Driving is underrated compared to airline hassles

Ryn Gargulinski: Local Columnist

The pilots in the air show had it easy — they merely strapped on their helmets, buckled the hatch and off they zoomed into the cloudy gray yonder. We folks who have to rely on commercial airlines for our trips to Guatemala or France (two of the more popular destinations for New Mexicans) have it a little tougher.

Have you been to an airport lately?

Of course, after the tragedy of Sept. 11, all rules have changed. I couldn’t even smuggle my pet rat on board when I moved to the Land of Enchantment, unlike the good ol’ days when I was able to hide one in a military beret when I moved to New York. Airline security is also known to take away lighters, sewing kits and Big Jim’s Polka Pals CDs, the latter for very good reason. One woman was forced to leave her tonsils in the little change tray.

The time line has also changed. Rather than arriving about an hour prior to your flight, several airlines are now booking motels near the airport so possible passengers can show up weeks in advance.

The check-in process itself has also been amended. Instead of being stopped in the metal detector only if, like my dad, you have a metal hip implant, 87 percent of those slated to fly get nearly strip searched before they are even allowed near the gift shop area. The other 13 percent are turned away because they look suspicious and told to go back to their hotel rooms.

Airline strip search processes, unlike those at the police station where they make you bend over, consist of removing anything not pierced, glued or tattooed to your body. Shoes are a big one. Those in the most hurry will inevitably be in line behind the guy with thigh-high hiking boots. They also remove your hat, your jacket, your highly sentimental and irreplaceable ring you found in a New York City sewer and often they take away your chewing gum.

I don’t recall if they take off your glasses but it seems like they would. Camcorders and laptops are also ripped from their cases and hurriedly shoved through the X-ray machine so they come out the other end before you even get your shoes back on. This makes for easy theft for any passer-by who happened to wear slip ons.

They also open luggage at random intervals, dumping all contents onto a cold steel table of the type usually reserved for cadavers. It’s hard to stay cool and composed when your bright blue underwear is crunched up near your Donna Summer biography next to the sock monkey you’ve slept with since you were 3 are splayed for the world to see.

Once on the aircraft, inevitably seated between a really fat person and a really smelly person who drools, you may think it time to kick back and relax. Think again. Here we get the litany of annoying presentations.

First off is the lengthy explanation of a vomit bag presented in at least six languages (especially if you are heading to Guatemala or France). Then some needless — and perpetual — video comes on about how great the magazine is that can be found in the seat pouch in front of you. Next up is a rerun of some Brad Pitt flick that’s been in theaters since 1992 and seems to be the only movie that’s played regardless of the airline you take. Of course this is shown on a big and bright yet silent screen, only to be heard if you pay $35.50 for a pair of disposable-looking headphones.

Just when a nap starts tickling your eyes, along comes the snack cart. This cumbersome contraption is wide enough to block the aisle and dash all hopes of using the bathroom for the next 45 minutes. They will usually hand you a packet containing 3 1/2 peanuts and appear confused if you inquire about freshly brewed coffee. If you are on a dinner flight, you luck out by being presented a successful scientific experiment. Nowhere else on earth (or sky) has any manufacturer been able to pack a walloping 7,854 calories into something no larger than a deck of (airline) cards. The taste, or lack thereof, is another matter altogether.

Alas, you finally arrive at your destination — sans sleep and sans coffee but with a better understanding of why you try not to fly.