Flying doesn’t particularly bother me, but I am amazed at how mundane flying has become. People do it every day without giving it much thought. But let’s face it, when you climb aboard a modern airplane, you are putting your trust in people you don’t know, to fly a contraption you don’t really understand, to take you to a destination it took our great-grandparents months of arduous travel to get to. You are essentially sitting in an overcrowded metal cigar tube that is hurtling through the sky breaking all the rules of gravity.
There is something in modern flight that brings out the inner school child in grown adults. The airline requires everyone to file on the plane in a single file. We are expected to take our seats, fasten our seat belts, and wait until everyone is seated. Once everyone is in their seats, we are all expected to stay quiet and pay attention while the attendants drone on, giving us our instructions.
We are expected to treat all instructions, no matter how pertinent to the flight, with the same solemnity as listening to a sermon in church. My favorite instruction when flying, is how to use our seat cushions as flotation devices. I’m sure that might be useful when flying over water, but I don’t imagine there would be much floating in a crash that occurs on the prairies or in the mountains.
I recently flew from my home in Kansas City to visit family in San Jose. My flight to California was an early morning flight, so due to a plethora of reasons, I only got three hours of sleep the night before my trip. At one point during the first leg of my flight, in my exhausted daze I wandered from one end of the plane to the other, trying to find an open bathroom. When I finally landed on the front one, the male attendant rather snottily pointed out to me that the bathroom in the back had been available. He was markedly disinterested in my explanation that I was so tired I couldn’t really see straight, much less comprehend if a bathroom was locked or not.
After using the apparently wrong bathroom, I turned and faced the plane. The front 10 rows of the plane had a lot of open seating spaces, but once you hit the 11th or 12th row, people were crammed in elbow to asshole. You see, on Delta, you pay to select your seat and the open seats were all in the more expensive real estate of the plane. Every time I’ve flown before on a smaller plane with lots of open spaces, the attendants invite people to move around and space themselves out. Not on this flight. No sir-ree bob! In today’s world of pay to fly, they were not going to do anything to give away something free, even if it was open space on a plane.
My favorite part of each flight is to watch all of the passengers passively sitting in their seats while the attendants celebrate the liturgy of the flight by handing out bad snack food like communion wafers. Never mind that no one really wants those snacks, or that the portions are frustratingly small if you’re actually hungry, or that eating off the tray on the seat in front of you is awkward; we still all wait patiently for our food to be handed to us. I always visualize baby birds sitting there, with their mouths wide open, waiting for the mother bird to toss food down their throats.
The good news on this flight was the lovely young couple across the aisle from me, who I am guessing from their behavior, were recently married. The young woman who was in the aisle seat was extremely friendly and would tap my arm and make wry observations whenever she saw something interesting taking place on the flight. I usually feel a little put upon when strangers try to engage me in conversation when traveling, but this woman was so engaging and funny, that she made me, and everyone else in the vicinity, feel really comfortable interacting with her. She was truly a gift on this long travel day.
My layover was in Los Angeles and I was fortunate that my loading gate was directly across the aisle from the exit gate of the first flight. While I waited to board the second flight, I noticed a huge difference in how people in LA dressed to fly. In KC, everyone was pretty casual, wearing jeans or other comfortable clothing. In LA they kicked it up about a hundred notches. The clothes were much dressier and the makeup was much more enthusiastically applied. I know there are those who mourn the days of getting dressed up to fly, but on this trip my fatigued body could either look good or function, it couldn’t do both.
The second leg of my flight was relatively uneventful. I was grateful for a plethora of pleasant scenery, both on the plane and out the window. No one on the flight paid the slightest attention to the disheveled older woman sitting in the back of the plane, but in the words of a wise woman I know, I really appreciated the work that was put into my view.
Eventually, my journey ended and I arrived in San Jose. I spent a week with family relaxing and moving at a decidedly leisurely pace. After a week I returned home. Both legs of that flight were uneventful, probably due to the fact that I was traveling in the evening instead of the early morning.
As I was straggling off the plane on the final flight, one of the flight attendants caught my attention. She was standing at the door, reciting the mantra of all attendants through the ages: “Thank you for flying. Good-night. Buh-bye.” As she repeated the magical phrase over and over again, I couldn’t help giggling.