Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Zoo

PA announcements reverberated across the open concourse. Voices from one gate over-rode those of others. The man to my front sounded Caribbean, but his English was passable. Across the way another gate agent shouted at her passengers with a middle-eastern accent. Neither seemed to know of the existence of the word, “the.”

“Door is about to close!”

“Plane is on ground.”

Jeeze Louise, I thought. What, pray tell, is so hard about using “the”? I have spent time in major airports across Europe, and in all of them heard better, clearer English spoken on the PA than I do in our own nation's capitol.

My commuter flight home was supposed to depart in half an hour. I concentrated on my USA Today crossword puzzle to kill the time. Hard though.

The most annoying announcements were coming from my rear. An Indian woman was literally yelling in a high-pitched voice on her PA to her passengers. She talked so fast she was virtually unintelligible. Every word sounded alike. She sounded like my neighbor out practicing rapid-fire with his Ruger 10-22. The only word I could make out was “Cleveland,” in four syllables: Ca-leav-a-land.

Are there no Americans, I wondered, who want these jobs? Puzzling. Damned puzzling. Then again, maybe those people were naturalized American citizens, and not foreigners with green cards. Likely?

You don't supposed they could be—? Nope. Won't go there.

I fell back to my crossword but got a funny feeling, one I knew all too well. I looked up and glanced at my watch. It read 4:45 pm. My flight home was scheduled for 4:55. With ten minutes to go I should have heard something announced on the PA by now. With all the yell-over announcements and thick accents, had I missed something?

Then a young woman approached me and asked where I was going. I told her. She was going there too, and was worried that she too had missed the boarding announcement. She had flown in from South Africa and was terribly weary. “Shouldn't we be boarding?” she asked.

I told her we should. I careened around and looked at the departure board. Our flight was still scheduled to depart at 4:55. Now it was 4:50. Something was wrong―again.

We both looked over at the the boarding gate. Three other flights were being boarded. The agents were swamped. No use wading in among that crowd to ask about our flight.

People began to swarm around me because I was in uniform. “What's happening?” they asked. “Why aren't we boarding?” I just shook my head.

We were in the terminal served by our airline's regional carriers. It was a zoo here all the time―people being
funneled into cages, strange voices crowing, croaking, screeching. Actually, it was worse than a zoo. Things make sense in a zoo. Not here. Our flight wasn't going on time. Again. Third time in a row, for me.

People got angry. They wanted to know. They pulled out their smart phones. A man shouted, “The damned thing is delayed till 8pm!” A collective groan swept the crowd. Eyes turned toward me. Not friendly eyes.

“Why have they not told us?” they asked. I shrugged.

What, we all thought, was so hard about changing the time on that screen? What was so difficult about picking up the microphone and announcing that our flight was delayed?

I was surrounded in that room by dozens of businessmen and women. If they ran their office or shop like this they would be fired or out of business. They seethed. A man walked past me. “Goddamn airline,” he muttered as he passed.

I sought out a remote corner and sat down to wait out the delay. I had just finished a PC―proficiency check. It was three days of intense simulator and classroom work, culminating with a check flight. The instructors and examiners covered my job thoroughly and made sure I knew how to do it. They did a superior job training me to keep from bending metal and ripping apart bodies.

So why is it so hard for other people with much simpler responsibilities to do the simple things that make customers feel that somebody cares?

I believe any pilot put in charge of running the joint could do a hell of a lot better.

Sorrie for dee-lay. Plane is now leaving for Ro-a-no-kia.

You remember the blog in which wrote about the absurdity of some flight attendent PA announcements? ("Words I don't Want to Hear") Get ready to spit your coffee. Yesterday I heard this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, that noise you hear is the landing gear going down. That means we will be landing shortly."

Interesting picture
Two's in!