I view myself as a romantic for many reasons. There is the traditional definition of a romantic who likes to use gallantry in his courtship with grand gestures to which I subscribe. There is also the romantic who longs for a time long since past. It is that of which I write now while flying on a cross country early-morning flight.
I have always longed for a yesteryear of which I never participated in. A time where flight was regarded as something special and treated as such. Where formalwear was standard fair and the skies were filled with elegance and class. Images like these that were present throughout my life inspired me to take flying lessons before I could start driver’s ed.
I didn’t grow up in the golden age of flight though, instead I have been flying for so long that I don’t remember my first only the memorable experiences.
My first time traveling to Hawaii in an L10-11 that had a seat arrangement of 3-5-3 and a galley elevator for the stewardess’ with giant TV screens that tracked our path across the Pacific.
My first atlantic flight to Paris where my parents smartly had business class while the 4 kids sat in coach pulling pranks on each other.
My first flight traveling alone to visit my Dad shortly after September 11th where as a 12 year-old I sprinted along the moving walkways from terminal to terminal in DFW.
My first flight at 13 as an “unaccompanied minor” where I was babysat by a system designed for those under 10 and not a budding teenage veteran flyer.
My first time being 15 and sitting in an exit row with those precious extra inches even though I didn’t need them.
My first time in First Class from JFK to LAX that harkened back to the good-old days that inspired a love of flight so many years earlier.
I have flown roughly 200,000 miles and am only 22. I have seen the industry shift and change with increased security measures: I was flying from Denmark to JFK the morning they created the “absolutely no liquids” rule that has since been lessened. I have seen old airlines die and new ones created in their place, in-flight internet, bathrooms restricted by cabin class and everything in-between.
Throughout all of this I have seen the gradual decline from when I first was flying to now where on the flight I am on they wanted to charge me an extra $7 for a pillow and blanket that probably wouldn’t survive 5 washings, a sprig of grapes and some cheese for $8, a main cabin “Select” seat with 2 inches more room and priority boarding for $29, advertising on my tray table and seat-back pocket, being sold on the newest credit-card scam by the flight attendant, and my new personal favorite, being told to remove the unplugged headphones out of my ears or be prepared to be arrested.
We all have been there at the airport where we are treated guilty of terrorism without cause as we go through TSA security that has 100% completely failed to catch any terrorist and who has no data to show that what they do is effective at all. We get to the gate and watch two groups of priority boarding that makes sense, seniors/families and First Class, and then watch as some convoluted system of zones printed on our boarding pass that are determined by how much we paid for the ticket proceed to board int he most haphazard way possible causing a 7 o’clock flight to leave at 7:30 because the airline wouldn’t board from back to front.
Then while on the flight there are several types of people, the loud snorer, the screaming baby, the kids kicking your seats, the teenage sports team, the Tea Party attendees who want to talk about how the President is a “secret Muslim,” the business man with two laptops whirring away, the obese who spill into your seat, the lovebirds making out across the aisle, the guy who leans back into your knees, the talker, and of course the guy in the window seat who has to pee 4 times on a 2 hour flight.
In the past 15 years flying has degenerated from at least a semblance of class to a freight for moving human livestock from hub to hub with little to no care for the passengers’ rights. Are the costs of running an airline really that high that just about every airline has devolved into this system that we tolerate but that no one really loves anymore? If security was cleaned up, basic amenities restored, and people respected we could return to a time where flying was an enjoyable experience that inspired people to do great things.
Sadly I am a realist and I know that it won’t happen. We have reached an end of an era wherein we will never again have any semblance of love for flying but instead it will be viewed like the bus in the inner city. I don’t think that I or anyone else can fix it and so I’ll have to start booking my tickets with the best of the worst (Jet-Blue and Virgin IMHO), start wearing sweatpants and hoodies instead of my nicely pressed shirt and jacket, and hope that space travel comes soon enough that I get a chance to live my hopelessly romantic vision of the golden age of flight that has been lost in time.