If at first class you donít succeed...

Soon, the holiday travel season will start. What a depressing thought. I remember reading a story a few years ago about an airline that lost a woman's cat in transit. They looked for that cat for 12 days before it finally turned up -- alive and well, but hungry. That was probably 11 1/2 days longer than they would have looked for a missing passenger.

Sometimes I wonder what is worse: the airlines or the passengers. On almost every flight I've taken the last few holidays, some couple will show up at the very last minute and have to be ushered on board with special airline people hustling through the door, stowing their carryons for them and getting them settled before rushing out again so the crew can shut the cabin door. All this under the hateful glare of all the other passengers, who had the courtesy to show up an hour early.

Guess whose luggage will come off first? The late passengers. Why should they bother to show up on time when they get rewarded for their bad behavior? They didn't have to wait in any lines. They didn't have to hang around the lounge for two hours, sitting in chairs that have been specifically designed to be uncomfortable so homeless people won't live in them. They didn't have to hear "Would Mr. and Mrs. Liptfitter please report to the main ticket counter" 40 times over a nerve-shredding loudspeaker.

They didn't have to hear it because, of course, they were the Liptfitters.

"Honey, this is so nice! It's good to show up late," said Mr. Liptfitter.

"Late? What do you know about being late?" snapped the missus. "If you had listened to me, we would have been two minutes later and they would have given us seats in first class. Don't talk to me about being late. I know how to be late."

The shopkeepers in the airport don't mind if you're late. They know that on any trip you take, there's a good possibility that you'll have to spend four or more hours inside an airport with nothing to do but cruise the airport stores. Where else could you find a newsstand that sells magazines like Funeral Home Management, Cubicle Cloth Designer, Pension Fund Skimmer, Meter Reader Monthly and Professional Llama Breeder? What, no Amateur Llama Breeder? What kind of a dump are you running here?

The bookstores are jammed with best-selling self-help books like "How to Pick a Self-Help Book," "How to Get the Most Out of Self-Help Books," "How to Get to the Front of This Store by Yourself" and "Running a Billion-Dollar Corporation Made Simple."

You can also pick up a $6 container of three individually wrapped antacid tablets at any newsstand. Which you'll need, because the only thing you can buy to eat in the entire airport without having to stand in an hour-long line is a frozen yogurt and a bag of cashews.

You'll never get into any of the good restaurants. Even if you do, you won't have time to eat there. Wait, isn't that the Liptfitters? They're sitting in the window of L'Exquisite, the fanciest restaurant in the entire airport. The line snakes from terminal A to terminal B and back again. How did they get in? They're laughing and drinking wine. She's eating beef medallions with crabmeat garnish, and he's having the coq au vin.

I can't worry about it now. I've accidentally dragged my coat through something wet on the men's room floor while trying to juggle my carry-on luggage and use the sink at the same time. How can people put up with this kind of nonsense? As I leave the men's room, the Liptfitters glide past me on one of those beeping, chauffeur-driven electric carts that ferry elderly people around airports. Me, I have to rush back to my gate on foot, just in time to see the Liptfitters disappear down the gangway with the rest of the upgraded first class passengers.

I wonder where they're going. Wherever it is, they are taking my holiday spirit with them.

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