1Ask what the greatest point of need for improvementis and start from there. - Taiichi OhnoThe woman seated across the aisle from me works a crossword puzzle in the Charlotte Observer. Oblivious to thetwo dozen travelers seated around her, she mumblesat a barely audible level – five letter word for red fruit– looks absently toward the ceiling as if for divineinspiration, gets that Eureka! look and begins fillingin the tiny squares with a black Waterman pen. Thesmells of frying bacon, jet fuel and strong coffee hangin the heavy, re-circulated air.Gate A5 of the Charlotte Douglas InternationalAirport is situated directly across the corridor from arestaurant that doesn’t open for business until 6:30A.M., but begins cooking bacon around 5:30 A.M.This is a trivial piece of information, unless you havea 6:20 A.M. flight, as I do, and are tortured by thealluring odor, knowing full-well that you will besitting on the runway when the OPEN light comeson. I take another sip of my Starbucks coffee andcheck my watch. Five forty-five. The twenty-something MidAmerican Airlines gate agent will becalling boarding soon – within the next five minutesif form holds. It will be a light load heading toChicago this late October morning. The 737-800 in
2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Breakfast at Midwayone class configuration holds 189, and it is unlikelythat more than a third of those seats will be filledthis morning. Good for me, bad for the airline.My name is Robert Adams, and I am sales andmarketing manager for Alliance Rubber, a smallmanufacturer of molded rubber seals andcomponents, based near Charlotte, North Carolina.In my two years with the company, I have logged565,000 air miles, 210 overnight hotel stays and oneslightly wrecked rental car.The agent, who I have come to recognize as Cheryl,toggles the microphone switch and begins her roteboarding procedure. After two years of taking thisflight at least three times each month, I couldprobably make the announcement for her,“MidAmerican Airlines flight 325 to Chicago… blah…blah… blah. We will board starting from the back.Passengers traveling with small children andpassengers needing extra assistance may board atthis time. We will be boarding rows 15-25 shortly.”No takers on the small children or extra assistance;not surprising, since no one in their right mindwould take children on a 6:20 flight. I am in seat 5A,so I know I will be among the last to board and am inno hurry to collect my carry-on bags and movetoward the line that has now formed out past thecheck-in counter and out into the corridor.Inside the plane, the smells shift subtly, the baconreplaced with the organic, earthy smell of leather.On the flip-down video monitors, Tony Bennettcroons “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” as I stow mybag in the overhead bin and settle myself into thewindow seat. Since the plane is less than half full, Iam certain that no one will be seated right next tome in seat 5B, but it is possible that someone willtake the aisle seat. The stream of travelers tricklesto a stop and I am delighted that I’ll be “flying solo”today, no seatmate. The truth is, after dozens of
3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John B. MarekMidAmerican flights I have developed my own littlerituals, and exchanging early morning pleasantrieswith a stock broker from Springfield or a dentist fromRockford isnt one of the more enjoyable ones. TonyBennett fades away and the monitors switch over tothe pre-flight video as we taxi out to the runway. Itis an overcast morning, cool by Carolina standardsfor October. A couple of commuter planes take offand a 757 – probably on the tail end of a red-eyefrom Las Vegas or San Francisco – lands in front ofus. Then it is our turn. The dual turbofan enginesroar as the pilot releases the brakes and the Boeingslings down the runway, lifting smoothly into themisty dawn air.Breaking through the cloud layer at 10,000 feet, weemerge into a world of red, orange, pink and purple,the newly risen sun to our right and the WindyCity 773 miles dead ahead. I plug my headphonesinto the seat-arm jack and recline my seat a fewinches. The music on the in-flight entertainmentsystem this morning is a selection of “scaryHalloween classics,” and within minutes I am asleepto the haunting strains of “A Night on BaldMountain.”Copyright John B. Marek 2009. All rights reserved.