Do you remember when airline travel was a special event?
When men and women got dressed up in their Sunday best to fly the friendly skies? When you polished your shoes and carefully packed your luggage and were served actual meals instead of tiny packages of graham crackers?
Well, I don’t either. (I’m old, but I’m not that old.)
Flying has always been painful to me, mostly because I have a deep fear (not quite crippling, but close) of getting into a giant metal tube crammed with other human bodies and rocketing into the clouds in a maneuver that upends my perception of reality. On an intellectual level, I understand it.
But on a more primal level, I don’t. Because things that aren’t birds, bats, or bugs shouldn’t be airborne.
Anyway. My husband and I took a rare flight together a couple weeks ago, to visit our son in Chicago. (The alternative would have been driving into Chicago, a prospect even more terrifying than flying.)
Pittsburgh to Chicago is a short flight, just a little over an hour. You’re up, the “fasten seat belt” sign goes off, and you dive into your complimentary beverage and micro-snack. Suddenly, you’re headed back down.
How bad can it be?
Well, you be the judge. On this trip, we experienced:
- A middle-aged man — not a toddler or even a teenager — walking around the boarding area barefoot.
- A young man arguing with a flight attendant about how many items he could carry on the plane, despite such rules being clearly marked and announced ad nauseam prior to boarding.
- People leaving trash scattered around the boarding area.
- Someone listening to music with the sound up. Not all the way up, mind you, but loud enough for it to dig into my brain like a toxic worm. (“We will, we will, ROCK YOU. Everybody!”)
- People having loud conversations on the plane. (This is one of the most mysterious behaviors of all, and I’ve noticed it lately in restaurants as well. You’ll be sitting there minding your own business, deep in thought or heaven forbid, a conversation of your own, when you hear one voice peeling loudly across your psychic plane, digging its nails into your mental chalkboard. Why do people feel the need to shout to someone who is sitting right next to them? Why do they want a dozen strangers to become well acquainted with the minutia of their lives?)
Of course, the flight wasn’t all bad. We got to Chicago safely, in record time. We were no worse for wear, and I realize this harangue is firmly rooted in the World of Very Small Problems.
But I couldn’t help but notice an empty shoeshine stand as we walked through Midway. And I felt a deep longing for another time, a time that I never even experienced.
And yes, it’s possible that people weren’t any more polite or considerate back then.
But at least they kept their shoes on.
Charlotte is a columnist for The Times. You can reach her at [email protected].