I was reminded of Ms Ratbag when I read this article from CNN about airport smoking lounges. It's an unusual article because it doesn't seem to have any real purpose and it's not inspired by current events. It is, however, a nice little piece about an obscure subject and reminds the reader that many people get a little bit of pleasure from having a place to smoke in the relentlessly tobaccophobic world of airline travel.
"Isn't this nice?" traveler Colleen Sherretta said of the concourse C smoking lounge at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as others cycled through the sliding automatic door, filling the room to capacity...
"I'm glad they have one," Sherretta said cheerily during a recent midday connection from Savannah, Georgia, to Newark, New Jersey, as she stubbed out her Camel Blue. "They don't have these in Newark."
Indeed not. As the article states, there are fewer smoking lounges than there were ten years ago. New York has, unsurprisingly, clamped down on them.
"It's a necessity for people who have long layovers," a patron of Atlanta's concourse B smoking lounge said in between long drags of a Marlboro Red from a tar-stained plastic cigarette holder. "I don't think they'll ever go away."
"I love to people watch in here. You have all walks of life coming in here. Even though it's not accepted by a majority of the public you see all walks of life in here. I also love to listen to the soldiers' conversations. They really impress me. They're so clean cut. I'm surprised they smoke," he said.
Well, they do. And so do many other people, which is why the lounges exist as a place for people from all walks of life to take a break without bothering anyone in any way whatsoever.
But what we really need is the view of a licensed psychologist with a cool sounding name. Yes, you sir...
"As we're learning more about the tremendous dangers of smoking, fewer people are willing to tolerate exposure to second-hand smoke, which leads to smokers being pushed to the periphery," said licensed psychologist Clifford Lazarus. "But it is a right, people can smoke just like they can drink and have guns, it's just that the government is being a bit more controlling in terms of creating parameters in which people can engage in this marginalized behavior."
'A bit more controlling' might be a slight understatement, but it's certainly true that 'fewer people are willing to tolerate exposure to second-hand smoke' and that's why the airports have bent over backwards to stop that happening...
"We have four indoor smoking areas. Two designated smoking lounges and two restaurants that offer separate smoking areas," said Laura Cole, spokeswoman for Denver International Airport in Colorado. "All four are fully enclosed and DIA uses completely separate ventilated systems for the smoking areas. We believe that by using separate systems to ventilate the smoking lounges and the concourse we're creating a second layer of protection from second-hand smoke."
A sealed off smoking lounge and two entirely separate ventilation systems. What rational person could ask for more? So why do the airports go to all this trouble?
"Hartsfield-Jackson provides designated, specially designed smoking lounges on each concourse for the convenience and comfort of our passengers who choose to smoke," airport spokesman John Kennedy said in an e-mail.
Convenience and comfort. That's sounds like excellent customer service. And there would be practical considerations as well, I imagine?
"The Airport's layout and design does not allow for outside smoking areas in the sterile concourses and the smoking lounges eliminate the need for passengers wishing to smoke to exit and then re-enter the secured areas, or seek other alternatives to smoke inside the Airport."
This all sounds eminently reasonable. All the bases have been covered and Hartsfield-Jackson airport appears to be a picture of harmony and mutual respect. But hang on a moment, is that a meddlesome ratbag I see before me, coughing and waving her hands?
"We're optimistic that the trend is still going toward 100% smoke free, like the airlines. The question is who will be the last?" said Cynthia Hallet, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a California-based lobbying group. "The bottom line is this is a health issue. We know what smoking and second-hand smoke can do to us, and the safest policy is a smoke-free policy."
The bottom line, Cynthia my dear, is that these airports do have a smoke-free policy in every area except that tiny enclosed room into which you need never stick your sensitive nose. Seriously, could there ever be a more apt occasion on which to say 'mind you own fucking business' than when you're standing in a sealed off, separately ventilated smoking lounge that takes a fraction of one percent of the space of an airport?
And here comes another one...
"It's just disgusting. I can smell the smoke even though those doors are closed," traveler Cathy Urchin said as she waited in line at Seattle's Best Coffee, across from the smoking lounge.
Like a wasps at a picnic, aren't they?
"I used to smoke...
Yes, I detected the perpetual rage of the self-righteous ex-smoker in your opening remarks. Come to think of it, Cathy Urchin is an even more evocative name than Meddlesome Ratbag.
...Now I'm just glad I live in Minnesota, where you can't smoke in bars or the airport," she said. "I think they're becoming extinct. Or at least I hope they are."
The milk of humanity just pours out of these people, doesn't it?