On a recent cross-country flight, a 3-hour delay gave me the opportunity to consider America’s long love-affair with air travel. Read on – and don’t forget to share your thoughts on air travel in the comments section!
My flight, like most, started in what I affectionately call, the travel corral, being shuffled through security and various sundry checkpoints pulling on and off clothes with the efficiency and purpose of a visit to a department store dressing room. From there, a greasy breakfast and the long flight ahead made me think twice about a second cup of coffee. Then the garbled announcement – “boarding now at gate 42, priority passengers only.” It would be a while. Next stop, seat 32A… my mind wandered.
In the 1950s, when Americans first began flying en masse, our love with air travel was new. A trip on a plane was a big deal – a blind date. Donning suits and skirts, we dressed to impress. And upon its first approach, it was clear, the aluminum bullet of a plane was something to behold. Quite a looker. We struggled to suppress the jitters at the excitement of meeting our new paramour, sleek and stylish. We socialized politely with our new companion over dinner at 30,000 feet. And when it was time to depart, we bid farewell with smiles and anticipation for our next encounter…
Arriving at row 32, I found the guy I was to share the next five hours with slouched between me and my seat. He shot me a look, cradled his iPad, and while nudging his ear buds in tight, quickly assumed ownership of the armrest between our chairs. I squeezed past him and fell into what would be my new digs for the next five hours. Ahhh, the window seat. The holy grail of economy class air travel. I nestled in and gazed out the window to watch the bustle of the baggage handlers down below.
Later on, in the 1980s and 90s, we found our relationship with air travel, like so many other relationships do, had lost its novelty. The handsome new companion that had been so impressive now felt a little too plain, too familiar. Instead of a suit or a skirt for traveling, a pair of comfortable jeans seemed fine. And jitters? Please.
The wing dipped now. A bubble of turbulence sent my stomach into my throat. I cracked into my little bag of peanuts. Better than nothing. The captain advised it was now safe to turn on our electronic devices. The guy next to me did a drum solo on the headrest in front of him. There was one huge, collective sigh of relief across the cabin as everyone over the age of 8 reached for their digital essentials at once.
And it occurred to me that now in 2012, our relationship with air travel has, well, “matured.” Instead of starry eyes, we meet our old love with a sneer and a grunt. The thrill is gone. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the fantasy that was flight, and now see only its flaws. And like any longtime companion, we tend to take it for granted.
(The guy next to me passed out on his food tray. Dead iPad, no doubt.)
But still, we continue to fly. According to a recent survey conducted by TripAdvisor, more than ever, people are using planes to get to where they want to go for both business and leisure. And with airlines rolling out new fees for everything from seat selection to carry-ons, some are surprised that travelers continue to book their travel via air. A recent Travel Guard poll revealed, when planning their travel, 62% of travelers are planning to fly. And according to the travel group, AAA, 3.2 million travelers will fly to their destinations over the holiday period, up 9 percent from a year ago†.
Why? I think I know. For millennia, the idea of flight was just a dream – unattainable, but fun to think about. But since the first recorded manned flight in 1783‡, flying has meant freedom. And even today, air travel is more than just another mode of transportation. It opens the world to us. Grants us our dreams. Through the power of flight, virtually anyone, anywhere, from any walk of life can, within hours, be taken to places their grandparents never even heard of. With flight, we unleash possibilities and we discover the mystery of what’s waiting, on the other side.
And as air travel continues to become more and more commonplace, the power of flight will keep us coming back to renew our vows. After all this time, air travel is the one love we just can’t quit.