先听好消息,再听坏消息 / First the Good News, Then the Bad News

先听好消息,再听坏消息

不久前,我乘阿拉斯加航空公司的AS2602航班从墨西哥的洛雷托飞往洛杉矶。这家航空公司是美国国内的一家小航空公司,专门运营美国西海岸的航线。

本次航班的机型是庞巴迪Q400,是由加拿大生产的一种短程螺旋桨飞机,载客量在80人上下。机上的座位比较局促,特别是对“负荷大”或者“XXL”码的乘客来说。机舱里只有一个卫生间,而且非常狭小。

在墨西哥小城机场候机的旅客大部分都是一身休闲度假装扮——穿着短裤、拖鞋,戴着遮阳帽、墨镜等等。很多人都是退了休的中年人,有些带着子女或者孙辈,包括特别小的婴儿,还有几位牵着小狗。

播放登机广播之前,登机口的值机人员宣布了一件事。但他没有用麦克风,所以我只听到了只言片语,好像是和卫生间有关。一些离他近的旅客听到以后,纷纷起身去了卫生间。

对当天的航程来说(80个人和几只小动物要在几个小时里抢一个卫生间),这似乎只是个常识问题,没有什么反常的。

随后,登机广播响了起来。我们顶着正午的骄阳,步行穿过停机坪登上飞机。航班满员了。大家在狭窄的椅子上刚一坐定,舱门就关闭了,飞行员开始广播。

首先是好消息:洛杉矶天气良好,我们将准时起飞,飞行时间按计划是2小时10分钟(大抵相当于成都到北京的航程)。

接下来是坏消息:机上的卫生间不能用。

什么?!!!

飞行员解释说卫生间不能用不是因为故障,而是因为“满了”。这简直是在伤口上撒盐。

他的语气很就事论事,轻巧得好像是在宣布换掉午餐的一道小菜:“抱歉各位,今天没有鸡肉汉堡了。试试奶酪火腿吧。”

我怀疑阿拉斯加的水管工是不是罢工了。

飞机开始在跑道上滑行。有种感觉袭上了心头——作为付费客人,我们的权益就这样被侵犯了,简直让人难以置信。我们被禁锢在一个密闭的空间里,(包括登机和下机时间在内)将有三个小时不能去卫生间。

我一边想着怎么可能发生这种事,一边记起伟大的阿拉斯加除了这家航空公司以外,还出过08年共和党副总统候选人莎拉•佩林,以及无数深夜档电视节目和喜剧的笑料。嗯,这就难怪了。

飞机爬升了高度,科尔特斯海在脚下化作了地平线上的一片蔚蓝。我不由自主地捉摸起同行旅客在20,000英尺高空上的控制能力,我们成了空中的“膀胱湾”,气流颠簸会让这趟航班变得很难看。

要是我旁边穿夏威夷衬衫的大个子吃了墨西哥胡椒闹肚子怎么办?或者是最前排好动的小孩喝了百事可乐憋不住怎么办?

再或者是我后面傻笑不止的小两口,登机前刚在机场酒吧喝饱了超大杯的玛格利塔鸡尾酒又怎么办?我很想知道他们现在是不是后悔膀胱被判坐监3小时,还不得假释?

乘客里很多人都是年纪比我大的男性。众所周知,中年男人排尿的次数比公园里的小狗都频繁。

要是我们当中有些人支撑不到洛杉矶怎么办?小飞机上挤得满满当当,发生中国政府可能称之为不和谐事件的风险很高。迫不及待的人(或人们)在压力之下会干出什么事呢?会不会冲进驾驶舱要求发个夜壶?

设想一下这种紧急状态下飞行员和塔台之间的通话:

飞行员:“AS2602呼叫塔台。求救!求救!报告,有小撮旅客聚集在驾驶舱门口提出恶意要求。”

塔台:“他们的具体要求是什么?”

