I'm working on a bundle of short stories. They are going to be in the form of a journalist interviewing characters. Traveling always gets the creative juices flowing and my recent trip to New York compelled me to write a little satire about the airline industry. I'm not saying we had to stand on our way back, but I felt a bit herded and prodded. Enjoy.
A cut above the rest
‘It’s a new airline, it’s low cost but they claim to do things a bit different from the rest,’ said Sander Forrester handing his journalist Michael the booking confirmation.
Michael took the note somewhat surprised; he thought he was to work on his series of remarkable people from Edinburgh for the supplement.
‘The CEO of this company is from Edinburgh; you’ll have a meeting with him once you get off the plane,’ added his editor if reading his thoughts.
A few days later Michael was trying to check into his flight online. The procedure was mostly in-line with other low cost airlines he had flown with, until he came to the part where he expected to print off his boarding card. A message came up saying they were a paper free airline and he was just to turn up at the counter with his identity papers.
Michael duly turned up for his flight at Edinburgh airport and found the counter for Prime Airlines. He didn’t like that the counter and the uniforms of the staff were all white, somehow the clinical look didn’t fit with the image he had of a low cost airline. He would have preferred some weird colour of green or orange.
‘Good morning Mr Barnes, how are we today?’ asked the smiling agent after he had handed over his passport.
‘Very well, and are you excited about your company’s first flight?’
‘Yes I am, I think we are going to be bigger than Easyjet,’
He smiled at the agent’s enthusiasm and wondered if a few weeks from now she would still be this perky.
‘Now could you lean forward so we can get you boarding.’
‘excuse me?’ asked Michael surprised.
‘Could you please put your head over the counter,’
Expecting some camera on the other side that would take a picture for a boarding card, he stuck his head forwards. A sharp pain in his neck made him jerk back.
‘What the hell?’ he barked rubbing his neck.
‘We do things differently here at Prime, we’ve inserted a chip so the next time you fly you can use our handy app, scan your chip and all your information is already there. It is also better for the environment,’ she added smiling brightly and wished him a good flight.
Michael felt very unnerved by having a chip inserted under his skin and wondered what other uses the airline had in mind for it.
The normally long queues at security were even longer as a separate queue handled the Prime airline customers.
‘Blood scanners didn’t arrive in time,’ grumbled the guard, trying to get the normally stationary boarding card scanner to line up with Michael’s neck. A beep indicated the system had found the chip and he was let through after his belt, wallet, bag, shoes and laptop had gone through the x-ray machine.
He found the gate and a seat and waited for boarding while checking his emails.
‘Passengers traveling on Prime can now upgrade to Prime cuts for ten pounds only. Speedy boarding, seats and views are some of the many benefits,’ Michael heard announce over the Tannoy. He wasn’t at first sure whether he had heard all the information correctly until the female agent made the same announcement again. He went to find her and questioned her about some of the things he’d heard.
‘Am I correct in stating that I’m not guaranteed a place on this plane unless I upgrade to Prime cuts.’
‘No sir, everyone who is waiting for this flight will get on, but we have grades of traveling. Standing, standing with a view or seated,’ explained the agent.
‘But I thought non seated flying wasn’t safe and illegal?’
‘We at Prime Airlines have put a lot of research into new harness technology and its safety in case of a crash; we’ve been cleared by the civil aviation authority.’
‘Ok,’ said Michael rather stunned, having to stand during his flight to London was not what he had expected. He left the agent to set up some barriers to make sure that boarding would proceed in an orderly fashion.
‘Boarding flight PA0346 to London Gatwick will now commence at gate A4, we now call all Prime cut passengers to board first.’
Michael got up and watched as some passengers moved to the front, had their necks scanned and disappeared through gate A4. He had to admit it was very quick and efficient and soon it was his turn to make his way onto the plane.
The safety card in the pocket of the panel in front of him told him that he was on board a Boeing 737-400 series, but it wasn’t like any plane he had been on before. He hoisted himself into the uncomfortable 5 point harness that held his body against a rigid partition wall. There was barely enough space to hold a magazine to read in front of his face. He had counted several rows like this when he came in and just a few rows of seats at the front of the plane. He anxiously waited for take-off and hoped there weren’t any delays.
An hour and twenty later, the plane touched down in London and Michael freed himself from his uncomfortable harness. He moved his limbs as much as he could and waited to get off.
‘Dean Smyth,’ introduced the man who Michael had spotted with a sign saying his name in the arrivals hall.
‘I didn’t expect the CEO of Prime Airlines to meet me in person.’
‘Well I’m very involved with every aspect of the company, including public relations. I make sure I have a look at all aspects of the business. I’m not someone that runs the company from behind the desk,’ he suddenly laughed raucously and winked, ‘I don’t mind getting my hands dirty!’
Michael didn’t find this all that amusing but he laughed politely anyway. He observed the man as he led them to his office. He was tall and dressed in a smart suit, but something shouted country dweller. Maybe it was his ruddy red complexion or his brusque way of moving but Michael could tell that Dean Smyth was not from the city.
‘So Mr Smyth have you worked in the airline industry for long?’ started Michael his interview soon after they’d sat down in Dean’s comfortable office and his assistant had brought in some coffee.
‘Not at all, I used to manage an abattoir outside of Edinburgh,’ Dean answered grinning at the shocked expression on the journalists face.
‘Quite a departure from air travel slaughtering animals.’
‘No disrespect to our customers, but getting animals from farm to shop is a lot like getting passengers from A to B.’
‘Of course our customers are willingly going from A to B, but in the end it is about getting there at the lowest cost in the most efficient manner. Getting a nervous crowd fast and safely on a flight is remarkably like getting cattle into an abattoir.’
For a moment Michael was speechless and when he remembered the name of their customer priority plan, his stomach churned.
‘It is a bit tasteless calling your priority plan Prime Cuts, knowing your history in meat processing.’
‘Oh god I never thought! The boys in marketing thought the amalgam of Prime Airlines and cutting lines was a good idea,’ said Dean rather worried, he was aware of the potential PR disaster this could be. Michael wondered if the boys in PR were having a laugh at their bosses’ expense. He asked Dean some more questions about his fleet of aircraft and what destinations he was planning to fly to. When he had enough information for his article he thanked Dean Smyth and promised to contact him when the article would be in the paper. He was not looking forwards to his return flight to Edinburgh and debated upgrading to Prime cuts. He decided it was against the spirit of low cost flying and suffered his standing place back to Edinburgh.
‘So winner or loser,’ asked Sander on his return.
‘Winner, the tickets are half the price of the competition,’
‘But standing during a plane ride?’ asked Sander scepticaly.
‘I think as passengers we have learned to put up with a lot for our desire to travel the world at a minimal cost. I think the days of luxury air travel and sterling service are long gone. Even regular airlines only treat their first class passengers with some service beyond the expected,’ Michael sighed, ‘face it, low cost, economy, you might as well call it cattle class. Standing room was always only going to be a matter of time.’