UNITED: The Fall of America
Being a Canadian, and having spent the last three years abroad, I recently enjoyed a nice family reunion of sorts. A family member, somewhere, had the idea of going to Florida in the United States, which caused a ripple effect among other family members; tired of the dregs of an ever-lasting Canadian winter, beating your spirits down with an unrelenting barrage of weather. A mixture of rain, snow, high winds, power outages; the process repeats for more months than Mother Nature ever intended. So eventually the notion rippled its way along to my wife and I. After having been away for several years we decided it was the perfect time to see our loved ones.
I’ve been to the United States many times in my youth; several of those times have been to the Orlando, Florida area, where we were destined this time. This was my first visit as an adult, and my first visit since the post 9-11 paranoia that has plagued the US and subsequently, the rest of the world. So I didn’t really know what to expect this time around.
Currently living in Beijing, we had a 15-hour flight ahead of us that no one enjoys. It’s long and boring to say the least. It doesn’t matter how many good movies are available from the back of the forward passenger’s head, its still a long and boring flight.
The main concern this flight was cost as it’s an expensive trek. We wanted to keep the flight cost minimal to increase our spending money for the two weeks we would be away. After a few days of research we found United Airlines to be the cheapest. Not by a lot, maybe a couple of hundred dollars less than the competition. So we decided to get our flights arranged through United, which neither my wife nor I have ever flown. We regularly deal with Air Canada, which has constantly been top-notch service and quality. I’ve also travelled Air China, which was delightfully almost on par with Air Canada.
As departure drew closer, we were very excited to see our family. For my wife, it would be her first time going to Disney and the other popular parks, having been a lifetime fan of the all-things-Disney, she was elated to say the least.
Living in a major international city, you constantly meet people from every nook and cranny of the world and you get to hear a lot of opinions. Having lived abroad, I can safely say I have never heard so many negative views, from people all over the globe, about any country, as much as I have about the US, and I’ve heard it all. Why is that?
Why are the views so regularly negative and saddening about a country that centers itself on the concept of “land of the free?” I’ve met people from countries I wouldn’t feel safe walking at night say they would never consider even visiting the US. Why? This does not sound like the country I frequented as a child. Some complaints were as simple as attitudes, and the unfriendly locals who inhabit the US. I don’t remember it being like that. What happened?
We arrived at Beijing international Airport around mid-day and proceeded through all required stops with enough time to enjoy a sandwich before boarding. As they called our group to board, a United Airlines employee stopped us instantly, saying we must check our carry-on bag. Now I’m allowed two on this flight and only have the one.
“Why do I have to check it?”
“Its too big,” the man says, “There is not enough room.”
“It’s not too big, its regulation size, look!” I throw it in the size/checking rack and he nods and lets me through.
We then embarked on a long, cramped, 15-hour flight to Chicago. I was amazed how cramped it was. This wasn’t a small plane by any means, it was the full size international plane, and the tiny screen on the back of the forward passenger’s head was about 7 to 8 inches in front of me. There was no room to breathe. This plane was so old it could have easily been the very plane Nixon himself took.
I stayed seated for the entire flight, not even getting up to use the washroom. It was just that difficult to even move, having mistakenly chosen the window seat on this phone booth with wings.
Roughly twenty minutes into the flight, at about 3pm in the afternoon, the flight attendants turned off every light, something usually done in late evening. Alone in the dark, in mid-afternoon, I decided to see what movies were playing on the tiny screen. My spirits had lifted from the gloomy depths induced by the mood lighting, they had Dave Grohl’s new documentary Sound City. Been dying to see this! I selected it instantly and the loading screen commenced. Out of nowhere I hear; BING! “Ladies and Gentleman we are now flying at 30,000 feet,” and there my loading screen remained, for the next 15 hours. I’d been denied my love of a good documentary, and my love of Dave Grohl. Horseshit.
For the remainder of my flight I was able to keep myself entertained with the various items I brought with me in my checked bag. Books, handheld video game system, iPad with season one of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. I’d have been royally screwed had I checked it.
We land in Chicago and swap planes for a tiny one, which was surprisingly much more spacious and comfortable. “What I wouldn’t give to have had this one on the long flight!” I said to my wife. She agreed. We sat on the tarmac for what felt like hours; in actuality it was probably closer to about fifteen minutes, when all of a sudden the power goes out. You could rub the fabric all day and not get a single charge from static electricity even. It was dead. Nothing.
After a few moments they get a back up power source running and the Pilot announces to the passengers that there is going to be a delay due to the battery not keeping a charge, After about an hour he comes on again and informs us,
“We’ll it seems to be going ok, and the maintenance crew can’t find anything wrong, so were going to take off. Don’t worry about the delay however, I’m going to fly this thing like I stole it, so we’ll make up time in the air.”
A nervous half giggle, half whimper emanated form the majority of the passengers.
At this point, something strange and unusual happened to both my wife and I. We both were wide awake as the plane made its way across the tarmac and on to the runway, moments before take off, the engines began revving up, ready to fire. The next thing we both know; we’ve been in the air for about 20 minutes. Moments before takeoff, we both fall asleep, having no memory of takeoff whatsoever. I now know what missing time feels like! I don’t believe this is the result of men from other worlds having their way with me, but it certainly did get me to thinking on the topic.
Was it company protocol due to the faulty, or at least questionable, battery? Do they pressurize the plane in a way to knock out passengers in case of a less than successful takeoff? Something was definitely strange about it. In hindsight I wish I had of conversed with other passengers around me, to verify if it happened to them as well. Oh well, onwards and upwards.
We arrive in Florida and spend a lovely two weeks with family. I got to see all the parks again, lots of shopping and meet my one-year-old niece for the first time. Last, but not least, I got to go swimming in the Condo pool multiple times a day, which was a real treat for me.
The one thing that really stood out to me was the American people. From the strangers in the mall, to the guy working at the Seven Eleven, to the other guests staying, and/or living, in our condo community, everyone was a complete pleasure in every sense of the word. This was a great relief to me. The Americans I remembered where in fact the Americans I remembered, pleasant, courteous and helpful.
So what happened? Why have I heard so much slander abroad, from people from all over the world, in the last ten years? How could so many people have such a construed misconception of a nation? I didn’t understand it at all but continued to enjoy the rest of my trip with the satisfaction of knowing I was traveling amongst good people and ones I was proud to call a neighbor.
After our heavenly two-week stay, we reluctantly packed and embarked on our 15-hour return to the Middle Kingdom.
We took a smaller plane, luckily with a fully functional battery, to Washington D.C. where we had a 2-hour layover. To fill the time we sat and talked about the things we liked and things we’ll miss, and they were plentiful. The line was moving slowly so we decided to wait it out and just go once it was nearing the end.
As we came to the counter, a feeble little man who looked like Moby, came running up and grabbed my bang out of my hand and tried to snatch it. When he couldn’t force it out of my grasp I looked at him and asked; “Can I help you?”
“Blah blah, ba-boo bah blah!” He said in return.
I’m sure whatever he said was an actual sentence with a meaning behind it, but that’s all I got from it. He was French, which is fine of course, but had a damn thick accent and on top of that, he slurred worse than the town drunkard. If you crossbred Moby, Pepé Le Pew and the most epic drunk you’ve ever seen, you would probably get a pretty accurate caricature.
At this point another lady comes over to explain the situation, apparently she must have worked with Pepé Le Moby before, and knew the drill. It turns out there was not enough room on the plane for my carry-on bag.
Now this is the part that confuses me. I purchased a ticket; a damn expensive one at that, and that ticket allows passage for one checked bag, two carry-on bags and myself. Now, my question to them was; “If I only have one carry-on bag, and am allowed two, who did you give my purchased space to? I only have one, who did you allow on with three bags and why? How is this my problem?”
Pepé Le Moby stamped his feet, like a spoiled child who didn’t get what he or she wanted on Christmas morning. He acted as though I crossed a line by questioning their protocol, and then continued to grab at my bag, trying his hardest to force it free from my grasp. Again, to no avail. While I was holding it he snuck up and slapped a checked bag tag on it. The lack of professionalism was getting laughable at this point.
The lady, who had to translate his drunken dialogue, was still present. I said to her, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll keep it at my feet.” As I always do on a long flight, for easy access to my many devices of entertainment.
“You wanna keep that at your feet for a 15-hour flight? (Chuckles aloud from all the United staff present.)
“It was no problem two weeks ago when I came here on this flight, why would it be now?”
The lady said; “we could check that it would fit, and go from there.” and we headed down the corridor into the plane itself. Knowing full well it would fit, as it lay there two weeks prior, I ripped off that sneaky bastards checked tag on the walk.
Once inside the plane, chaos was running wild. Stewardess’s were running up and down the aisles like chickens with their heads freshly removed.
“What a shit-show this is!” I said to my wife. She agreed with a look of disbelief on her face.
A flight attendant, the one who stands to the front of the plane and tells you your seat is down towards the back, like you wouldn’t be able to figure it out on your own, grabs my bag and says; “You can’t take this, no more room!” The first lady who said we can “test” it by my feet started to explain this to the flight attendant while I ignored them both and started my way to my seat.
Eventually they spot me and come running down the plane and say I have to check it. They see I ripped off checked tag and inform me we’ll have to go get a new one back at the gate. “What the hell is wrong with you people?” I say.
Out of pure laziness to go back to the gate, they suggest putting it up in first class, where there is room (on a side note, there is more than enough room around me, even if I didn’t want it at my feet).
“You expect me to walk up and into first class and rummage through my bag, every half hour for 15 hours?”
I take my bag, stick it under the seat in front of me and sit down, comfortably, like I always do on a flight.
“What the hell is wrong with this?” I asked.
At this point they said ok and walked away, the rest of the chickens still running around blind, in those few minutes before the brain finally dies.
Now on this 15-hour flight, I had some time to reflect and do some thinking. Unfortunately, the main thing I could think of was the entire debacle with United on the trip to and from. They were blocking my memories of a great trip, how dare they torment me or anyone else to that degree.
Then it dawned on me. All those negative statements I’ve heard over the last decade, from people all over the world, all the hate placed on my American neighbors, were indeed not a result of American interaction. No, these people must have flown to and from with Untied Airlines, they’ve had their once beautiful memories tainted and raped by this sham of an American organization. It was the most non-American experience of my life. It just made no sense at every step.
Screw you United, for ruining my trip to the United States and shame on you, for giving Americans the bad reputation they’ve garnered globally over the years.
By Adam S. House