Harry Shearer: We Fly So You Don’t Have To

Check out Shearer’s podcast of the excellent Le Show for more.

The Blog | Harry Shearer: We Fly So You Don’t Have To | The Huffington Post


Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m writing you about part of my experience leading up to my flight on Air New Zealand on Wednesday, 30 August, from London Heathrow to LAX in Los Angeles. I was ticketed as a business-class passenger, making the return part of a round trip which began almost two months earlier.

As I passed through the magnetometer at “fast-track” security–a fifteen-minute-long line snaked around the ropes–a young female security attendant lifted my carry-on bag (a pathetic plastic handbag I had been given by a BA attendant in Edinburgh, where my journey began that morning, because BAA refused to allow my computer bag as carry-on) and told me she would have to examine it. This didn’t come as a surprise, since, in addition to a computer, I carry a microphone and a small device that, together with the mic and the computer, allow me to record and originate my weekly radio program from wherever I travel.

As she removed the bag to the inspection area, she told me to retrieve the rest of my objects–a tray containing the computer, and another tray containing my coat, shoes, and belt–from the conveyor. As I lent down to do so, I felt a sharp, stabbing impact on the bone under my right eyebrow, I heard the woman behind me gasp and felt her instinctively reach an arm out to steady me. As I straightened up, I realized what had happened: there was a “sneeze-guard” type vertical perspex shield between the passengers and the conveyor, atop it was a half-inch thick slab of perspex that came to a sharp point. It was that point I had collided with, since it was transparent and not demarked by any contrasting color.

I immediately told the security inspector that there should be some such demarcation, routinely required for stair steps and other potential hazards, and as she continued her inspection of my bag, she suggested I speak to her supervisor. Before a minute had passed, and while her inspection continued, a supervisor appeared behind my right shoulder and brusquely asked “Do you need an ambulance?” At that moment, my attention was divided among the ongoing inspection (since I routinely have to explain the objects), my concern about the injury, and this person who, without introduction, was asking me to diagnose myself and prescribe a trip to God-knows-where. When I attempted to tell that woman my point about marking the perspex, she again asked whether I needed an ambulance, and then told me, rather indignantly, that the perspex was to keep people from reaching onto the conveyor too soon. I told her I was retrieving my stuff in response to a command from her inspector, and she said, again brusquely, that she was sure her inspector didn’t tell me to reach “around the barrier”, something I didn’t attempt to do. Her attitude throughout was defensive and non-helpful. When she left, the inspector, now finished with my bag, asked me, rhetorically but with reference to the departed supervisor, “What can you do?” I replied, “I can never fly through this airport again. I’d like to report her.”

I was directed to the desk across the hall, where a young man gave my his card and a reference number and told me to write, but refused to give me the name of the supervisor in question, though he said, “I know who she is.” He never offered first aid or medical assistance.

I then made my way through the ugly maze of shops, shaking from the trauma, trying to find Lounge G, where perhaps I could get some helpful attention. I immediately asked the young man at the desk for some ice with which to subdue the rapidly growing bruise and swelling, and explained briefly what had happened. He got me the ice, but made no offer of first aid or medical attention. Approximately twenty minutes later, I had finally stopped shaking from shock, and my wife arrived in the lounge (she had been detained getting VAT refunds). An ANZ employee, an older woman with whitish-blonde chin-length hair, came over, smiling, and asked if I was okay. I told her at that point I could not be sure. Moments later, my wife asked her if there was any way for me to get medical attention. The women replied, according to my wife, that the only doctor was at Terminal 2. She did not offer any assistance in getting me out of the secure area, into Terminal 2, and back. She then added, according to my wife, that there used to be some kind of paramedic who bicycled around the airport, but she hadn’t seen him lately. When my wife then said she was going to try to get some kind of medication for me at the nearby Boots chemist’s, the ANZ woman suggested my wife ask the “pharmacist” at Boots to have a look at me. As if an airport Boots has a pharmacist, and as if a pharmacist is qualified to give even seat-of-the-pants diagnoses!

The woman’s attitude changed abruptly, however, three or so hours later when I boarded the aircraft. After I explained to one of the flight attendants that I needed ice and what had happened, and that I was experiencing a slight diminution in quality of my eyesight in the right eye, the woman from the ground had appeared before me, asking repeatedly if I was “happy” to fly today, and asking my wife why she hadn’t taken the advice to consult a pharmacist. I sensed that the purpose of her questions was to protect herself, and perhaps the airline, from any legal consequences that might occur were I allowed to fly and in flight were to develop other symptoms. Never did I sense any desire to actually aid me in getting either first aid, which was never offered (aside from the ice which I specifically requested), or medical attention.

We trust our lives to the airlines and airports. We undergo severe inconveniences for the sake, we are told, of their concern for our safety. Yet, in an incident in which an actual, not a theoretical individual, experienced an injury of unknown import–did I suffer a concussion or whiplash or damage to the eye socket? Ask your pharmacist!–the attitude of your airport’s representatives as well as the airline’s chief ground representative was callous and uncaring.

I have been seriously upset by this incident, by being left to my own devices after repeatedly and in some detail explaining what had happened, and by being asked to self-diagnose rather than being offered either first aid or medical help.

Incidentally, not once in the hours of the incident did I mention to any member of either airport or airline staff that I was/am a kind of celebrity, the voice of a dozen characters on the Simpsons. Throughout, they dealt with me as just another passenger. There’s the rub.


Harry Shearer

One Response to “Harry Shearer: We Fly So You Don’t Have To”

  1. The Daily Dose - 09.17 - Best Of - Best of, Business Travel, Daily Dose - Business Travel Logue Says:

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