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The frequent flyer’s prayer in the dark ages of travel

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe
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Lynne D. Schwabe is the director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.

Travel. In the “olden days,” it was horrible. Wagon trains, Indians, heat, dust, unpaved roads. The food was awful, too.

Fast forward to the ’50s. Oh, my gosh. There were stewardesses. They all were dressed in smart uniforms. They served free drinks and delicious food. They didn’t have tray tables. Oh, no! The stewardesses brought you dinner on a real tray, with a linen tablecloth and glass salt and pepper shakers.

Something terrible happened. Was it Bernie Madoff? The Enron scandal? The economy tanking? I don’t know, but we are again back in the dark ages of travel. I just got back from a cross-country trip, and I felt a kinship once again with the likes of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Calamity Jane.

I don’t think the people in wagon trains had to pay for every trunk or bag they brought. But, by golly, nowadays you do if you are checking your luggage. As a result, people take all of their earthly belongings with them and try to shove them into overhead bins designed to hold small backpacks filled with paperback books and Kleenex. This, of course, takes time. So if you are 60 years old when you arrive at the airport, you will be 61 by the time you fasten your seatbelt on the plane.

Do you recall when you could wear tied shoes for travel? Forget that.

I think fondly about the days when airports had restaurants. As a matter of fact, I grew up in a small town where the airport restaurant was a “hot spot,” and my parents would voluntarily go to the airport to have a nice dinner. Now, airports have two things: bars and vending machines. So travelers now can have martinis with their Combos.

I also resent those people who apparently are firmly ensconced in the 1 percent, and who fly first class or “priority business” class. This doesn’t mean they are any nicer than the rest of us, just that they fly a lot. These fine folks get to board first (and have you noticed how they all jockey for position in line 30 minutes before boarding time?), or jump line in front of the rest of us schlubs who have been standing patiently with our boarding passes. I happen to know that airline employees call these people “gate lice.” But lice or no, these 1 percent-ers still get the glass salt and pepper shakers, and they are so special the “flight attendants” (can’t call them stewardesses any more, because many of them are men over the age of 50) pull a curtain so the rest of us can’t even watch them. I bet they get hot towels, too. I miss those hot towels.

Remember “public address” systems? These were used by the people at the airport to tell you important things like, “Flight 34567 is now boarding. Everyone is welcome to get on the plane, because you have all checked your bags for free, and all you have to do is get on the plane, walk to your roomy seat and sit in it.”

Now, we have something that resembles public address systems, but everything that is said into them sounds like “welmekendwosthwoeirskmeolrnsldrnfwe.” So travelers these days are in a constant state of panic, thinking that what was just “announced” pertains to us, but we have no idea what it meant. So, all of us think we may have just missed our flight, our gate may have changed or we may have left something valuable at the security checkpoint. But no one knows for sure. On my last flight, the attendant dropped endings off words. So, we had to keep our bags “stow,” our seat belts “fasten” and be careful because our stuff may have “shift” during flight. It reminded me of a terrific gate attendant in D.C. long ago, who sent flyers off with a cheerful, “Remember, U.S. Air begins ‘wif’ you.” It always made me grin.

One very honest airline employee recently confided, “We really are doing everything we can to make flying as horrible as possible.” He went on to explain that in the interests of saving money, the airlines are losing touch with their customers. Forget frequent flyer programs; they give you nothing these days. And frequent flyer miles? They won’t do you any good because there are so many fewer flights these days that there won’t be seats on airplanes anywhere you want to go. Unless, you want to go to Des Moines.

Oh, yes. Once actually on the plane, we all have to get very cozy, because the seats no longer have room for our legs. Because we have to “put your purses and other portables” under the seats in front of us, and because the seats in front of us are actually pressing against our foreheads, we are jammed in like sardines. However, if you want more leg room, and I am not talking here about “roomy,” I am talking about 2 inches of extra room that may mean your knees aren’t crammed against the back of the seat in front of you, you can pay $39 extra for the luxury. And then the airline will change equipment, and the roomier seat you paid for no longer exists, and the airline won’t refund the money you paid to sit in an “economy plus” seat. Trust me. I travel a lot and I’ve experienced all of this, times 10!

I always pray on planes. Not that I will arrive at my destination safely. I pray that I will be seated next to a skinny person.