Dispatch from a Boeing 777-200ER

I’m flying home. From Prague to New Jersey. Connecting though Paris. Pretty normal. Done it many times. Ok – it’s never exactly fun. Security checks, passport controls, crowded waiting areas and fully booked planes. With just enough legroom between seats for a mouse to sit comfortably. You know – the usual nightmare.

But no. Not today. Today we have a specially-created French nightmare. An air traffic controllers’ strike. A suddenly called one day strike in solidarity with and for the same reasons as the same one day strike by French transport unions on the Metro and railways. Because French President Hollande wants to change the country’s cushy work rules which bloat the government’s budget and make hiring, firing and doing business in France more difficult than in the rest of Europe. Ergo: France is strike central. Even more than it’s always been. The air controllers have been on strike a total of 43 days since 2009 including their last 2-day walkout just over a week ago. Both during the extra busy Easter holiday/spring break travel period.

Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him.

Eventually my husband and I get to Paris. Two hours late. Of course missing our connecting flight from Paris to Newark International Airport. But all is not lost. I still have plenty of data left on my Czech iPhone package. And before that delayed flight from Prague even starts loading @Delta Assist on Twitter has us rebooked on a 5pm Air France flight to JFK. Somewhat out of the way but at least we’ll get home tonight instead of sleeping in the airport.

So we get on the JFK flight. Almost on time. And what do we see after walking through the spacious business class section? The 3-4-3 seating configuration I had just read about on new or retooled Boeing 777-200 planes. Translation – there is always a middle seat instead of the normal 2-4-2  or 2-5-2 seating used for decades on international flights. Giving airlines an extra 20 or so revenue producing seats per plane. 7 hours in a middle seat. Oh no!

Boeing 777-200 3-4-3 seating in coach

Oh yes. But this time it actually works in our favor. In the back of the plane – where it narrows – even Boeing can’t squeeze in that 3rd seat. So there are 3 rows with just 2 seats on either side of the 4 middle seats. With a little elbow room between the window and the seat and a few inches more leg room. Ok they’re next to the bathrooms. But here’s the thing. These are PREMIUM seats in tourist class. Because all the other seats are now even worse. We got them because they weren’t sold and the plane was otherwise full. Lucky us!

Until the average size guy in front fully reclines his seat into my lap. He speaks good English so I politely ask him to recline only halfway. I mean – we haven’t even had dinner yet! He looks at me like I came from another planet and says with annoyance, “but I have the right to put my seat back”. Yes I say in so many words – but – there isn’t much legroom and it would be polite if you didn’t. He looks at me, basically says F you without the F, and then fully reclines his seat back. His female partner gives my husband a break and pulls up a bit.

Maybe this guy actually paid extra for that seat in the 2 seat row ahead of ours. Maybe not. But his mother must have never taught him about consideration for others in a tightly packed world. Or maybe he was just born with the “entitled” gene like so many others of his generation.

Of course one can argue – and I do – that it’s really the airlines’ fault. They decided to extract every penny of revenue from their hapless passengers some years back. And of course it’s paid off royally with some of the best earnings in years in 2015 as they unapologetically kept every penny of the windfall from lower jet fuel prices instead of cutting ticket prices the way they raised them when oil went through the roof. And as they kept shrinking seat sizes and leg room over and over to squeeze another row or two of seats into the configuration. So shouldn’t the airlines also be cutting the recline angle drastically on that smaller seat back? When someone like the jerk in front of me fully reclines – he’s literally in my lap. Try eating when the food is hitting your waist! (He left his seat back ¾ reclined even during dinner!) I can’t even get up from the seat to go to the (very) nearby bathroom. And this is even with a few inches more legroom in these “premium” seats!

So OK you say. You didn’t pay extra for the seats, you’ll get home by midnight and life could be a lot worse. You are so right. But. Your rights (and those of the surly passenger in front of me) end where mine begin. Call it Apple against the FBI (before they dropped the case). When rights clash each person (or entity) has to give a little. That’s how most of us in democratic nations manage to live together without killing our neighbors.

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Paris Attacks – Friday the 13th

photo of Paris Police at hospital from Daily Telegraph -UK
Paris from The Telegraph – UK

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. Travel, home remodeling, work, inertia. You know. I was finally about to write a couple of news-based stories on Friday.

And then came Paris. Those horrendous, inhuman, coordinated attacks against perfectly ordinary people. Who went to dinner or for a glass of wine or to a concert. And never came back. Like those thousands of people on 9-11 here in New York City who went to work in the Twin Towers. And never came back.  Or the Russian tourists who flew toward home from Sharm el Sheikh last month. And never came back.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend reading and listening as the experts explain how ISIS developed and why Paris and the nation of France was, has been and will be again targeted. Much of it makes sense. But it’s been said before and still ISIS grows, recruiting often well educated young men – and some women – from every country where Muslim people live. Working painstakingly through the internet and messaging apps where intelligence agents can’t as easily follow. It’s seems quite clear that the  carnage will not be limited to the Middle East and France.

As for all the reasons and explanations — in the end… what’s done is done. We can’t undo it. Can’t rerack the disastrous war in Iraq. Or the intelligence inadequacies never corrected after the Cold War ended. As I am fond of telling myself when I feel trapped  – it is what it is.  We the civilized nations can only try to devise a strategy to deal with what we now see. I am not wise enough to know what that strategy should be. I only know half measures won’t work now and didn’t work then. They never do of course. Senator Lindsey Graham – running almost invisibly for the GOP Presidential nomination – wants to bomb ISIS into smithereens. Well actually he wants to solve every foreign quagmire that way. Others talk of feet on the ground, safe zones, education, integration — too many ideas to list them all. Maybe they all have some value. But we don’t have the time.  That was lost in the years we allowed ISIS and the civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites to grow. Something big has to be done right now. Immediately. Not just by us, the US, but by all nations who value our (relatively ) free way of life.

And what about the migrant crisis spawned by Syria’s inner battles? I haven’t even mentioned that. But with one of the Paris terrorists possibly coming through Greece, then Serbia and other Balkan states with the river of migrants – using what authorities now say may be a fake Syrian passport with a fake name and then moving on to France — what now?

These questions and issues are what the presidential candidate debates on both sides should be focused on. Along, of course, with President Obama and the current Congress who have the unenviable burden of doing something. Now. The West needs a leader. Some country has to produce one. It should be us.

 

 

 

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