飞行员:“要求去卫生间,三个解小手、一个解大手,还有一个换尿片。”

我在脑子里搜索着对策。虽然螺旋桨飞机的飞行高度低于喷气式飞机,但没有一个顶尖专家会建议打开飞机的舷窗。

好吧,既来之则安之,我暗自想到。别去想这个事,平心静气地接受现状,希望其他旅客也能这样做。

当然,就在此时此刻,我隐约感到自然的召唤已经开始弱弱地敲响了警钟。

不、不、不,我想:“这只是个念头,不要去管它,忍住。看看书,看看杂志。分散一下注意力。把脑子转到别的事情上。想想脚下的不毛之地,忘了澎湃的科尔特斯海,忘了迅速扩大的膀胱湾。”

于是我开始看商业文章。

不幸的是,因为总惦记着,所以某些字眼和短句在阅读中总是跳出来,好像被划了重点符号或是用彩笔大写了一样。

比如:

提前释放季度业绩报告……

出口井喷……

受抑制的需求被短期压力压垮……

反倾销努力未能堵住潮流……

控制手段不在于工作……

产量爆炸性增长……

排放激增……

市场下滑加快……

价格压力加剧……

长期库存突然清空……

公报开启了闸门……

预料之外的火山喷发打乱了空中交通……

走后门属于违规……

绿色组织号召紧急拆除受威胁流域的大坝……

这些阅读材料现在真是于事无补,我想。还是不要读商业文章了,也不能老看手表。

于是我试着小睡一下,但在Q400上睡觉很不舒服,就跟站在拥挤的地铁里睡觉一样。

果然,飞机终于有惊无险地降落在洛杉矶国际机场。从飞机到入境关卡,旅客队伍行进速度之快都快赶上奥运会的老年组短跑选拔赛了。

我在航站楼服务台打听转机的候机楼。值班人员很友善也很帮忙。一位老太太问他电梯在哪儿,他说电梯一直都是坏的,不能用。这对残疾人来说可是个坏消息。

我步行十多分钟到了国际候机楼,在One World贵宾休息厅安顿下来。这个休息厅是由几家航空公司共享的,其中也包括我回香港的承运商国泰航空。休息厅很舒适,但有点拥挤和吵闹。

因为要停留5个小时,我就打开了电脑,但失望地发现无线网络信号又弱又不稳定。假如这是在墨西哥我不会觉得奇怪,但这是洛杉矶的国际机场啊!

后来,我登上国泰航空的新波音777-300ER飞机,一路享受着世界级的服务、美食,还有好几个卫生间——宽敞、空闲的卫生间——舒舒服服地飞越了太平洋。机上卫生间万岁!

很明显,美国需要太多新的基础设施。

阿拉斯加航空公司需要更多的水管工,还有更好的管理。

 

附言:我给阿拉斯加航空公司的客户服务负责人安迪•施奈德的去信石沉大海。安迪通过放在每位乘客座位背后的卡片搜集乘客意见,但也许他的收件箱也“满了”。

 

First the Good News, Then the Bad News

Not long ago, I flew Alaska Airlines, a small regional airline serving the US West Coast, on flight AS2602 from Loreto, Mexico, to Los Angeles.

The aircraft was a Canadian-made Bombardier Q400, a short-haul turboprop carrying about 80 passengers. Seating is a bit cramped – not well suited for “wide load” or XXL passengers. The cabin has only one small lavatory.

At the gate in the small town Mexican airport, most passengers were in relaxed holiday outfits — shorts, sandals, sun hats, shades, etc. Many were middle aged retirees. Some had their children and grandchildren with them, including tiny infants. Several had small dogs.

Just before the boarding call, the gate attendant made an announcement without the aid of a microphone. I could only hear a part of his message: something about bathrooms. Some passengers seated near him walked over to the bathrooms after his announcement.

This seemed more a question of common sense (80 people and a few small animals sharing one bathroom for several hours) rather than anything specific to our flight that day.

Then came the boarding call, and off we walked, across the tarmac in the hot midday sun. The plane was full. As passengers settled into their narrow seats, the doors were closed, and the pilot made an announcement.

First, the good news: the weather in L.A. was good, our departure would be on time, and flying time, as scheduled, would be about 2 hours and 10 minutes (roughly the same as a flight from Chengdu to Beijing).

Then, the bad news: there would be no lavatory service on this flight.

Say what?!!!

The pilot explained that the reason for no lavatory service was not that the toilet was broken, but rather that it was “full.” This seemed to be a case of adding insult to injury.

The tone of his voice was very matter-of-fact, as if he were announcing a small change in the lunch menu, such as: “Sorry, folks, no chicken sandwiches today. Try the ham and cheese.”

I wondered if the plumbers in Alaska were on strike.

The plane began to taxi down the runway. It struck me as incredible that our rights as fare-paying passengers had been infringed in this way. We were locked in a crowded space without access to a lavatory for roughly three hours (including boarding and deplaning time).

While pondering how this could possibly be happening, it occurred to me that apart from this airline, the great state of Alaska had also produced Sarah Palin, Republication Party nominee for Vice President in the Presidential election of 2008, and a rich source of material for late night TV hosts and comedians. Hmmmm.

