It’s a shame that people under a certain age will never know that flying use to be a romantic and exotic part of the journey. My own travel bug started when my parents got divorced. By the time I was 10, I lived in Houston with my mother, my father lived in Tulsa, and my grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins (more like siblings to me) lived in Minnesota. While the distance was sometimes difficult – the upside is that it created an opportunity to fly during summers and holidays – mostly by myself since time and money were both factors for my working parents.
I remember being treated like a King – or perhaps more fittingly, a Prince – on my solo travels. Wings pinned to my collar and deck of airline playing cards in hand, I’d venture back to my seat – often in first class if there was space so the crew could keep an eye on me. Almost every flight included a tour of the cockpit before takeoff. Once I got where I was going, I had a wonderful time seeing family but getting there ended up being part of the fun. Granted, my experience was unique – but this was in the age when adults got dressed up and acted on their best behavior for what was still a developing industry. Being on an airplane opened, literally, a world of possibilities.
I thought back to those days last week while I was standing beltless and shoeless waiting my turn through the body scanner – hoping to avoid a prison style patdown. Looking around at the frazzled masses – most were dressed in a rough approximation of what I’d imagine they wear to clean their garage. I was carrying my bag – both to avoid the extra expense and also to prevent the airlines from losing or damaging it (I’ve experienced both). And I broke down the day before and spent a few extra bucks on an assigned seat so I didn’t get the dreaded middle. It still astounds me that a seat no longer comes with an airline ticket, but that’s a story for another day. Most airline ads now consist of slogans to convince consumers their brand sucks less than the competition. And of course, I’d have to stop and buy food in the terminal since you can’t bring your own and the airlines don’t serve it.
I realize that 9/11 ushered in a new world of travel – and I don’t envy the job of either the airlines or the TSA in keeping us safe. But surely there is a happy medium where airline travel returns to a status somewhere higher than riding on a prison bus. I’ll still travel to get to ‘Point B’ but the plane now is entirely about the destination and not the journey. The experience only starts once you’ve survived the exit gates. In the meantime, maybe on my next flight I’ll dust off an old pair of wings and bring my Braniff playing cards to remind myself of how wonderful travel can be.