This excerpt from Hunter’s profile of the skier Jean-Claude Killy, circa 1970, is relevant to current events in a slightly different way from some of the other pieces I’ve been posting. See if you can spot it.
I boarded the plane and instantly found myself involved in a game of musical chairs with the couple who were being moved back to the tourist compartment so Jean-Claude and I could have their first-class seats. “I’ve blocked these two off for you,” the man in the blue uniform told me.
The dowdy little stewardess told the victims how sorry she was — over and over again, while the man howled in the aisle. I hunkered down in the seat and stared straight ahead, wishing him well…. “You sons of bitches!” he yelled, shaking his fist at the crewmen who were pushing him back towards the tourist section. I was hoping he would whack one of them or at least refuse to stay on the plane but he caved in, allowing himself to be hustled off like a noisy beggar.
“What was that about?” Killy asked me.
I told him. “Bad scene, eh?” he said. Then he pulled a car racing magazine out of his briefcase and focused on that. I thought of going back and advising the man that he could get a full refund on his ticket if he kept yelling, but the flight was delayed for at least an hour on the runway and I was afraid to leave my seat for fear it might be grabbed by some late-arriving celebrity.
Within moments, a new hassle developed. I asked the stewardess for a drink and was told that it was against the rules to serve booze until the plane was airborne. Thirty minutes later, I got the same answer. There is something in the corporate manner of United Airlines that reminds me of the California Highway Patrol, the exaggerated politeness of people who would be a hell of a lot happier if all their customers were in jail — and especially you, sir.