On Lin’s Bin today, James from Chicago asked,
Why is airline travel so difficult and uncomfortable now? Why do we put up with it?
Are you pining for the halcyon days of air travel?
Do you get dizzy from nostalgic visions of Pan Am stewardesses walking together in a terminal.
The commercial jingles were a seduction to a world we were not ready to enter.
What was it like to travel in one of those palaces above the clouds?
After several family trips in a station wagon to Florida, trips that were accomplished with all the delicacy of Hannibal’s elephants crossing the Alps, my parents chose to fly to Sarasota to visit grandma. It was expensive. It required unusual preparations. Mom insisted we wear nice clothes. Why? Because everyone wore their nice clothes on a plane.
Three brothers in plaid sports jackets so loud they’d make a 1950’s sportscaster blush. We were walking to our plane on the tarmac like
Rick in Casablanca but without the fog and without Ingrid Bergman.
Air travel was a very special occasion. There would be warm meals and drinks delivered by young women in an environment unsullied by a discussion of equal rights.
Of all the shared experiences that have changed over the years, air travel is one of the most drastic.
Today, we are enslaved by our fear to submit to long security lines. We take off our shoes. Problem solved.
When I forgot a tube of toothpaste was in my carry-on, security made me feel like I was headed for a cross examination.
Contrast that with my father’s 1950’s hunting trip to Canada. Is it ok, my father asked at check-in, if we bring our rifles in the cabin. The airline’s reaction? No problem. Just take out the firing pins.
Excuse me are those your rifles in the overhead. You just don’t hear that anymore.
Do you remember flying a few decades ago?
Your knees were not crushed against the seat in front of you.
Rarely was anyone dragged kicking and screaming and bleeding from their seat because they did not volunteer to leave.
While it is easy to blame airlines for the feeling that we are moaning livestock to be prodded into our window seats, we are partly to blame.
When the bargain basement airlines popped up and said we will fly you someplace for the price of a long cab ride, we didn’t ask about amenities or comfort or service. We said, how much?
I was once on a major airline that taxied out to the runway to wait for a break in the weather and we sat on the tarmac for five hours. I swore I would never fly again.
But I did. Because as much as we feel hurried and crushed and disrespected, we can fly to California in the same time it takes us to get to Naperville on a snowy Friday afternoon.
Why do we put up with air travel? Because it is one of life’s most overlooked modern miracles.
Because as Louis CK observed, “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky.”
Because the alternative is 3 days in a station wagon with angry children. For that you can put up with a bag of peanuts for lunch.
This is Lin’s Bin on 93XRT.
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