PLANE TRUTH

 

 

It’s not news to report that air travel today isn’t a pleasure. It’s my impression the experience is becoming increasingly miserable. I suspect the positive excitement of air travel began to wane when the late-60’s hijackings to Cuba inspired the first metal detectors. It’s become even more joyless due to depredations by terrorists in the intervening decades. It’s hard to believe now that one of my earliest memories is of my grandfather taking me to the Philadelphia Airport to WATCH planes take off and land. Around 1961 you could just walk into the terminal, go to the windows, and watch.

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Along with terrorists, the experience has been shaped, not in a good way, by accountants. Airlines squeeze revenue from each seat and I do mean squeeze. Being tall is advantageous when visiting a crowded museum or movie theatre, but when I fly I wish I were the size of a jockey. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems whoever sits around me in a plane is afflicted by one or more of the following: obesity; bad breath; a hacking cough; a pneumonia; restless leg syndrome; and, perhaps worst of all, logorrhea.

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Personally, I never loved air travel. My first flight EVER, from Philadelphia to Chicago circa 1964, resulted in the use of the barf bag. Though illness doesn’t produce that effect in me, motion sometimes does – I’ve even become queasy on the Circle Line boat ride around Manhattan. The plane event inspired the acquisition of Dramamine for every subsequent flight until the last decade or so, at which point I simply decided “enough, I’m over it.” Needless to say, I never aspired to be an astronaut.

The only aspect of air travel that is better than “the good old days” is the smoking ban. I flew from San Francisco to Newark on the day it went into effect in 1991. I remember it clearly because a television reporter asked for my opinion in the waiting area. I said something like: “What idiot ever allowed it in the first place?” I doubt my intemperate clip made it to the small screen. But, as they say now, “Seriously?” Well within my lifetime, people smoked inside confined, flying compartments as though the already-fetid, germ-filled air wasn’t disgusting enough!

And what about the food? Arguably, the fact that most domestic flights now offer none is a positive development considering airline cuisine. But shouldn’t they provide something edible? The situation became so bleak by the beginning of this millennium Jet Blue gained positive press by providing blue potato chips. Now, with airlines making more money than they can spend I note that “snacks” are making a comeback. If only one could make a meal of mini pretzels and peanuts.

 

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*****

 

Flying presents a philosophical dilemma with regard to how I approach life. When I was young I wished away a lot of time. For instance, during the winters I counted down the weeks until the baseball season. During college, I wished away exam weeks. My law school years were basically one long countdown of 1,051 days.

Now that I’m older, I  try to avoid such thinking. Upon entering middle age, I largely limited my “count-downs” to the cold weather months, and in recent years living in the south, even winter is tolerable. In sum, as time seems to pass faster, I’m philosophically opposed to wishing it away.

Flying is an exception.   I wish away every second of time spent on airplanes. I try to be the last to enter (unless carry-on luggage requires me to join the scrum for limited storage space) and I’m the first to jump up at the destination.   Once or twice during a flight, I silently count the seconds from zero to sixty and then backwards again to zero so I know the minutes pass. After I complete a count in English I do it in Spanish or German to amuse myself. My wife thinks I’m nuts. Perhaps. Am I the only one who does this?

 

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*****

 

I’m afraid Mark Twain would reach the same conclusion about air travel as he reached about the weather: “Everyone complains, but no one does anything about it.” There’s simply no other practical way to reach many places one wants to visit. That’s the reality; that’s the plane truth.

 

 

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