

Being the analytical type, however, I have managed to categorize the stages of air travel corresponding to Dante's Inferno and its 9 Circles of Hell.  Enjoy:
1. Limbo: This is either waking up for the flight in time, trusting that nappy hotel alarm clock or wake-up service, or leaving your client meeting on-time.
2. Lust:  How many times have you been stuck in traffic calculating the time before they won't let you get a boarding pass anymore?  Or, doing circles trying to find a parking spot?  One time, in New Delhi (eating biryani, en route, of course), I arrived 2 hours early, and it took 30 minutes, in the cab to get up to the departure area from the street.  I cut to the front of the line to get into the airport, made a lame "dumb American" excuse why I did not have my ticket to get in, and I did not sit down at all the next 90 minutes until I was seated on the airplane.
3. Gluttony: Some airports are awesome in terms of the efficiency of getting your boarding pass and getting through security.  Then, there is making a connection at Charles de Gualle (CDG).
4. Greed: So, you've woken up, traversed rush hour traffic, and made it through security in plenty of time.  Is there a plane at the gate?  Is your plane the one coming in from O'Hare in January?  So sorry.
5. Anger: Late flight?  Lighting push the planes back?  Inefficient airline staff?  Boarding on-time is always a challenge.  Maybe it's a conspiracy to get people to spend more money in the terminals with the local merchants.
6. Heresy: I honestly can feel this happening to me, as I type it.  I'm on the plane.  Seated.  5 minutes before the departure, but they are not buttoning up the plane.  There's some technician that keeps coming in and out of the plane, checking in with the pilots in the cockpit.  Does this plane work?  One time, we were flying to Barcelona, through Paris, and we had to head back to the gate twice because the weather radar did not work.  Apparently, they did not fix it the first time, or the second...
7. Violence: ...because as we approached Boston at 1AM, the pilot informed us that the weather radar was not working and we would head back to JFK, where we stayed the night.  Will we even make it to the destination...or maybe just land in JFK, instead...
8. Fraud: So, one time I was flying home from Nice, France.  Clearly, I was going in the wrong direction.  Anyway, I've documented some of the challenges of flying through CDG, so I chose to fly through a new connection in Zurich.  First sign of danger was when we waited in the plane, connected to the jet bridge for 2 hours.  Then, second sign of danger was when the plane pulled away and parked at the end of the runway right before take-off.  Apparently, there was some dispute between the pilots, the air control in Zurich and the air control in Frankfurt about our plans.  Regardless, we took off  3 hours later and landed home just as a storm hit.  I started to slump as I saw us turn away from the terminals and approach a massive line of planes, waiting for gates to free up.  Two hours later, we officially landed.  What should have been a 10 hour flight turned into a 17 hour affair.
9. Treachery: Lord knows I've secretly wished that our plane would land somewhere tropical instead of my dull destinations, but it has never happened.  However, my luggage, when I have been forced to check them, have probably been to some amazing place, because they often times do not make it back with me to my destination.  One time, when I was in college, I was visiting my wife and her family in Costa Rica for the Winter Holiday.  I arrived December 20th.  My bags arrived December 26th, two days before I left.  That helps.

And this does not even consider the threat of airport evacuation, which has happened to me twice, once in Paris' Charles de Gaulle and a few years ago in London's Heathrow.  Both, quite exotic.


  1. Spot on. Only a road warrior would understand. I took my present job only because I no longer EVER travel.

  2. Reminds of the time when I was heading back to Dallas from Houston. Fell asleep during takeoff. Next thing I know - I wake up to the following announcement by the captain - "I realize that a lot of you will be missing your flight connections, but that is not important right now..."!!! Turns out the engine over the tail had fallen off the plane during take-off and we were headed back to Houston. Never have I yearned more for terra firma than in those few minutes as the plane approached Houston airport. And needless to say, I have NOT fallen asleep during a takeoff since that day. EVER. American gave all passengers on that flight 5,000 bonus miles for their "inconvenience"....

  3. Yeah, Yeshwant, those engines are pretty vital and they're better when they stay attached...