Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of Red-Eyes and Airport Naming

“You’ve got a lousy seat.”

So said the airline employee as she slid across the counter a boarding pass entitling me to an 8-hour flight from San Jose to Washington, D.C. – a redeye.

Excuse me? Clearly this person teaches the part of airline employee orientation that’s entitled “Pissing Off Customers – Why Wait ‘Til They’re On The Plane?!”. (It comes right after “Intro to Indifference” and just before “Deploying the Inflatable Slide – Never Mind, You’re Dead”.)

Sadly, once on the plane, I immediately understood the basis for the comment as I had regrettably been issued seat 22D -- the LAST row of the plane. A row, as most travelers know, the seats not only do not recline, but actually lean FORWARD at the top. This forced my head upper torso forward and would have turned me into a giant “greater than” symbol.


IF, that is, I had been able to extend my legs into their usual position under the seat in front of me. Unfortunately, the family of five occupying the three seats in front of me, having consumed all of the space in the seven nearest overhead compartments, had resorted to stuffing all manner of infant gear, duffels, pillows and small farm animals under their own seats -- in front of me. The result of this was that my legs were instead forced akimbo underneath my own seat. I was more of an ampersand.


To add to my then overwhelming sense of general discomfort, the non-english-speaking and faintly curry-scented gentleman seated next to me, after shooting me a furtive glance that despite our lack of a common language I immediately recognized as meaning “wow, these seats suck”, deftly and without apology expanded like a bowl of ripening Jell-O to fill all of the previously empty space around him, nestled his topcoat into my lap to provide his arm a perch, laid his head on his tray table and began to snore.

It was in this position – folded like a Bavarian pretzel and careful to avoid the head and arm of the peacefully napping Rip Van Traytable to my right – that I attempted vainly for four hours and one minute, to sleep.

Having hobbled off the plane, sleepless and half crippled, there I sat in Wayne County Regional Airport – an unfortunate waypoint between California and our nation’s capital.
I shrewdly judged from its name that “Wayne County Regional Airport” is in Wayne County. Never heard of it. It actually took research (a detailed read of my boarding pass) to determine in my fatigued state, that I was in (or at the very least near) Detroit.

Wayne County Regional Airport…is in Detroit?

This, to me, warrants a bit of discussion.

I have to question the wisdom of naming the airport that serves Detroit, a city that, for all its shortcomings, is familiar to most people at least in name, after the county of Wayne – a place whose biggest and nearest attraction, one must assume, is in fact Detroit. Now, perhaps Wayne was a very important figure in nascent Detroit and I, in my clumsy ignorance of all things de troit, am unaware of this. Would you suppose that this “Wayne” – a man of such obvious historical importance in this area -- was actually called simply “Wayne?” Or was “Wayne” his last name – Buford Wayne, I think it was, yes? Or perhaps Augustus T. Wayne? “Good morning Mr. Wayne. Croissant?” No, my money is on “Wayne” Something. Wayne is, after all, the most Midwest of names, save maybe “Wade”.

All of this illustrates the problem here: it is fine to name an airport after a person – perfectly acceptable – dead or alive. JFK. George Bush. Ronald Reagan. Charles de Gaulle. Even LaGuardia. But I think a couple of guidelines should be strictly adhered to and airport namers are loath to stray from them too drastically.

Rule No. 1: the person after whom the airport is named should be generally recognizable to most people.

Presidents and prime ministers are clearly fair game. Dead mayors are a bit edgy. “Wayne” is clearly out.

Rule No. 2: the person after whom the airport is named should leave a weary traveler with the ability to make at least an educated guess at the location of the airport with respect to a larger metropolitan center. “San Francisco International Airport” – sure it lacks creativity, but its utility is indisputable.

With Presidents, your top two guesses always have to be Washington and the state from which the former Commander-in-Chief hails. If you have the good fortune of having traveled to Washington before and know the airports there, your odds of being correct increase sharply. JFK throws a bit of a curve, as I have no idea what the man had to do with New York City, but you see my point. “Wayne” gives me absolutely nothing to go on. All I can tell you is I’m probably not in Nigeria. What’s worse, it’s “Wayne County”…not an airport named after a person, but an airport named after a county named after a person – and only ONE of his names. I’m totally in the dark!

Far be it from me to stifle creativity and insist on utilitarian and literal descriptiveness, but we have a problem here. At the very least, if you are going to be creative in the naming of airports, spice it up a bit...make it interesting:

New York -- Rude Motherfucker International Airport

New Orelans -- Where Are My Panties Field

Detroit -- Angry White Rapper National

Much better.