Farmer File

The Boeing 717 aircraft began service in 1999 flying AirTran routes from Atlanta to Washington D.C. Now it is widely used, a good plane, but its designers left off a key piece of it.  

What the 717 needs is a snap-on U-Haul-it “trailer” off the tail assembly to make flying in this Boeing jet bearable for two significant segments of air travelers —seniors and babies.

Our recent AirTran 717 experience was a round trip from Ft. Myers, Fla., to Wisconsin, nonstop about two hours and 45 minutes each way.

Going up to Milwaukee in business class was a breeze, with comfy seats, sufficient aisle room, no problems. The return trip south was, um, different.

Many travelers that day were escaping the onset of rainy, blowy, grey pre-winter days for the sun and balmy breezes of Southwest Florida. Trouble was, they brought on board most of their bulky but needed belongings, many of them medical-related.

It’s sorta funny that at both ends of our lives as humans, we require more than our weight in implements, apparatuses  and other matériel.  Infantrymen carry less gear.

We all know that obesity is a national concern, which makes smallish coach seats unfriendly for many of us. But that, plus all that stuff, creates a crunch of concern, starting with the slow, belabored wheelchair parade and the difficult transfer to one’s assigned seat.

The airline loaded the people who needed assistance first, many of them to aisle seats, to ease their discomfort. But those same passengers then had to struggle up out of their tiny seats at least twice, as people assigned middle or window seats arrived at the row with all their things.

Boeing could build another airplane, or a few of the aforementioned U-Haul trailers, with all the metal on that plane that day – crutches, canes, walkers, orthopedic aids, podiatry assists, oxygen tubes, and a few items I could not identify.

And that does not include stuff many seniors carry inside, metal and otherwise—pacemakers, artificial joints, stents, pins, ear implants, trusses, heart valves and more. For some of us, our skeletons are mostly stainless steel or some new miracle compound.

Next, little ones, the infants, some of whom seem so new they might have come directly from the delivery room.

The tykes themselves often are barely visible, tucked into giant, swiveling carriers, apparently made about the same size and consistency of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

Toddlers sometimes are hand-held and propelled by frazzled mommies, the kids’ tippy-toes a few inches off the floor of the aisle. Dads often bring up the rear juggling beach bags or coolers packed with juice boxes, breast pumps and a can or two of Red Bull, hidden from the wife and kids under a box of Pampers.

Young and old alike are carrying outerwear they shed as they pass from the Wisconsin cold to anticipation of Florida beachwear.  And the blizzard-ready jackets, parkas, layered sweatshirts, mittens, earmuffs and hand warmers also have to find stow space in the overheads.

Then add to the mix the rest of the non-senior, non-baby manifest, with their iPads, iPhones, iPods, laptops, PopTarts and the runny nachos in a box,

Airlines beg, cajole and sometimes scold passengers as they   try to ease the space squeeze in the coach section.  It’s a challenge.

We like AirTran. We’ll miss it when the merger with Southwest is complete. And I doubt we’ll ever go way up north again except from May to September.

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