As we gained altitude, the Sea of Cortez was a vast expanse of blue water far below us, at sea level. I couldn’t help but wonder about the holding capacity of my fellow passengers up here at 20,000 feet, forming, as we did, a kind of airborne Bay of Bladders. Turbulence could turn this into one ugly flight.

What if the big guy next to me wearing the Hawaian shirt had a Jalapeno-pepper-induced stomach outburst? Or if that restless teenager up front can’t hold his Pepsi?

And what about the giggling lovebirds behind me who’d been slurping jumbo Margaritas in the airport bar just before boarding? Any regrets, I wondered, now that their bladders had been sentenced to three hours’ in jail without any chance of parole?

A high percentage of the passengers were older men like me. As we all know, middle-aged men pee more frequently than puppies in the park.

What if a handful among us can’t make it all the way to L.A.? The risk of what Chinese authorities might call an unharmonious incident seemed high, given the bloated fullness of this skinny aircraft. What might a desperate person (or persons) in distress actually do in this situation? Storm the cockpit demanding a nightsoil bucket?

Just imagine the urgent pilot-to-control-tower chatter in such an emergency:

Pilot: “AS 2602 calling. Mayday. Mayday. Reporting an incident with a small group of hostile passengers making demands at the cockpit door.”

Control Tower: “What exactly are their demands?”

Pilot: “Demanding access to the lavatory for three ‘number ones’, one ‘number two’, and a diaper change…”

My mind surveyed the options. Even though turboprops fly at lower altitudes than jets, none of the leading experts recommend opening the windows.

OK, I thought to myself, it is what it is. Just don’t think about it. Accept the situation gracefully, and hope the other passengers do as well.

Of course, just at that moment, I had an inkling that the call of nature was faintly ringing its initial warning bell.

No, no, no, I thought: it’s just in your mind. Ignore it. Stifle it. Read your book. Read a magazine. Distract yourself. Get your mind onto something else. Think about the dry desert country below us, rather than the surging Sea of Cortez or the burgeoning Bay of Bladders.

So I started reading about business.

Unfortunately, given my state of mind, certain words and phrases kept jumping out at me as I read, as if they had been underlined and highlighted in big bold flashing neon letters.

Stuff like:

quarterly results released earlier than planned

sudden surge in exports…

pent-up demand overwhelmed by short-term pressures

anti-dumping efforts fail to stem the tide…

control measures not up to the job

explosive growth in output…

dramatic spike in emissions

market’s downward momentum gaining fast

intense pressure on pricing…

sudden clearance of long held inventory…

results announcement opens the floodgates

unforeseen volcanic eruption disrupts air traffic…

back door tactics fall afoul of regs…

green groups call for urgent removal of dams on threatened river system…

This reading material is really not helpful right now, I thought. Time to stop reading about business. Also time to stop checking my watch.

So I tried napping, which on the Q400 is about as comfortable as trying to sleep while standing in a crowded subway car.

Sure enough, the flight eventually landed in LA’s International Airport without incident. Between the airplane and the immigration checkpoint, the high-speed procession of passengers resembled an Olympic sprint trial for senior citizens.

Once in the terminal, I asked directions from the information desk to my connecting flight’s terminal. The man on duty was friendly and helpful. An older lady asked him where the elevator was. He said unfortunately the elevator had been broken all day long, and was still broken. Bad news for disabled or handicapped people, among others.

I walked ten minutes or so to the international terminal, and settled into the One World lounge, which is shared by several airlines including Cathay Pacific, my carrier back to Hong Kong. It’s a nice enough lounge, although crowded and noisy.

With a five-hour layover, I fired up my laptop, but found to my disappointment that the WI-FI signal was weak and unstable. I would not have been surprised if this were Mexico, but this was the international terminal at LAX.

Later, on board Cathay Pacific’s nice new Boeing-777-300 ER aircraft, I had a comfortable flight across the Pacific with world class service, good food, and lots of toilets. Roomy toilets. Empty toilets. Long live inflight toilets!

Clearly, America needs a lot of new infrastructure.

Alaska Airlines needs more plumbers. And better management.

 

P.S. My letter to Alaska Airlines’ customer service head, Andy Schneider, has so far gone without acknowledgement or response. Andy solicits feedback from passengers via a card placed in each seat back. Perhaps his in-box is “full”..


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先听好消息,再听坏消息 / First the Good News, Then the Bad News》上有 34 条评论

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