Ten Things I Miss About Flying
This evening I’ll pick up my girlfriend at the airport. Hopefully, it will be a quick and painless experience for the both of us; her flight will arrive on time, her checked bag will make its way to baggage claim inside of forty minutes and we’ll be able to find each other in the crowd without having to dig out the cell phones. I am hoping for dull, unremarkable routine.
I wish I could say “Ah, but flying hasn’t always been this way!”, but as you’re well aware, that’s not the case. The so-called “Golden Age of Air Travel” — the Pan Am Flying Clippers, having drinks with your pilot, “coffee, tea or me” — has been done for decades, if it ever really existed at all. The price of flying has stayed pretty much consistent — in fact, with the advent of online booking, I think it may actually have gone down. The annoyances of the security checkpoint, while steadily increasing in number, are not new; I’ve always had to take off my belt, jacket and wrist holsters, and the couple standing in line in front of me has always been loaded down with forgotten pieces of eight.
The things I miss about the way air travel used to be in the 1980s and 1990s are minor, but they add up. For the record, I’m glad that people are no longer allowed to smoke on planes (or in Seattle bars, but that’s another rant). However, if I were asked to trade a smoking section for all these lost pieces of the air travel experience, I confess that I’d have to think it over.
1. Arriving fashionably late. I can’t remember how it felt to arrive at the airport an hour-and-a-half before my flight’s scheduled departure and not feel compelled to virtually parkour my way to the gate. Conversely, I can’t remember what it was like to arrive at the gate way too early and not have an entire mall worth of diversions to keep my mind occupied. Speaking of which, my girlfriend just called from the Brookstone at Minneapolis-St. Paul: “You want a motorcycle jacket from the airport? ‘Cos I can get you one.”
2. Keeping my shoes on at the TSA checkpoint. Yeah, taking off my shoes is annoying. But if TSA checkers are into the whole shoe-sniffing thing, then I guess I can put up with it. Takes all kinds of people to make a world.
3. Bringing a full-sized tube of toothpaste in my carry-on. A very personal gripe here: Several years ago, on a trip to Orlando, my tube of Tom’s of Maine was confiscated — and for eight days, I had to make do with freakin’ Crest. It was like brushing with pureed peppermint candies.
4. Saying goodbyes at the jetway. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. There was always something deeply saddening about watching a loved one disappear down that long hallway, sinking below the horizon like an ocean sunset. Being the person walking down that jetway was tough, too; you knew that all you had to do was make a quick u-turn, and you could avoid spending the next four hours sitting next to some talky guy with an undying love for Uwe Boll’s movies.
5. Peering into the cockpit. It didn’t happen often, but back in the day some pilots used to leave the cockpit door ajar — and on trips to the first-class lavatory, you were treated to fleeting views of the guys drivin ‘ the bus. It reminded me of getting the cockpit tour as a kid (“You like gladiator movies, Geoffrey?”) and being given that precious winged lapel pin. Eastern Airlines. I wish I’d kept it.
6. Sitting in a window seat. Used to love sitting by the window, but as modern jets squeeze the rows closer and closer together, it feels more and more like an airborne production of “The Cask of Amontillado.”
7. Cranking my approved electronic device from wheels-up to touchdown. Tough though it may be to believe, I used to make special mix tapes for flying (which I played in an archaic device called a “Walkman”). I took great pleasure in syncing up Ultravox’s “Reap the Wild Wind” with takeoff and New Order’s “Thieves Like Us” with nighttime landings. Alas, no more; today, the headphones don’t come out until 25 minutes into the flight and have to be put away 25 minutes before landing. On the upside, the reason for this procedural change — the mysterious web of electronics inside your average iPod — also allows me to listen to pretty much any damn song I want during flight, without having to fast-forward or rewind.
8. Suffering the in-flight movie with everyone else. In a way, it’s a rite of passage: All of us together, trapped and suffering the crucible of a sub-par, badly-edited Hollywood film. Now we’re able to watch episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” or digital copies of “District 9″ on our laptops while others are stuck with “The Taking of Pelham 123″ or some such crap — and it feels like sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, looking up from your Mai Tai, and noticing that everyone else is embroiled in the Battle of Tsushima or something.
9. Virtual damn silence from the flight crew. I readily accept the delivering of safety information at the beginning of a flight, a short “we’re now serving food and drinks” notice, and an acknowledgment of my patronage upon landing. I could do without the detailed description of the frequent flyer program, or the shills for airline-branded credit cards.
10. Being greeted at the gate. After three-to-six hours of sitting in a confined space, nothing felt better than walking up the jetway, seeing a friend, lover or relative, and hugging that person for all you’re worth. It’s the reason we travel in the first place — the thrill of experiencing the unfamiliar, and the rush of warm comfort upon returning home. It’s a real shame that pleasure has to be delayed by several minutes as you make the trudge to baggage claim, but it does allow you a few moments to reconsider a rash decision you may have made earlier that day. I’m sure that this airport’s Brookstone has the same leather jacket you saw at the other airport’s Brookstone, and it’s just as expensive and unneeded as it was this morning.