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‘Friendly’ skies

Su Lum

There’s no new good news to report about the availability of oxygen on flights from the Aspen or Eagle County airports: You still have to drive to Denver and then you can only get oxygen on certain United flights to points east or west, the price for which has jumped from $50 to $75 to $100 per leg. On most other airlines, you can’t get oxygen at all.It’s only a matter of time before a class-action handicapped suit forces the airlines to let us carry our little Helios tanks on board, but until then it’s pretty much hell to fly if you can’t breathe and no picnic even if you can.Speaking of picnics, we always take the precaution of loading up with ham and swiss on rye before a flight, half of which gets consumed en route to Denver and for the other half it’s a toss-up whether to take your chances with rancid mayonnaise or die of starvation.Eating the United “snack” (at best a parts-is-parts imitation turkey breast and a slice of curling cheese on a dry old bun and at worst a bag of sun chips and a cookie) is not an option. So I’m happy to report that there have been new developments on the United food scene, namely that they now sell edible provisions, catered by Au Bon Pain Bakery Café. I don’t know if this is an established service on all flights, but they had it between Denver and Newark last month.Overpriced at $10, you get a choice of mozzarella and tomato baguette with pesto, chips and brownie or a Mediterranean chicken salad with French roll and shortbread cookie, both of which were excellent and large enough to share.The other new feature of our recent flight may have just been coincidental, but the pilots both ways were taciturn to the point of omission.They still advertise to fly the friendly skies of United, but Captain Bob no longer gets on the horn to introduce himself and keep us posted on matters such as how many planes are ahead of us on the tarmac and chatting about points of interest along the way.Maybe this is because flying is a dead serious business these days and they don’t want to be yukking it up with what might be a planeload of terrists. Or maybe they’re afraid to say the wrong words lest the plane be shot out of the sky by overzealous ground control.As we were making the long descent into Newark airport, we had been in a holding pattern for some time before the pilot came on to announce that there had been a delay and we were circling. No estimate of how long and no happy report when we were cleared to land – just round and round and finally down, in silence.On the trip back, we ran into heavy turbulence. We were given the message in the tersest of terms: “Captain speaking, turbulence, buckle seat belts,” and proceeded to rock and roll, followed by a calm period when the fasten seat belt sign would temporarily go off, then back on as we bucked and heaved.Again, the sound of silence from the Captain. No “Hang in there, we’re just about through this,” or “Ten minutes and we should be out of this,” and you could see by the look on people’s faces that the absence of reassurance must mean, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you’ll die: Wanting a smoke, having to pee, and too cramped to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye if you tried. On behalf of myself and the crew, thank you for flying United.”Su Lum is a longtime local who finds flying increasingly grim. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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