Is there a statute of limitations on shame?
Let's say 40 years.
Because that's how long it's been since your loyal correspondent used to walk up and down pre-gentrified 14th Street in Washington, D.C., waiting for one of the painted ladies of the evening to say "Hey handsome. Want a date?"
That was the only way, I figured, I'd ever hear those words directed toward me. After hearing them, I'd go home satisfied, feeling handsome, at least.
That shameful period came to mind recently when I took a flight on an American Airlines 737. Just as my teenage self would get my ego stroked by slapping on some Brut and strolling an area of town where women were soliciting customers, short people can get their egos stroked by going to the airport, buying a plane ticket and taking a seat.
They'll immediately feel like a giant - because their knees will be jammed into the back of the seat in front of them, if not under their chins.
"Ah, this is what it feels like to be tall, eh?" they'll wonder excitedly for the first time.
Nope. That's what it feels like to be screwed over by a government-regulated industry that has less regard for its passengers than it does for a bug smashing into the windshield of a 737.
A USA Today story in May began this way: Passengers boarding jetliners these days must envy sardines. At least the little fish get some oil before being stuffed into their tins. No such luck for beleaguered fliers.
Charlie Leocha, founder of the airline passenger
advocacy group Travelers United, told me that the
airlines are putting on passengers by squeezing them
into tinier and tinier seats is one of the top three
complaints his organization hears from travelers.
Visit the site at travelersunited.org.
By shrinking both the size of the seats and the legroom,
airlines are able to fit more seats onto each plane and
make more money. So what if passengers suffer an
embolism in the process.
The other two top complaints are from parents being forced to sit separated from their minor children and the hidden charges that make it impossible to know precisely how much you're paying "until it's actually time to fly. That's when you pay for your checked bags and pay extra for seat reservations." (Don't even dream of asking for an emergency row seat: that'll run you $70 extra.)
What makes the airlines' exploitation of passengers even worse is that we - American taxpayers - saved their butts. After 9/11, when the future of the airline industry was facing turbulence, I actually used to look for reasons to fly, to be supportive, to show that we Americans ain't scared.
What a chump, right?
Who knew that once their financial health was restored, the airlines would start charging for every amenity short of oxygen?
What if we passengers rebelled by - for instance - refusing, en masse, to fly for one day? That'd show 'em, make the airlines more responsive to passengers, right?
No, Leoncha, a former travel journalist, said.
"Everybody's got to fly somewhere, and the airlines
already have a monopoly. Four airlines control 80
percent of the domestic airline market."
That means that if you don't fly
Tuesday, they'll get you Wednesday.
Is there anything a passenger can do to fight back,
then, to get the airlines' attention?
Sure, Leocha said. Complain - but not to the airline. Complain to the Department of Transportation, he said. "Go to the DOT's website. There's an online form you can fill out. That's the only way things will change."
That's probably true, because judging from what
people tell me, complaints filed directly to the offending
airlines are still floating out in the atmosphere, like so
many pieces of blue ice.