Friday, February 27, 2009

The Qantas Airbus A380

The Qantas Airbus A380, the only one currently in service, was not nearly as horrible as I thought it might be. First, it is surprisingly quiet. They have sound-proofed it very effectively. Second, they make you feel as if you are only wedged into a normal jumbo, and not something with almost as many people crammed in upstairs. Psychologically, this is achieved by preventing any contact between the two decks. First and Business are upstairs; Bergen Belsen is down.

Whether or not this is because it is so immensely big, or some technical trick, the aircraft does seem very stable, and it gives you a nice soft landing. It is somewhat irritating that even brand new airport terminals are ill-equipped to handle it, so it takes nearly a quarter of an hour to get the bridges into position, and an eternity to disembark. I rather wish they would just use regular stairs as in the old days, and Air Force One (come to think of it), and not the sagging old aluminium concertina arrangement on wheels. Who are those indolent hobbits who stand about on the land-side when you disembark? The airlines refer to some of them as "agents," but more often they have that sullen Guantanamo flavor.

One of the mystifying aspects of air travel is the enormous gulf that separates the entirely fictitious picture the airlines peddle in their publicity of caring, compassionate, and incidentally attractive young flight attendants fluffing pillows, adjusting blankets, etc. - whose aim is to secure your comfort and safety - and the elderly, bad-tempered recovering alcoholics (at best) for whom the passengers are there either to be ignored, or given a harsh dressing down. The bizarre navy-blue apron and officious change from high heels to dominatrix flats is the only forlorn remnant of any concept of service, feebly shored up by the unctuousness of the scripted public address announcements. They hope we have enjoyed this flight. They must be joking, or else they are laboring under the influence of mind-altering drugs. These announcements might make a difference if the purser, a person evidently chosen through decades of jeal0usly accumulated seniority, actually learned to read aloud. Functional illiteracy appears to be a severe problem for Qantas.

More usually, back in the trenches, the flight attendants bark orders, read magazines, go upstairs to lie down (there's a little hutch, just for them, up a secret staircase beside the starboard bog), trade gossip about their slapper co-workers, and toss out plastic trays of inedible reconstituted lumps of mutant hen languishing in goo. No beef, sorry. They deliberately aim to hit your elbow with their ancient, germ-laden trolleys. You really could not satirize it, because whatever you wrote the truth would still be worse.

One can only assume that the reason that economy cabins function as they do is that no self-respecting airline executive has set foot in one for at least thirty years.

Reg Ansett was right when he called his unionized hosties "old boilers."

Now they really are old, hardened by decades of drunk rugby teams and stress-induced bad behavior. But I do wonder how much of the bad behavior is the product of treating us like subnormal children on an institutional picnic. To make matters worse, at the other end they get fast tracked through immigration, and expect their passengers to stand aside to make way for their bags on wheels - bags which, incidentally, take up quite a lot of room in overhead lockers that is more properly intended for passengers' belongings. Woe to he who dares to shift even an inch these groaning panniers of tax-free contraband. When was the last time a flight attendant's bags were thoroughly searched?

At Los Angeles I saw a flight "crew" bustling about getting ready to abuse yet another plane load of hapless travelers. Honestly, they had chopsticks in their hair. Are we supposed to be impressed by that?

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