Cleared for landing

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Recent news suggests the Air in Airbnb comes from CEO Brian Chesky, who recently announced a ban on all party houses in response to a tragic shooting which left five dead in Orinda, Calif. A glass of wine? That’s fine, but he’s forbidding by international edict any of the company’s 2.9 million Airbnb hosts at any of their 6 million locations to allow any of their 150 million users to party with more than 13 people in attendance. Good luck with that.

It just so happens we’d made an Airbnb reservation for a California stay the first week in November, less than a week after the Halloween party murders took place. In trying to clear the platform’s online security gates, I encountered technical glitches and a few misunderstandings which I finally resolved by initiating a real-time phone call, threatening to cancel my booking. When it comes to hanging on to the customer’s money, Airbnb does a five-star job.

In 2008 a couple renters earned a few extra dollars charging strangers inflationary rates to crash on a living-room air mattress. Eleven years later the idea bloated into a $35 billion data-saturated industry. Its understaffed army of 3,100 Airbnb employees tries to offer reasonable assurances that the space a customer is renting will be free of risks and irritations, like inaccurate descriptions, hidden cameras or trap doors. Ultimately, users rely on the host to provide a quality rental experience, and more times than not it works out fine.

Our tiny casita turned out to be comfortable enough, if you don’t count the incoming airlines on identical flight paths cueing up like billiard balls. The wheels and flaps were already down, locked into position, landing from before 8 a.m. until as late as 11 p.m. The planes were often 2 to 3 minutes apart — jumbo jets literally falling from the sky. They came so close an airline ornithologist could have easily identified individual species by the distinctive markings on their tails and under their wings.

After enduring the first day at our rental, I reread the host’s description for booking the property. The details disclosed that air traffic existed in the neighborhood, so it shouldn’t have felt like a surprise. But awareness and experience are two different classes of tickets. These planes weren’t just vaguely circling like buzzards. I worried the pilots might mistake our driveway for their runway.

By no means were we the only people dealing with air traffic, but those who own or rent houses in the neighborhood hopefully are acclimated by now to the relentless audio bombardment. My first experience in the shadow of a passenger jet occurred decades ago while visiting my in-laws, who lived directly under a Chicago O’Hare flight path. I remember sitting in their yard one warm afternoon drinking gin fizzes. As my father-in-law expounded loudly on the world’s problems, a jumbo jet crowded out the sun. His audible voice vanished, replaced by the sound of the jet’s turbines, but his lips kept moving, as if he thought we could still hear him. I nodded, sipped my gin and thought, well, at least one problem solved.

Truth be told, I’m still a flight-path newbie. I was taken aback by the incessant noise because my senses don’t usually occupy an environment where constant noise prompts my brain to develop a protective layer of deafness. The property’s description also lauded the benefits of staying so close to the airport, which would be, it claimed, a convenience for those who arrived by air. It concluded: The air traffic doesn’t diminish the beauty of the neighborhood, which it didn’t, because we spent most of every day away from the casita, touring other sites of the city.

Like most businesses with an eye toward profits, Airbnb aspires to grow bigger by not attracting negative media attention. Five star ratings and glowing customer reviews work like cash in the corporate model of America, which is why I don’t want to be one of their monkeys, pedaling the feedback cycle with another free review. I’m just learning my lessons and moving on, refusing to participate in the rating game, advocating a kind of statistical protest — a stat-in, if you like.

Predictably, online businesses like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and myriad other popular sites aspire to become so massive they are incapable of policing the very activities they sponsor. Of course we jeopardize our safety by joining in, or we learn to live with it. Plane. And simple.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/

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From David Feela.