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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!

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