Last weekend, I flew up and back from New York City for dinner. Imagine that. I flew approximately 1,500 miles round trip just to have a meal. Now, before you start castigating me for being less than frugal, or even a bit flamboyant, suffice it to say that the whole adventure cost me nothing. All expenses were paid by a publishing client, who insisted on showing his gratitude for the work I did in bringing his book to fruition. It was great to finally meet him in person, and we had a terrific time. But I digress.
We’ve all heard the horror stories (especially lately) of the indignities suffered by “unwitting” passengers at the hands of the airline industry. To be fair, in some instances, the passengers were not totally blameless. In others, it was clear the airline was at fault. However, I’m not writing to condone nor embrace either the airlines or the passengers in question. I am writing about the actual business of flying.
My earliest memories of commercial flight are associated with my dad. The occasion was a family funeral, sometime in the early to mid 1950s, and Dad was flying to Virginia to represent my mother’s side of the family. If memory serves me correctly, he flew out of LaGuardia Airport, which was probably less than a half hour from our apartment in Brooklyn, New York. I’m pretty sure the plane he flew on was a DC-3, propeller driven aircraft, operated by either Eastern Airlines or Delta.
There were no covered ramps from the terminal to the airplane in those days. Passengers exited the gate, walked across the tarmac, and climbed a rollaway staircase up to the door of the aircraft. An image that remains imbedded in my mind’s eye is that of the two engines being started. There was a whining sound, a loud, muffled pop, and then a burst of smoke as each of the two prop engines coughed roughly to life. The portable staircase was rolled away, and the plane taxied out from the terminal, headed for the runway. From airport to airport, it probably took two hours to complete the trip to Washington, DC. There were no threats from terrorists, and you got your boarding pass when you purchased your ticket. No security checks, either. No waiting, no hassles. All baggage was checked in before you flew, and picked up when you arrived.
Contrast that to my recent experience of traveling from Asheville, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia, and then on to New York City—and back. In all, there were four flights. Going out of Asheville, it was suggested that I arrive at least one hour and fifteen minutes prior to takeoff. Returning from LaGuardia, the suggested allowance was two hours. At each of the originating terminals, I was required to remove “anything metallic” from my clothing, and to place each piece of luggage on a conveyor belt. I received a complete body scan at one location, while my baggage received a similar inspection at another one. After being reunited with my belongings, I proceeded to the gate, where I awaited takeoff in a comfortable lounge.
All-in-all, the actual time spent flying was probably less than six hours. The combined process including waiting time, connecting flights, and security checks was most likely closer to double that. But I’m not complaining. After all, if I had to make the same trip by car, it would have taken me two days driving in each direction, with two nights spent in a motel. All four planes were comfortable—even if the seats were a bit narrow—and the personnel were extremely pleasant and accommodating. The cabins were pressurized and air conditioned. I had my own light for reading, and the seats had built-in head cushions. On the two longer legs of the flight, I was given a snack and a beverage, while enjoying access to free Wi-Fi (decent, but not great).
I don’t know about others, but I still find commercial air travel an amazing experience. Perhaps it’s because I only fly about once every three or four years, and have not become jaded. Call me stupid, but I love the feeling of being pressed into my seat by the force of those huge jet engines upon takeoff, and the roar of those same engines, when they’re reversed to combine with the brakes to bring the whole thing to a halt upon landing. Stop and think about it: You are flying along, seven miles or more in the air, reading a Kindle, listening to music on a blue tooth headset, and drinking a cranberry juice while munching on honey roasted peanuts. Does that sound like a nightmare? Or does it remind you more of a fantastic dream you might have had when you were a five-year-old kid like me?
Let those who drink too much, expect too much, or just plain ignore instructions to feud with the airlines. Me? I’ll just follow the rules, arrive in plenty of time, and enjoy the friendly skies. Can’t wait to do it again!