Monday, May 30, 2011

Plane Travel

My dad used to be a frequent flyer before the term was capitalized and meant points for free flights or walking onto the plane on a red carpet. Back then, he just flew a lot – mostly from Birmingham, AL to Washington, DC. My mother and I would take him to the old Birmingham Municipal Airport and we would sit on the wooden benches and listen to the squeal of the old Capitol Airlines Viscount as the plane took off.

Days later we would return to the airport, often at night, to pick up my weary father. He was a large man and he usually flew First Class, but I recall nights when he would say – “I hitch-hiked home on the milk-run.” That meant, for whatever reason, his scheduled flight was cancelled and he grabbed the first plane South, usually a series of short hops.

I found the airport fascinating, and my favorite activity was picking up travel brochures for glamorous places. I then took them home and played travel agent – my favorite game. I still like planning trips, and my husband thinks I am pretty good at it – he says I should have been a travel agent – now a lost forever opportunity. Oh, well!

In those days, of course, there was no “security.” The airport was an open place where families went right to the gate, even if they were just seeing someone off. The gate, of course, was at the chain link fence between the benches and where the airplanes parked.

One disturbing thing about the old airport was the prominence of the insurance counter, or machine. Even to a kid, it was clear that flying was considered a risky activity. Otherwise, why would they sell this special insurance? My farther took the insurance without fail, much the same way that you might take insurance on a fragile package. A few days later, my mother would get the receipt in the mail. I always wondered if he saw it as a gamble—a way to give us great wealth if the plane should crash. Fortunately, we never got to test the insurance.

They used to say flying was glamorous. Though people joked about airline food, undoubtedly it was better than the peanuts or pretzels choices we have today. I wouldn’t know though, because I didn’t take my first flight until 1968, months before my marriage. There has just been no reason for me to fly prior to that. Even in 1968, there was still no security, plenty to eat, and, of course, the very sophisticated liquor in little miniatures we still have today.

In the intervening years, I have taken hundreds of flights – more than I can count. There have been long flights to Europe and short hops in the Mid-Atlantic. I have experienced First Class many times, Business Class, and the joys of the Coach. From the front of the plane to the last seat in the back, I have done it all. I have been bumped and endured cancelled flights. But somehow there has still been some fun - -some sense of adventure. Today I have access to airline club lounges, so that helps to ease the stress.

I just got back from three weeks of extensive flying, including a long haul to Hawaii in “the main cabin.” The glamor is gone - -that’s for sure and frankly, so is the sense of adventure. Flying is simply not fun anymore.
I think I am getting too old for the security dance! I know the rules. I have to have my ID out to show the person who is taking my luggage and I have to have my boarding pass and ID to show the TSA guard. I have learned put my ID back in my wallet while standing in the security line. At the security check point, I have to stuff my boarding pass in my pocket, but not wrinkle it too much of the bar code won’t work; take off my shoes, jacket and belt; remove my computer (and my printer if I have it with me) and my Kindle; remove my zip-lock bag filled with toiletries, each less than 3 ounces. I have to stuff my purse into my computer bag (so it won’t count as a third item). So I am managing one bin for my shoes, jacket and plastic bag; another bin for my computer, a computer bag and a suitcase. I have to shove all of this stuff onto the conveyor belt with people behind me pulling up trays and pushing mine forward. Then I have to walk through the metal detector with only my boarding pass in my pocket. Recently I have been through the new, x-ray machine because it is round shaped, the door closes and I have to put my hands in the air. Then I have to wait while someone “reads” the results. Sometimes the authorities target my computer bag because I tend to have a jumble of cords. I suppose I am going to have to start using twist ties on my cords – one more thing to worry about.
My poor husband has it much worse – he has metal pins in his foot. Need I say more!

I understand about the peanuts and pretzel choices – I really do! They can shave a few dollars off their fares that way. What I don’t get are the “options” one has for purchase on the plane. These snack boxes are strange combinations of what can best be described as junk food. I was pleased to see that Delta actually offered a chicken salad sandwich for lunch and it wasn’t bad.

As much as I hate all of the challenges of modern flight, I am not going to stop flying anytime soon. It is still the best way to travel long distances quickly – the only way. Would I pay extra to have a decent meal and a comfortable seat? Absolutely! The problem is that the price differential is just too great between Coach and Business/First, so unless it is a Frequent Flyer upgrade, I am doomed to coach.

I wish that we could go back to the days when there were no security lines, and the airlines served real meals, but I have to say I would not want to give up my wheeled luggage.