If you've read my bio you know I was an airline stewardess way back when. Like most young women who flew back then, I wanted to travel and I loved people. I look back on the late sixties and realize that was most likely the heyday of the airline industry. Air travel was no longer limited to the wealthy. The military traveling in uniform and students were granted half fare. We served full meals, as graciously as possible in the short time we had. While the food wasn't gourmet fare except in first class, I ate enough of those meals to know it wasn't horrible either, even though we referred to the chicken as roadrunner. Yes, we had our share of glitches along the way, but passengers didn't go to the airport with the expectation of missed connections, lost luggage and rude treatment.
Today the major carriers are in such trouble that travel is a nightmare. My husband's brother came out to Des Moines from Connecticut to visit his father. He had to switch airports before leaving NYC. He missed his connection in Chicago. He was booked on a flight to Denver and finally arrived over six hours late. He missed meeting his new great nephew and seeing the rest of my son's family. More important the delay cost him precious hours with his 98-year-old father.
In September 2007, David and I flew to South Carolina on a regional carrier operating for a major carrier. I've never been so miserable in my life. We spent five hours crammed in tiny seats with no leg room or shoulder room. It took three changes of wheelchair pushers to reach our gate in Houston for our connecting flight. Never again.
On the other hand, last year David and I flew home from vacation with our granddaughters, ages five and two. The airline and airport personnel went out of their way to help us. The two-year-old was still on meds from being ill. Kelsie, the older child, sat with her Papa and he told her all about the monuments visible as we took off from Washington, D.C. Megan doesn't remember the trip having slept through it, but Kelsie loved flying. She'd flown before twice, but being under two both times, she had no memory of the experience.
This spring David and I have flown twice on our favorite regional airline. On the trip to EPICon, the annual EPIC conference, we drove three hours to Kansas City in order to fly into Seattle and drive down to Portland. We justified going to Seattle by spending several days there sightseeing. Why in the world would we do something like that? Comfortable seats, a foot rest and halfway decent food, purchased of course. We were delayed in Kansas City three hours because of a mechanical. They had to fly a plane in from San Diego to take us to SEA-TAC. All in all, it wasn't a bad trip, but we lost a whole afternoon of sightseeing.
In May we flew to Boston. Our flight left Omaha before six AM. Same airline, but the ground people were indifferent at best. No smiles--a complete no-no in my day. The trip itself was fine, both ways.
Our big problems on the ground were no wheelchairs on several legs. I will be glad when I get my knee replaced and can walk distances again. Our luggage was slow arriving at baggage claim when we returned to Kansas City.
Screening? We all know the hassles. I won't go there, except to say that in 2003 our captain was arrested and jailed in Omaha for making a smart-ass remark that an obnoxious TSA agent took as a threat. The flight was cancelled, an inconvenience a whole plane load of passengers resented. These days, I would much rather travel by car except for the price of gasoline and the hardship of driving with bad knees. I can pack what I want, bring home what I want in the way of shopping along the way. I'm only limited by the space in the car. I don't have to get up in the middle of the night unless we choose to do so. Not likely in our case.
What do I yearn for most about flying? Friendly, courteous personnel and the spirit of adventure top the list. I miss not being able to meet people at the gate. I miss those precious moments watching other's joyous reunions. I miss watching children with their noses pressed to glass, gazing in excitement at the aircraft taking off and landing.
Now with the cost of air travel climbing steadily, I don't expect we'll fly anywhere unless we can't avoid it. Sad for us and more sad for those with no other viable option but to fly.