Friday, April 1, 2011

Notes from an uneventful flying day

1. First time full body scanned (felt sort of like hula hooping without moving, and only once).

2. On my short flight from New Orleans to Houston I notice that Continental planes have "Direct TV" in the back of each headrest: "96 channels" so that one is never bored in flight! Only $6 and a handy swipe of the credit card. Continental flights pride themselves now on being "cash free." This phrase is fascinating for its blatant contradiction: it doesn't exactly mean the plane is free of cash, but rather that it is easier for the plane to generate more cash! In particular, one of the extra things you can pay Continental for is the possibility do work for them in the event of a crash landing or runway skid: you can pay to sit in the emergency row. But back to the TVs. You can turn them off by hitting the bottom left button about 10 times until the screen goes gray-black. Approximately 95% of the screens stay on the entire flight, creating a disturbing horizon for the passenger who chooses not to focus on a single screen. It didn't occur to me while on the plane, but now that I think about it, directly behind the back of my head there was a little flickering screen, entertaining someone else.

3. All the way from Houston to LAX, my seatmate watched a nauseating program that seemed to be solely about prison guards tackling prisoners and pinning them down. This took place over and over, in a variety of drab windowless rooms: a prisoner would do something erratic, and then prison guards would pile on top of the wretched soul. I tried to hold my book up so that it blocked the peripheral view of the repeating scenes of large uniformed men and women driving their knees into the backs and necks of people splatted face down on the floor. This tactic (my tactic, the book block) was hardly effective. My neck is a little cricked this morning from trying to look away. I spent a lot of time watching the tall winglet of the 737-800 dance in light turbulence.

4. Concourse 6 at LAX seemed to be under major interior reconstruction: upon deplaning I noticed that the gate area was a jumble of plywood slats, tarps, and support beams. It looked totally cobbled together. And no one seemed to think it was odd. We all just walked our separate ways.

5. On the progress side of things, there seems to be a belated postmodern new wing being built on one end of the airport. Now after a quick follow up internet search I see it is the Bradley West Terminal, opening in 621 days, I read. Here's a photo from the site:

It looks to be part Saarinen, part Gehry, part Calatrava—and entirely too late. Note how the Airbus A380 dominates the foreground: can airports themselves (the buildings I mean) really inspire people any more? I learn that the new terminal is designed by Fentress Architects, who also designed the Denver airport terminal that looks like a row of tents or like strangely cropped mountain peaks scattered on the plain.

6. On the flight from LAX to YVR, the flight crew gradually modulated their accents, from vaguely Californian to strongly Canadian. This was curious. The plane was a new, leather-seated and TV-free Canadair Regional Jet of the 70-seat variety -- compared to the Continental 737s, it felt like home.