It’s official; my love affair with flying has ended. I’ve asked for the ring back. She don’t love me anymore . . . and the feeling’s mutual.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, when I fly I will always thrill to the loud roar and the feeling of that instant burst of power when the pilot goes full throttle at takeoff time. I’ll still try my best to see if I can precisely time the exact moment of liftoff, when my stomach does a brief flip-flop as the aircraft breaks the invisible hold of Mother Earth’s gravitational attraction. Seeing the earth and its inhabitants from 30,000 feet will always be breathtaking. But the flying process itself? Well, let’s just say that—in plain English—today it sucks!
Unlike in times gone by (when traveling by air was a pleasurable adventure complete with meals and attractive stewardesses), today’s experience is more of an ordeal. Most airports are enormous, and you can walk for nearly a mile in some of them to get to your gate. And those bags you were planning on bringing, well, you can forget the plural aspect. If you’re lucky, you might get everything you need into the one suitcase that most airlines permit as standard (if it doesn’t exceed the size and weight limits permitted). But it won’t be free! Most carriers charge a fee for even a single piece of luggage. Want to bring two? Good luck. You’ll pay dearly. In our post 9/11 world, we now have the added inconvenience of the security check. (As far as I know, they’ve stopped asking us to remove our shoes), but we’re still asked to empty our pockets before we pass through the metal detector (Please, Lord, don’t let it beep!).
Gone are the TV-dinner-style meals that most patrons used to criticize (but would gladly welcome today). Missing, too, are the hot babes or “stews” with their sexy outfits, who used to guide us to our seats and fluff the pillows behind our fat heads (today, it’s about a 50/50 split between mostly average-looking men and women). Oh, the pillows have disappeared, too. Also absent are those delectable smoked almonds that most of us used to love to munch along with that martini or Manhattan. If you’re lucky, you might get a glass of juice or half a can of a soft drink. Want something with alcohol. It’ll cost you! Anything resembling “real” food will have to be purchased onboard or in the airport at exorbitant prices.
Before you accuse me of being totally negative, let me point out some pluses. Airports are greater in number today, making it more convenient to find one that’s not too far from your point of departure or your destination. They are better lighted and cleaner, with all kinds of restaurants and other shops (and you’ll probably need them, because more often than not your flight will be delayed, canceled, or otherwise negatively impacted). Sorry; there I go being negative again. Today’s planes are much faster, so you’d think you’d reach your destination more quickly. But overall trip times are probably longer (sorry, but it’s true). Booking a flight is probably easier than it used to be—the Internet has seen to that. You can compare the costs of flights among carriers with the movement of a computer mouse. One or two more clicks and you can make your reservation. You can even print your boarding pass—right from the comfort of your home—but you’ll need to borrow against your IRA to pay for the ticket (there I go again; please accept my apology).
My introduction to flight was as a small boy of perhaps eight or ten years of age. My dad had to attend a family funeral in Richmond, Virginia, and we went to see him off at LaGuardia Airport in New York (how we got there is a complete mystery to me, as my mother did not drive). But I digress. Looking back, I believe the plane was a DC-3. I know for certain that it was a propeller-driven aircraft, and I can remember seeing flames and smoke shooting out the back of the engines when they were started. There was no covered approach ramp to the plane either. We walked across the Tarmac and waved goodbye as our father climbed a set of metal stairs that were wheeled up to the side entry door of the plane. All-in-all, the process was quite simple. Dad phoned the airline to make his reservation, and he paid for his ticket when he got to the airport. Back then, If you had a bag (or two), you checked it at the terminal and received a claim check, and you picked it up when you arrived at your destination by handing the paper stub to a baggage clerk. Today, you spend your flight time praying that your bag will arrive at the correct airport (often it goes where it wants to) and then wait (sometimes for hours) for it to appear on an endless circular conveyor belt filled with other bags that look exactly like yours.
My own first voyage in the air was on a Boeing 707 jet, and as best I can remember, it was from Newark Airport to Greater Cincinnati Airport in Covington, Kentucky. There was a tremendous cross wind present when we landed, and I swear the wing tips alternately touched the runway as we see-sawed our way to terra firm. Then I boarded a prop-jet for the short hop to the airport in Lexington. Finally, a bus took me the remaining 25-or-so miles to my college campus. I didn’t fly again until I married for the first time and honeymooned in Montreal in 1970. The two flying experiences were very similar, and as I recall very pleasurable. They were certainly nothing like my most recent misadventure, flying from Asheville, North Carolina to Seattle and back again.
To be fair, the flight out went pretty smoothly. We made our connection in Chicago, and arrived in Seattle exactly on time. (Okay, there was the crying infant, who exercised his lungs nonstop for three-and-a-half hours from directly behind my seat.) But that wasn’t anyone’s fault but his parents’. I couldn’t blame the airline for that. The return trip was another story altogether.
Our schedule called for us to depart SEATAC (Seattle-Tacoma Airport) Sunday evening at around 11:30 p.m. We would land at Chicago’s O’Hare (where we would have about a three-and-a-half hour layover), and then catch a flight directly to Asheville. Our ETA was 11:23 a.m. Monday morning—the classic “red-eye.” All-in-all, our travel time should have been nine hours. Fuggeddaboutit! It took FIFTEEN! Everything that could go wrong DID go wrong. The departure gate for our connecting flight from O’Hare was changed . . . but no one bothered to announce it . . . so we missed that flight. We had to scurry to customer service to make alternate arrangements. There were no more direct flights from Chicago to Asheville, so we had to take a flight into Charlotte, North Carolina. After a half-mile walk to the gate, the gate was changed, thus requiring another mega walk to get to the correct gate. We made that plane, flew to Charlotte, where we waited another hour or so, and then caught the flight into Asheville. (Oh, and did I mention the airport employee at O’Hare who chose to publicly remove his shoes, kneel down alongside us, and bow to Mecca?) Don’t ask!
But all’s well that ends well, and our baggage was actually waiting for us when we arrived at our final destination. Who knew?
So you say you want to fly? Well then, go for it! But remember, you’ve been warned. It ain’t what it used to be.
NOTE: Joe Perrone Jr is the author of the Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day (a 2012 Indie B.R.A.G. medallion winner), Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. All four are available in paperback and E-book from Amazon.com. As the Twig is Bent and Opening Day are also in audiobook from Audible.com, with Twice Bitten and Broken Promises currently in production. If humor is your cup of tea, consider Joe’s rip-roaring, coming-of-age novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, set in the tumultuous Sixties, or A “Real” Man’s Guide to Divorce (First, you bend over and . . . ). Both are available in print, E-book, and audio book editions.
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