Friday, July 24, 2009
On Comfort and Convenience
Below is a re-creation of a scene that took place at Logan Airport on July 16, 2009.
Katie, a short, spunky brunette carrying a duffel bag, approaches the ticket counter.
KATIE: Hi, I'd like to check in?
UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Great, can I see your ID?
Katie hands over her driver's license.
UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Would you like to upgrade to Economy Plus for an additional $39?
KATIE: Um, what is the difference between Economy and Economy Plus?
UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Five more inches of legroom.
KATIE: That's it? Five inches?
UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Yes.
$39 bucks for 5 inches? And according to United's website, it might not even be a true 5 inches:
"Economy Plus is an exclusive area of 6 to 11 rows in the United Economy® cabin, offering up to an additional 5 inches of legroom."
United is all about offering incentives to its various tiers of frequent flyer membership, like the ability to not wait in line to check-in and get priority on standby lists. And of course, the privilege to get on the plane first.
But I've never understood why pre-boarding is such a big deal. I hate being on planes; they're cramped and always smell kind of stale. I like to minimize the amount of time I'm on the plane; ideally, I'd board last and get off first.
And the special elite separate line for Red Carpet Club Members? It's right next to the pleb line. And unless you're the only Member on a given flight, which is unlikely, you're going to have to wait in it. That's right, you're going to have to WAIT YOUR TURN TO BOARD LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.
On my last trip, I got to sneak a peek at the Denver airport Red Carpet Club because my friend Jon is a Premier Executive or something. It was nice -- they had free fruit and copies of the Financial Times which I did not read.
What I did read was David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay on our culture's obsession with luxury and comfort, entitled "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Wallace chronicles his experiences on a 7-night Caribbean cruise, where people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of being waited on hand and foot and doing absolutely nothing. The essay is hilarious -- I'll conclude this post with his description of the high-tech "fascinating and malevolent" toilets in the cabins:
A harmonious concordance of elegant form and vigorous function, my toilet has above it this sign:
THIS TOILET IS CONNECTED TO A VACUUM SEWAGE SYSTEM. PLEASE DO NOT THROW INTO THE TOILET ANYTHING OTHER THAN ORDINARY TOILET WASTE AND TOILET PAPER.
Yes that's right a vacuum toilet. And, as with the exhaust fan above, not a lightweight or unambitious vacuum. The toilet's flush produces a brief but traumatizing sound, a kind of held high-B gargle, as of some gastric disturbance on a cosmic scale. Along with this sound comes a concussive suction so awesomely powerful that it's both scary and strangely comforting--your waste seems less removed than hurled from you, and hurled with a velocity that lets you feel as though the waste is going to end up someplace so far away that it will have to become an abstraction.