My Dark Night of the Sequester

Richard Eskow

A poll was released today which found that only 16 percent of adult Americans know anyone who was affected by sequester flight delays. Now that Congress has acted so swiftly to address this disproportionately higher-income inconvenience, that number probably won’t grow very much. But you know somebody whose flight was help up by the sequester.

You know me.

That’s right. I belong to that tiny and soon-to-be vanishing breed of persons known as the Sequester Delay Passenger. It happened the night before Congress acted to ensure that nobody else need ever experience a trip like mine – at least not for the same reason.  I may have been “The Last Man to Fly for a Mistake.”

(To be fair, there were other men and women on the flight, along with several children and one very agitated Pomeranian.)

I flew from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles on an American Airlines flight. Our ill-fated journey was scheduled to begin at 6:05 pm in the evening. (For some reason the theme song to Gilligan’s Island just popped into my head. “A three-hour cruise,” indeed.)

The trip was already promising to be a tough one, since I’d been kept awake for most of the preceding night by the unhealthy sounds of a fellow guest who had apparently over-imbibed at the bed and breakfast where I’d been staying.  So despite having been sober as a judge, I was already feeling like a character from The Hangover III.

I’ll spare you all the gory details of the trip that followed, except to say that it involved gate monitors which said the flight was on time when it wasn’t, other monitors that assigned flights to the wrong doors, special meals that were never ordered, irritable seatmates, and dinner which consisted solely of an overpriced snack that had been private-labeled for American under the unfortunate name “Nuts Aloft.”

And since my “body clock” was three hours ahead of our scheduled arrival time, by the time we reached the gate … oh, who am I kidding? I can’t go through with this. It was bad, but it wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was unpleasant waiting to board the airplane.  But my wait wasn’t as unpleasant as the one senior citizens will find themselves experiencing as they hope against hope for deliveries from Meals on Wheels that will now never arrive. (This truly haunting piece by Arthur Delaney is a must-read on the subject.)

And yes, it was hard to do my job the next day on so little sleep. But it’s going to be hard for the 70,000 children being cut from Head Start program to even find jobs, since their educational achievement is going to be hampered by their lack of early-childhood preparation.

And these are only two of the many vital programs affected by the sequester.

Here’s another thing: At no point during my mini-“ordeal” did I think “Boy, I’d be happy to cut my Social Security and everybody else’s too so this won’t happen again.” The thought never even crossed my mind.

So I was disappointed when the President used his weekly national address to push, not for a total repeal of the sequester, but for his “compromise” austerity budget – a budget which includes unnecessary cuts to Social Security. The title of his address – “Time to Replace the Sequester with a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction” – betrays a continued unawareness of either the pain caused by these unwise cuts or the shifting economic reality which has discredited Washington’s deficit mania.

The only sensible thing to do is to cancel the entire sequester. And stop trying to use it to gin up hysteria so they can put through other unpopular cuts. Just can it. If it will help, they can cancel everything except the delayed flights. I’d gladly volunteer to keep enduring flights like last week’s if we could scrap the rest of this foolish austerity program right now. At least someday I might have grandchildren who ask, “What did you do in the Sequester, Grandpa?”  That’d be some consolation.

And let’s face it: Flying’s no fun anymore anyway. Most of the airplanes are dingy and banged up, which is no surprise when so many are forty or fifty years old. If they were cars they’d be up on cinder blocks on somebody’s front lawn, alongside some engine parts and a few stacks of spare tires. The airports are usually in need of repair, too. The traffic to them is always backed up, even in the dead of night at JFK – who knows where it comes from sometimes? And we’re treated like cattle at the TSA checkpoint, except that they don’t provide water troughs or bins full of feed.

And since Los Angeles is an American Airlines hub, I feel the same way about the American/USAir merger as I did when I learned they were teaming up Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, or Ted Nugent and the guy from Night Ranger: I was not impressed with their individual bodies of work and am not eager to experience their collaborations.

And yet I’d gladly offer myself up as a sacrificial victim, endlessly circling LAX like the Flying Dutchman as we await permission to land, if that would end the sequester and save these important government programs.

It wouldn’t be an entirely selfless gesture, either. I might be eighty years old by the time the plane pulled up to the gate. But at least I’d have a Social Security check waiting for me when it did.

(Campaign for America’s Future and Daily Kos have teamed up for a campaign to tell Congress to repeal the entire sequester, not just the parts that are inconvenient for frequent flyers.)

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