Likability factor proves uplifting on USAir flight


October 26, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

No two columnists at The Sun are alike.

Some of us are tall and some of us are short. Some of us are fat and some of us are thin.

Some of us are talented and some of us are extremely talented.

But in evaluating each columnist, one cannot ignore the likability factor.

Some of us are simply more likable than others. This manifests itself in several ways.

The typical letter I get from my readers, for instance, goes something like this:

"You make me sick. I would like to pluck out your eyeballs and feed them to my hogs. Please send me an autographed picture and have a nice day."

Rob Kasper, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved columnists at the paper. The author of the "Happy Eater" column, he gets letters from readers like this:

"Every time I see your ruggedly handsome features in the paper, I nearly swoon. I would very much like to meet you so we could discuss your fathering my child. If you ever see Roger Simon, please tell him I would like to pluck his eyeballs out. Thank you."

Aside from his physical attributes, which include a jump shot that is registered as a deadly weapon in three states, Kasper is widely known for his calm demeanor.

Polite, almost courtly, in his treatment of both colleagues and the public, it takes a great deal to rile him.

Which is why he is the perfect passenger for USAir.

USAir, incidentally, has invited me to its Systems Control Center in Pittsburgh "as our guest for a look at just how complex the whole matter of running a major airline can be."

You can imagine my unrestrained delight at being offered a chance to visit Pittsburgh, but it was tempered by one nagging fact: USAir did not invite me to Pittsburgh to view its complexities when I was writing nice things about USAir.

When I wrote how swell USAir was and how helpful its employees were, did I hear one peep from USAir? Did anybody from its Public Relations/Corporate Communications staff bother to drop me a line and say:

"We certainly appreciate your kind comments about our airline. And, as a small token of our appreciation, please accept this jumbo jet, which will be parked at BWI for your convenience."

Nope, I didn't hear a word from them. Only after readers wrote me several letters listing their bad experiences with USAir, and only after I happened to mention that three of my last five USAir flights have been canceled, did I start getting fancy invitations to Pittsburgh.

I suppose this is human nature. Which is why I might start writing about how lousy things are on the French Riviera.

Back to Rob "The Milk of Human Kindness" Kasper.

A few weeks ago, he had to fly to Chicago to pick up yet another award, this one from the National Food Editors and Writers Association.

"It was in the afternoon at about 4 p.m. that I got to BWI," Kasper said. "I usually fly USAir because I get frequent flier points from them, and I have a friend I play basketball with who works for them. He wants to kill you, by the way."

Of course he does, I said. But he'll have to get in line.

So we get on board and the plane was . . .strange," Kasper said.

How do you mean? The cockpit was open and everybody was handed a leather flying helmet and a white, silk scarf?

"No, it was a real jet," Kasper said. "I forget the brand, but it was a jet. But it was a strange jet. It didn't have as many seats as a regular jet and the first clue that it was different is that when we got on board, the flight attendant said:'Watch your head.' "

You were not expecting this?

"I expected a big, normal plane for a flight to Chicago," he said. "But I sure was happy I had no carry-on luggage. Because, boy, people were having difficulty. The overhead bins were a lot smaller."

Me, I always have carry-on luggage. I wouldn't check a bag with an airline any more than I would hand a piece of fine china to a baby.

"So it was a problem," Kasper went on. "It was like expecting a station wagon and instead you're in a compact car. But we all finally get in and we pull away from the terminal and taxi out to Tarmac Land and the captain gets on . . ."

And tells you the wings have just fallen off!

"No, no, no," Kasper said. "That's just like you. That's why people always want to pluck your eyeballs out."

OK, just tell it in your own words.

So the pilot gets on the speaker and says: 'Either we have somebody else's cargo or our cargo is just too heavy, but we're too heavy to take off. So we've got to go back to the terminal and take off some cargo.' "

So what did you do?

"We went back to the terminal and they began unloading stuff," Kasper said. "I don't know what it was. Cattle, maybe. All I know is we kept feeling this bump, bump, bump as they unloaded."

And then what happened?

"Then we went back out to the runway and we got ready to take off and everybody was wondering the same thing: 'Did they take off enough cattle?' But I did two things to make sure it would be OK."

I hope one of them was praying, I said. That's my favorite.

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