Scrumming in the dead zone

Holiday travel as designed by Stephen King


Whaddya mean there’s no space for my carry on?

So who exactly came up with the genius idea of boarding commercial flights by randomly assigned “zones”? This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

Have you flown recently, by any chance? If you have, you’ve no doubt encountered the zone approach which has replaced the logical process of allowing passengers to board the plane from back to front. Under the new system, frantic holiday travelers are assigned random groups (which for reasons I cannot fathom are called zones), usually, I have observed, from one to seven.

So for example, you could be seated in the middle seat of the last row of the plane (rather than the mid-cabin aisle seat you booked and paid for three months previous when you made the reservation) as I was on a blissful five and a half hour New Year’s Eve flight from Washington state to New York City. And yet despite your location in a non-reclining jump seat adjoining the head, you could still be assigned to zone 7, or the dead zone as I think of it since it’s the final group to board the plane.

"I'm sorry M'am, but you don't qualify for this seat upgrade. Back to 38-B with you now!"

“I’m sorry M’am, but you don’t qualify for this seat upgrade. Back to 38-B with you now!”

What this means is that by the time you fight your way through rows one through 37 and the hoards of clueless passengers clotting up the center aisle while lackadaisically messing around with the contents of their backpacks, every available square inch of storage space will already be crammed with the overcoats and small bags your fellow travelers have been told not once but FIFTY TIMES not to stow until everyone else’s bags have been put away. The experience is not, I imagine, unlike trying to navigate your way through a vaccine riot in downtown Baghdad. As a result, you will be able to spend your journey strapped into the equivalent of an electric chair with your feet on your carry-on, your knees under your chin and your handbag behind your head. And if you are especially lucky, you’ll get placed between a nicotine-addicted Ukrainian white slaver named Marko (don’t even ask how I know) and a hapless father traveling with an eight month-old baby and NO TOYS.

You know, I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating. It is a wonder I don’t drink more than I do. And for the record, there was absolutely no need to call in the air marshal. I will be sending United Airlines a strongly worded letter on the subject just as soon as I get out of this holding cell.

Happy New Year everyone!

About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on January 2, 2013, in Life and times, Rants and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. “A vaccine riot in downtown Baghdad” made me laugh out loud. I love a good metaphor. This post perfectly sums up my feelings about holiday travel. Fantastic.

  2. I flew to Europe once. I couldn’t enjoy myself. While there I contantly thought about the flight back to the U. S.
    I’m not large (6′ 2″), but everything is made for someone 5′ 0″.

    • At nearly a full foot shorter than you, I can safely say that airplane accommodations are not good for anyone of any size, shape or disposition. Shove a dwarf on Quaaludes into one of those bone crushers they call seats, and six hours later you’ll have a furious, exhausted rage machine on your hands.

  3. See after you fly 25K mikes with them, through some magic you get moved up to zone 3. You have the same seat but now you get to watch the harried flight attendents telling the same story 50 times. Dont put your coats up there. They are pretty much ignored which is why there is no space for your bag when you get there. The real problem is caused by charging for the Bags in cargo. If they would just stop that nonsense, we could all go back to hauling our entire wardrobes along on vacation and completely avoid the hassle of trying to guess what we will want to wear a week from now so we can have matching sets of clothes in the carryon.

    • It’s really all too much to bear. And that business about giving priority to people who fly more just fries my ass. In the future I’m going Jet Blue exclusively so that I can check that one free bag on principle, even if it’s EMPTY.

  4. I hate air travel. I think my worst experience was while on an AirTransat flight from Athens to Toronto, it was discovered after the first hour of the 10 hour flight that our side of the plane had no electricity. Yes. No sound for the movie. No lights to read with. No access to on-board radios. Nothing to do but worry about what was wrong with the plane and harbour and intense resentment towards the lit-up, entertained half of the plane.

  5. Yikes. I am really glad I have never needed to fly anywhere. If I can’t get there by car, Papi ain’t going. Hopefully they will let you out on good behavior before Bertha notices you…. 😀

  6. Flew out of Brussels one day on a cropduster. Two passengers. Me, obviously. and a hugely morbidly obese Belgian businessman. He really was a porker.
    So we get to the point og taxiing, and the steward has a word with me.
    ‘Would you mind moving?’
    I looked round the empty aeroplane.
    It’s just that with him up front the pilot can’t trim the plane. The weight’s unevenly distributed.’
    I felt like telling him to get Fatso to move, but I didn’t.
    And the 20 lager boys on the way to Amsterdam. Ever had one next to you who loses control of his baldder? That can mar the flight

    • I only recently became aware of seat belt extenders used by the XXXL crowd and very pregnant women. Given the combustible nature of the situation, I’ll bet there’s a whole social etiquette around handing them out, as in, “Never hand an extender to a passenger. Instead wait for him to request one. In the event there is no request, but the need is evident, make eye contact and await the universal signal, a quick nod of the head followed by a chomping motion of the mouth. Otherwise wait for the large passenger to try and fail to buckle up, then unobtrusively slip him the necessary item. DO NOT under any circumstances say, Hey fattie here’s your gut buster.”

  7. As my legs are shorter than most, I once had an overly tall man ask me if it was OK I didn’t RECLINE my seat onto his stork-like legs during a 4+ hour flight. Being the nice person that I am (and having flown so much, I can now sleep in any position, including hanging from the ceiling like a bat) – I held out for about 3 hours. I think the man’s knees are now located somewhere behind his ears.

    • I think EVERY plane should have a designated beanpole section in the economy cabin that offers extra legroom at a moderate premium. It would save everyone so much trouble and strife. The petite should not have to pay the price of other people’s gland issues.

  8. My understanding of the zone system is the more frequently you fly the higher zone number you get allocated. The more you fly the quicker you board the plane. Doesn’t make any sense for making the boarding process smooth and easy like you so perfectly describe. Not sure what they were thinking when they came up with this brainwave!!

  9. I’ve never been on a plane and now, I never will be 🙂

    • It’s an awfully long drive to Miami Beach. Just do what I do and score some prescription meds. Unlike me, however, you should avoid mixing them with vodka. 😉

  10. Wendie, I gave up flying. I spent four delightful years in the Air Force. They taught us how they fly and they still let me work on the planes. It shouldn’t work. Drive, seating is predetermined and you’re close to the ground.

    • Yes, but there’s no bar service in the car, at least no legal bar service, and Seattle’s a long way away. I may have to go back to flying only with a skinful of valium, however.

  11. I once sat in front of 3 women flying from Toronto to Hong Kong (15 hours of fun) who talked LOUDLY for 14 hours and 45 minutes. The remaining 15 minutes were spent shovelling food into their mouths so quickly I thought they’d choke. Who talks that much?
    Hoping you have bail covered and wishing you a white-slaver-free 2013.

  12. I always get the ‘sit directly behind/infront the/of 20 something lager boys getting an early start on their long weekend in Amsterdam zone. Nightmare.

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