Musicboarding: The Latest Form of Airline Torture

Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique. Most governments have disavowed and unsanctioned its use. There is a title for a Tom Cruise movie in there somewhere. In any case, waterboarding is essentially a form of torture. And a certain airline likes to waterboard its passengers. But instead of water, they use music. And musicboarding is much, much worse.

Music is one of the most universal and wonderful things in life. Play music for a baby, and it will instinctively respond. Throughout our lives, music sparks joy. When we shed our mortal coils, if we are lucky, someone will play music at our funerals. Everyone loves music. Music is also one of the most personal things in life. There are 8 billion people on the planet Earth. If you have a playlist with 100 songs, I’ll bet you any amount of money that no one else has that exact same playlist. Heck, your playlist of 25 songs is probably wholly unique. But in the universe of all music ever created, in a Venn diagram showing the music that I like there are also about a billion songs that I do not like.

This brings us to “Omega” Airlines [not the real name so I don’t get sued]. I fly. A lot. I am or have been God Tier on multiple airlines. I have enough frequent flier miles to get to Pluto and back. Twice. I am accustomed, one might say — hardened — to the slings and arrows of air travel. I know that transporting cattle — er — people is a tough job and I cut airlines a lot of slack. But on my last couple of segments, Omega Airlines has crossed the line.

As I boarded, they were playing music. I would describe it as Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music. Even worse, they were playing it LOUD. Omega Airlines listen to me and listen carefully: when you are squeezing me into a long narrow tube with the distance between rows measured in millimeters, I do not want to listen to your Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music played on 40 crappy overhead speakers. And I especially do not want to listen to it LOUD, so LOUD that everyone is struggling to talk on their phones.

Then, during deplaning, they played the same Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music and it was still LOUD. So there I am, seated in row 97 (standby, middle seat, thank you very much) and there are about 9,000 people deplaning ahead of me and every one of those dear souls is a first-time flier, and each one is flummoxed on how to open the overhead bins, and I have to wait for 45 minutes listening to the same Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music played over and over at a LOUD volume while I miss my connecting flight, which leaves on time. Without me.

When the U.S. Government has a tin-horn dictator or a notorious drug lord (usually the same guy) cornered in an embassy somewhere, what do they do to flush him out? They set up loudspeakers and play some horrible music, for example, Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music, at full volume. Within hours, sometimes within minutes, the guy comes running out, hands up, because he would rather face a firing squad than listen to it for another second. Then, just to show there are no hard feelings, they give the guy some friendly waterboarding which helps him to relax. In any case, forcing people to listen to Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music is torture. Do you understand Omega Airlines? You are torturing your passengers.

And here is the thing, there’s something especially annoying when other people inflict their personal musical taste on you. If my neighbor is cutting down a tree, I completely accept the noise of the chainsaw. But if my neighbor loudly plays crappy music — for example, Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music — they are imposing their own personal musical taste on mine and that crosses the line.

A final but not unrelated note to a fellow passenger on yesterday’s coast-to-coast flight on Omega Airlines: I estimate that you are less than 3 months old. Congratulations on starting your life. Your journey will be immense. I also congratulate you on your immense set of lungs. As I sat next to you for 5 hours and 55 minutes, I marveled at the incredible volume and sustained pitch of your screaming. You have a brilliant future ahead of you in a profession that requires extraordinary lung power, such as a pearl diver, a high-altitude mountain climber — or on a related note, an Alpine horn player. Yes, other passengers may have disapproved of your voluminous performance. But compared to Omega Airline’s Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Music, your screaming was music to my ears.

Ken C. Pohlmann is an electrical engineer specializing in audio topics as a consultant and writer. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Miami.

Billy's picture

Actually, I like easy listening music, but not the crap from recent years. Something slow and melodic where they hold the notes is music to my ears. Back in the 1970s, every town of reasonable size had an FM station that played soft instrumentals from the likes of Percy Faith and Henry Mancini. After a long day at work, those helped me unwind in the car. People used to call that elevator music, as it was more than not played in those. I miss those days. Did I like rock, and jazz, and other forms of music? Well, yes, but only at the right time for those. Though, I do agree, playing that stuff too loudly when you are captive, does not seem too friendly. Sort of like me traveling in the car with my wife who is 60 going on 17 playing Meatloaf. Especially the last few albums that I find extremely horrendous, but it makes her happy, and in the end, I guess that is worth putting up with.

Alissa Morce's picture

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