A pink taxi

A pink taxi

December 21, 2010

American Skies

As a teenager, I used to fly from Dubai to Utah frequently with my family. We would leave on one giant trip, with multiple layovers without leaving airports. By the time we got to the East coast, the last haul on a US aircraft was always the most difficult part of the trip.

When we landed in New York, or Washington DC, we were  always culture shocked. The ambient noises, smells,  sense of space are continent-exclusive. The USA sounds, moves and eats differently from Europe and even more from the Middle East. Exhausted, we would squeeze into the tight spaces of those American airlines and experience their typical air-crew service. We often traveled in the bumpiest winter weather, and if we were not collapsed in jet-lag slumber, we were air-sick and throwing up.

On this last trans-continental trip that has taken me and my younger children from Dubai to Geneva, Geneva to NYC and and New York to San Francisco, the last leg of the trip, the one in American skies was predictably the most exhausting one.

Beginning to adjust to East Coast Time, we arrived at JFK airport very early for our departure to SF. No sooner had my foot hit the airport pavement that the most nostalgic Pet Shop Boys lyrics came to mind:

"There's a plane at JFK

to fly you back from far away

all those dark and frantic

transatlantic miles"


My heart squeezes in an attempt not to miss my sister and her family. More technical matters bring me back to reality in an assault of directives: need to check my luggage in, make it through security lines with my two small kids, take their shoes off and on, find them a meal before we get on the plane because no food is offered on domestic flights.

We flew United. They put us at the tail end of the flight, in a single aisle airplane that looked and felt like a Greyhound bus. The stewardesses were in their late 60s! There was no entertainment on board, except for
a screen overhead playing "Eat, Pray,Love" en boucle. That movie should have gone straight to the airline industry, as it was designed for it! I can randomly catch airplane conversations. It is a cultural thing: Americans have plane conversations with the ease and superficiality of dinner conversations.

This year however , my culture shock is tempered. That is because I have been basking in Americana: the world according to Franzen.


  1. All U.S. airlines are absolutely horrible. I am so happy that there are direct flights from Dubai to the U.S. so when possible, domestic US flights can be avoided. The service on these airlines is awful, the flight attendants should be serving in walkers they are so old and crotchety with their hair sprayed bee hive buns, electric blue eye shadow and pink lipstick (they still think they are Pan Am stewardesses flying from New York to Paris and instead are flying from Milwaukee to Fresno.) Their announcements at the beginning of the flight say it all “Please remember, we are here to see to your safety.” In other words, “please don’t expect service and if the plane should crash and burn, we will show you the exit ramps and if you are hungry or thirsty, then think of the hungry in Africa and you won’t feel so bad.”
    You literally get a bag of pretzels thrown at you, a drink in shot glass and then they disappear. And god forbid you should ask for additional service, such as water, they flounce away with a roll of their eyes as a fake eyelash is flopping over the corner of their eyes and their Mary Kay lipstick is smeared because they’re pounding a quarter pounder and fries in the back. Delightful. Always a pleasure to “Fly the friendly skies….”

  2. Travelling inside the USA is a real headache especially if you carry a Middle Eastern passport,or if you happen to be born in that troubled part of the world.I usually arrive directly to NYC and take the train to DC,to avoid the US airports' hassle.Sometimes I am forced to take an internal flight to San Diego or Jackson Hole.The latter's airport is so small that only propellers land there.They have never seen an alien Middle Eastern before,so they carry it around in a Red Envelope,as if they are carrying a Hot Coal.The excitement at that airport subsides after they look at every page of the passport,and every item of clothing you are carrying.Remember Jackson Hole is the heartland of Rednecks and the Tea Party.
    As to the service on board of the American Airlines,just avoid it if you can,even in First Class which is at best comparable to Economy with Swiss International!!

  3. The worst part of travelling from the US and within the US is airport security, hands down! If you have a child, it's utter torture, as they examine your bottle of pumped milk, make your baby take of his faux shoes (not sure why I even put faux shoes on them to fly!), and God forbid you want to walk through security with the baby strapped on you in a Baby Bjorn! There will be red alerts and panic. You never know what you could be hiding in between you and your baby....

    Unfortunately, the US has become a defensive country, so if there is one random loony who decides to carry a bomb in his shoe, all shoes will forever be checked. It is a country where there are no shades of gray, and so you are stuck in a system of nonsense and absurdity.

    It's tough to know what the right answer is after what happened on 9/11, but there must be a better solution.....

    I will be flying Continental in a few days, luckily a short flight away....wish me luck!

  4. I almost fell off my chair laughing reading this entry and especially the comments? Why does flying nowadays equate to medevial torture? From the moment you arrive at the airport, you know the low paid ticket counter attendant (with a chip on his/her shoulder) has it in for you. Just think of the infamous airport scene in Meet the Parents. Is the airline industry trained to make your life miserable? I wonder what kind of torture they will think of next. Wait! I know! Standing up right for the duration of the flight in a straigh jacket while the air hostess (if you can call a hostess more like the dominatrix) force feeds you nuked chicken or beef!