Friday, April 22, 2011

The Plot to Perturb Plane Passengers

My partner, Erich, and I recently flew to the East coast to visit my parents. On both the trip there and the trip back, we had to change planes. Every gate was as far as it could possibly be from the security line or from the connecting flight, requiring extensive walking (and even more grumbling) to get to. This might have been tolerable if we hadn’t been carrying all our luggage as carry-on, to save fees. In each airport, we would pass well-rested people reclining in comfortable chairs in uncongested seating areas at convenient gates, and our jealousy of these passengers increased as our fatigue did.

At one point, Erich remarked that these people were not really passengers at all, but decoys set there to make us *think* that others didn’t have to walk as far as we did. In fact, all the real gates used by legitimate passengers are far away and require lengthy trudging to get to. The primary function of the complex computer systems run by airlines is not to coordinate flight schedules and ticketing, but to choose a gate for each flight that is maximally distant from security and from all of its passengers’ connecting flights. When gates are changed at the last minute, this is because one or more passengers had been added to or removed from the flight, and the algorithm has determined that a different gate is now required to maximize average walking time.

Unanswered question: what do the airlines gain from this? Why do they prefer to board sweaty, fatigued, angry passengers? Entertainment value? (Much greater than the shitty movies the stewardesses have seen a hundred times, I’m sure). Preparation for the indignities to come? (Hey, after you endure a multi-mile hike through throngs of people, maybe you’ll be too tired to complain about the sardine seating). Part of the War on Terror? (Uh, I can’t really think of how this would help with that, but then none of the annoying obstacles put in place by the TSA under the guise of fighting terrorism make any sense either).

Erich suggested that next time we fly, we go up to one of those lucky “passengers” waiting by a convenient gate and quiz them. Ask them what flight they are waiting for. Whatever they respond, say, “Oh, good, that’s my flight too” and sit down. The confused look on their face should be ample evidence to support his theory. 

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