The National Western Stock Show is in town here in Denver, so I deem these observations quite relevant.
People really, really like to complain about airplanes, boarding planes, airplane seats, the TSA, the staff on those planes and everything else having to do with air travel.
One regular comment that appears regularly after airport and airlines articles reads something like “well soon everyone will be going through security naked.” Removing your belt and shoes doesn’t not make you naked, not even in Amish country. Plus the new full body scanners already have that covered. (And no, some rogue TSA agent is never going to download your body scan and put it on hotdesmoinesladytravelers.blogspot.com)
A second frequent comment is “Well I stopped flying – it’s easier just to drive everywhere.” This is excellent advice provided you don’t live out west, are retired or have days upon days of free time, and have no interest in ever leaving the country save for Canada.
Another regular term thrown around alludes to boarding an aircraft being akin to a “cattle call.”
CNN featured a piece today titled “Misery of Flying Reaches New Heights,” certain to spur hundreds of personal anecdotes in the comments containing the above examples. Bruce Selcraig recently penned an enjoyable article about Spain’s new AVE train. However this sentence made me roll my eyes and wonder why this hyperbole filled out of place line even needed to be included.
How do you put a price on being able to avoid the dehumanizing security lines at airports, the cattle-like boarding process, the fetal-position seating and the anxiety, for many, of takeoffs and landings?
Oh please. I don’t know when “cattle call” started being used to decribe walking onto to a plane. I think it was a jab at Southwest’s original boarding process and the stress associated with scrambling to find a good seat. But now everyone from top notch writers to part time bloggers can’t stop saying “Boarding an aircraft is such a cattle call.”
This makes me wonder: How was it done BEFORE everyone decided flying sucks? Back in the 70s did people not LINE UP to get on a plane? Was there zero crowding? Did people not occasionally bump into each other as one stopped at their seat to put their bag overhead? Was there four feet of aisle space in those old 747s with pianos and cocktail bars?
United, which I fly the most often, boards in groups. Rarely is there a line of more than 15-20 deep in the jetway. Southwest boards in small batches depending on your priority number. This past Saturday afternoon I boarded a plane in Tampa, and the gate agents opened up the REAR door, in addition to the jetway, allowing rear seated passengers to walk up the stairs if they chose – thus speeding up the process significantly.
All of these were exactly what I’d expect when moving a large group from one area through a door to a smaller area.
I have witnessed two real life cattle calls. One was while driving through Western Nebraska on I-80. I was approaching a small county road overpass and saw 150-200 cows or steer being funneled over the bridge from one side of a farm or ranch to the other. The other was at a friend’s family farm in Nebraska, when I helped move about 10 cows from a barn to the pasture. We simply got behind them and and gently corraled them towards the gate while raising our hands and slowly saying “Whoooo Mooooove oooo.”
The process for both was quite dignified. For the animals at least.
The fact that in post 9/11 life airport gates aren’t cluttered with meeters and greeters makes it even less accurate of a term. Do people complain about being in a cattle call after a football game ends and thousands amble en masse through the the exits? Do people write complaint comments about crowds at Macy’s the weekend before Christmas? Those examples are far more of a human crush than boarding or exiting an aircraft with 150 other people.
I enjoy flying. I like airports, design, and infrastructure. I also like being able to fall asleep on one continent and wake up on another. There are negative things to be said about flying. Fees for one, and the TSA’s demented antics and lack of continuity is always a puzzle. But the term “cattle call”, and its overuse is just dumb, and deserves to be retired.
Photo credit by me – somewhere south of Castle Rock.