Fly late

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Soon, the holiday travel season will start. What a depressing thought.

I remember reading a story a few years ago about an airline that lost a woman's cat in transit. They looked for that cat for 12 days before it finally turned up - alive and well and hungry. The sad thing was that I knew it was 11-1/2 days longer than they would have looked for a missing passenger.

Sometimes I wonder what is worse, the airlines or the passengers? On almost every flight I've taken in the last few holidays some couple will show up at the very last minute and have to be ushered on board with special airline people hustling them through the door, stowing their hand luggage for them, getting them settled before rushing out so the crew could shut the cabin door. All under the hateful glare of all the other passengers who had the courtesy to show up an hour early.

Guess whose luggage will come off first? The late passengers. So why should they bother to show up on time? They didn't have to wait in any lines. They didn't have to hang around the lounge for an hour sitting in chairs that have been specifically designed to be so uncomfortable that homeless people wouldn't live in them. They didn't have to hear "Would Mr. and Mrs. Liptfitter please report to the main ticket counter?" 40 times over a nerve-shredding loudspeaker. They didn't have to hear it because, of course, they are the Liptfitters.

"Honey, this is so nice, it's nice to be late," says Mr. Liptfitter.

"Late? What do you know about being late?" snaps Mrs. Liptfitter. "If you had listened to me we would have been two minutes later and they would have given us seats in first class. Don't talk to me about being late. I know how to be late."

Shopkeepers in the airport don't mind if you're late. They know that on any trip you take there's a good possibility that you will have to spend four or more hours inside an airport with absolutely nothing to do but cruise the airport stores.

Where else could you find a newsstand that sells magazines like "Funeral Home Management," "Cubicle Cloth Designer," "Pension Fund Skimmer," "Meter Reader Monthly" and "Professional Llama Breeder." What? No "Amateur Llama Breeder?" What kind of a dump are you running here?

The bookstores are jammed with best-selling self-help books like "How to Pick a Self-Help Book," "How To Get Out the Most Out of Self-Help Books," "How to Get to the Front of this Store By Yourself."

You can also pick up a $6 container of three individually wrapped antacid tablets at any newsstand. Which you'll need because the only thing you can buy to eat in the entire airport without having to stand in an hour-long line is a frozen yogurt and a bag of cashews.

You'll never get into any of the good restaurants. Even if you do, you won't have time to eat there. Wait, isn't that the Liptfitters? They're sitting in the window of L'Exquisite, the fanciest restaurant in the entire airport. The line snakes from terminal A to terminal B and back again. How did they get in? They are laughing and drinking wine. She is eating medallions of beef with crabmeat garnish. He is having the coq au vin.

I can't worry about it now. I have accidentally dragged my coat through something wet on the men's room floor while trying to juggle my carry-on luggage and use the sink at the same time. As I leave the men's room, the Liptfitters glide past me on one of those beeping, chauffeur-driven electric carts that ferry elderly people around airports. Me, I rush back to my gate on foot. Just in time to see the Liptfitters disappear down the gangway with the rest of the first class passengers.

Wow, let's do this again next year.

* Jim Mullen is the author of "A Memoir of Life After the City" and writes a weekly Pilot-Tribune column