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Ah, airline travel. Long, long ago traveling by plane was exciting and fun. It was the modern way to travel. It was special. Nowadays, it’s like getting on a big airborne Trailways. Flying is not fun any more.
A little history
Back in the day, the pilots handed out tin wings to little boys and girls so they could pretend to be pilots and stewardesses. People dressed like they were going downtown to get on a plane. If you don’t remember, going downtown was done in suits and dresses, real shoes, hair neat.
Luggage went in the hold. It had to. It didn’t have wheels. The skycaps provided wheels by putting your bags on carts and wheeling them into the airport. You usually got it back at the baggage claim at the destination.
Everyone had paper tickets. After a bunch of hijackings in the 1960s the airlines started paying for security checks for passengers. Mostly they fluoroscoped the carry-on bags to keep guns off the planes. Sometimes they found other things, usually umbrellas. One day a backpack was opened to find out what looked weird on the screen. Out scuttled a whole herd of hermit crabs. Why it was a good idea to carry hermit crabs onto a plane I’ll never know. It sure livened up security that day.
On the plane they used to give you a kind of food. It was largely plastic and they handed that out after the liquids and before the air pockets. In the absence of TVs in the seat backs, we were starved for entertainment. The lady in the white suit across the aisle catching a column of coffee in her cup was the talent part of our dinner and a show.
A little mystery
Lately getting on an airline flight is quite like taking a bus trip was in the bad old days. Buses were smelly, crowded, and unpleasant. They stopped infrequently and the places where they stopped weren’t too attractive either. You couldn’t wait to get off the bus till you did it, then you wondered why you bothered.
The modern airliner is trending toward third-world bus conditions. People pile on, dragging more crap than they’re really allowed. This stuff ranges from lunch to domestic animals and everything in between. They stuff heavy luggage in overhead bins where they can clobber their fellow passengers with it when trying to leave. Whatever else is left goes under the seat in front of you so you get zero leg room. When someone gets a goat on board I’ll know we’ve turned the corner.
Naturally, so many people crammed into these vehicles turns the whole thing into a canned behavioral sink. The flying public is already stressed out from spending an hour going through security, where the government confiscates their baby powder to keep them safe. Then they can’t get their seat because someone’s in it. Next thing you know someone’s having a screaming meltdown. Cue the cops to carry him off.
Time flies (or not)
A word about schedules and airplanes. Airlines set up intricate schedules that dovetail with airport operations. That way you can get X flights from a myriad of airlines down on the ground, while sending Y flights up. Airport operations have to coordinate with regional traffic controls and so on. It’s very complicated.
So when anything goes out of whack timewise, the first thing that happens is your plane loses its place in line for takeoff. It has to get reassigned. That’s why they don’t wait if they can help it. And that’s why any delay just makes everything exponentially worse. Once you’re more than a couple of hours late, your crew has to be replaced or the plane expires or something. You end up on a cot in the bowels of the airport under guard for the night.
Fair or foul
Weather is a big culprit in making delays. When weather collides with the Important Guy on a tight schedule going to the Presentation of his Career, it ain’t pretty. On a flight trying to depart Laguardia in freezing rain one March afternoon, we were 3 hours late. We got new radar equipment installed. Then we had to wait for the truck with the antifreeze to paint the plane with pink goo. That way it wouldn’t ice over and fall into Long Island Sound on takeoff.
Important Guy finally snapped and pitched a hissy fit about being late for the Presentation of his Career. He was getting hysterical when the stewardess skillfully sat him back down. We flew away finally, and got to Florida safely.
That left me wondering why, if this was so important, had he not planned the trip to allow for March weather delays. But he wasn’t the first Important Guy and he won’t be the last. By the way, two hours after we left, another flight fell into Long Island Sound. Too much ice. Over 80 people were on it.
The rest of the ride
The only way to fly now, it seems, is by adopting the altered state most convenient for you. Some drink. Some get their doctors to prescribe a couple of pills. I zen out. It’s cheaper and it gets me through the awkwardness of who gets to use the armrests. I also chew the ice. It passes the time.
Bringing knitting and reading materials helps. Simple challenges, such as hiding the fact that my stuff doesn’t fit under the seat in front of me from the flight attendants, helps too. I’m pretty good at it. I look forward to the baggage claim because it’s so much fun to reunite with my underwear. Never mind the TSA groped it.
What do you love about flying?