Do you remember the days when you actually looked forward to traveling? The sense of adventure, the excitement about the new experiences awaiting you? Traveling by car or train might not have been all that thrilling, but traveling on an airplane was the height of wonder. You were greeted by stewardesses in classy uniforms, sometimes even by the pilot. You couldn’t get over the wonder of soaring above the clouds in a vehicle that seemed much too big and heavy to stay airborne, but there was so much to keep you occupied, that question stayed way back in your mind. There were movies to watch, music to listen to, food (albeit, usually pretty awful food) to consume.
I know I’m writing this through fairly strong rose-colored glasses, but I remember roomy seats, being able to stroll up and down the aisles with little problem, and civilized behavior by both passengers and crew.
Civility and amenities started eroding slowly enough that their loss wasn’t immediately noticed. Seat sizes began to shrink as well as the availability of snacks, entertainment, and services that were still free. Aside from the now-expected checked-baggage fees, there are also fees for seat location, even advance seat selection, talking to a human being when making reservations, and on my most recent flight, fees for even that little bag of pretzels or cookies! Depending on the length of the flight, the menu (!) indicated which snack options would be available, with that little bag of cookies or pretzels starting at approximately $4! Seriously!
And, of course, I understand the need for security, but I was somewhat puzzled when, on the first leg of my flight, after going through the full-body scan – “wave your hands in the air like you don’t care” – I was asked to show the agent my right arm. I got no explanation what he was looking for, but I was relieved not to get the full body pat-down that my husband received! On the way home, I was told I was going to get a full-body pat-down (random selection), but there was no female agent available, so instead my hands were swabbed with some unknown substance, I got the all-clear, and I was allowed to proceed with the next leg of my flight. My husband did not have any problem this time, and I realized I will no longer go ahead of him after this.
OK, now comes the fun part. Due to insanely high ticket prices for direct flights, we had to make connecting flights in the midst of major thunderstorms up and down the East Coast. Thunderstorms that have formed on pretty much a daily basis since spring ended and that are causing very serious consideration of taking an ark-building course. So, while we had high hopes of our flight actually leaving on time since we boarded and left the gate right on schedule, the captain then announced that he had thought we’d make it out on time, but just got the word that the Charlotte airport was closed and we’d have to wait on the ground – on the plane – until further notice. Luckily, all systems were on, including the air-conditioning. Not so luckily, but certainly predictably, I was sitting next to the only shrieking baby on the plane. Believe me, I have tons of sympathy for the parents of shrieking babies – I lived through this phase of parental torture myself, many times. It’s just that it didn’t help my quickly-developing migraine, or my blood-pressure level, that’s all. Surprisingly, we were only on the ground for an hour and then we took off for Charlotte. Since we were originally scheduled to have a 2-hour layover, we expected to make our connecting flight home.
So, we arrived in Charlotte, made our way to our gate which is in a corner of the airport where several gates usually are reserved for quick hops to various destinations in South Carolina, therefore you’re put on a vehicle the size of a can of peas. No room for carry-on luggage, or even food on these planes. So there were people for all different flights sitting around us in this little corner of South Carolina. Even though there was an LCD display at the check-in area that our flight was leaving on time, when it was 5 minutes before our flight and we still hadn’t boarded, we started getting a bit concerned. Finally, an announcement was made. You might think we were told that due to the weather our plane was delayed coming in from somewhere else. That’s what I expected. But that wasn’t it. No, we were told that our flight wouldn’t be leaving on time because… they couldn’t find the crew! WHAT? Yes, that’s what they told us. For pretty much the next 45 minutes. And they got very annoyed when any of us dared to question them about how this was possible! So we all began speculating that perhaps the crew had to get bailed out, as the day before had been a holiday. Or maybe they overslept. You get the picture. We all got very chummy, sitting there at the gate.
But then things got even better. Because one gate to our left was a plane heading to Virginia. And then there was an announcement. I guess the young lady making the announcement was trying to lighten the mood. So when she announced that this particular flight had a broken “lav,” she didn’t leave it at that. She then advised people that if they needed to go “Number One or Number Two” they should plan to do that “now” since they would be unable to do so on the plane, due to the nonfunctioning “lav.” The man next to us was on that flight. He looked at us in disbelief. My husband advised him to hold onto the soda bottle he had been drinking from, in case of emergency. What could we do but laugh? We were still waiting for the ghost crew; he was wondering if things might actually come down to him needing that soda bottle for something he hadn’t even dreamed of when purchasing his drink.
Eventually, we all took off, our pilot, flight attendant, and I presume there was a co-pilot (my husband insisted there had to be one, but I honestly never saw this person), showed up and we did make it home. Just before the next deluge.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved