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Woody Paige: The problem with air travel is the passengers

April 19, 2017 Updated: April 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm
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Cars in the long-term parking lot at the Colorado Springs Airport Wednesday, September 21, 2016 as a United Airlines flight bound for Houston takes off. (File photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette)

I've traveled more than 1.6 million miles on commercial airlines over the past 47 years.

That's not bragging, but, rather, a pitiful confession.

Gratefully, I've never died or been injured (except my posterior and ego), been dragged screaming off a plane or bitten by a scorpion.

To those who have exclaimed: "You mean you get to fly to those all those sports events and get to go to games free,'' I've always replied: "Oh, yeah. It's unbelievable.''

Except ... I've had no life.

I've spent more than three years (of time I'll never get back) at Denver International Airport (and several other years at airports in Chicago, Havana, Paris, Omaha, Calgary, Birmingham, Boise and Buffalo). DIA's a pleasant place if you're not driving there or home for an hour, or being in the parking garage, or on an escalator, or a train to the concourses, or in the line at the ticket counter, the security line, the McDonald's line, the boarding line, the line in the aisle of the plane, the line to a urinal, the line in the sand when a flight is canceled, or in the baggage claim area (and the line for lost bags), or in an uncomfortable pew at the gate grunting about the flight delay.

I was on an airplane bound from Denver to Anaheim in January for seven hours. I can't make up this stuff. I've been on planes that ran off the end of the runway, flew through a blinding snowstorm across Norway, were struck by lightning (forcing the pilots to divert from Detroit to Dallas - yes!) or wind shear (nice drop), confronted serious issues that had me begging the Catholic priest in the next seat for last rites, and a plane to Broken Hill in the Australian Outback that landed with broken landing gear.

I've flown from Colorado Springs to Denver (but not by choice).

When I began traveling as a sports columnist in Memphis, Tenn., in 1970, I could leave my apartment 30 minutes before a flight, park at a meter in front of the airport, walk directly through the terminal and up the outside stairwell at the back of the DC-3 prop and be in my seat 10 minutes before takeoff.

What I've figured out during those tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of hours of airline travel is that the principle problems are not planes, crews, reservation representatives, luggage handlers, TSA agents and inclement weather.

Passengers are the problem.

I once was the only customer (really) on a late-night flight from Salt Lake City to Denver, and I've been a guest on private jets four times, and not one bad thing happened.

But incarcerate 150-200 people who don't know each other in close confines in cramped, constrained seats (in steerage) for hours and it will lead to some difficulties, especially when a soda costs $3, and peanuts no longer are distributed.

I can remember wearing a coat and a tie on a plane.

Now, passengers may not wear shoes and - this is when I'm not happy - put their dirty, smelly feet on the wall or the window. Were you born in a barn? I don't mind leggings, but sweaty guys in muscle shirts and women who want to reveal their entire databases are a bit iniquitous, particularly when they scream at the flight attendants before the plane is loaded: "Can we get six beers here right now?''

Eating tuna salad brought on board to a middle seat, when the cabin might be warm, generally is not acceptable. Trying to cram a skateboard, a guitar or two car seats in the overhead bin while 45 folks are trying to reach their rows is just wrong.

Screaming 2-year-old kid banging on the back of my seat the entire flight, and the parents saying: "Isn't he cute?'' Ahem.

Any airplane headed to Las Vegas. Forget all the civil laws of society.

I was on two flights over the Easter weekend. I am a complete fool. Twice vacationers slugged me in various sensitive body parts with their carry-ons, which must have contained mini-fridges and microwaves. And the defensive-tackle fellow in the middle seat ordered: "I have to go to the bathroom. Drank too much. Think I'm going to puke any second."

I fly often and get in games free. Lucky me.

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