Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Unfriendly Skies

As we prepare for our trip to Italy next week, I am dreading all the annoying distractions that have now become a part of getting on an airplane. Flying used to be pure fun. Airlines truly competed with each other over who could provide the best service and most amenities. Meals were served on all flights, drinks were complimentary, and flight attendants (called Stewardesses when they were still young and attractive) couldn't be nicer to you. If United's "friendly skies" were not so friendly, you simply switched to American, TWA, Pan Am, Delta, Braniff, Continental or any of a dozen airlines who were happy to have your business. Now there are few airlines around, and many are newcomers like Jet Blue, who have their moment in the sun and then, like People Express Airlines, fade into the wild blue yonder.

My first flight ever came when I was 18 years old and, thanks to the U.S. Army, was reporting to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I was so excited to be boarding the Braniff airplane (remember them with the splashy colorful paint jobs) out of Idlewild Airport (later renamed JFK) and heading to the exotic state of Texas, further away from home than I had ever been. In those days there were no real terminals to speak of, we simply walked out on the tarmac and up a flight of stairs lowered for the purpose to board the aircraft. Planes flew pretty much on schedule back then; terminals were built later when flight schedules got to be a joke and people needed a place to doze and eat bad food while enduring their six-hour delayed departure.

Having never been on a plane before, I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find the cabin comfortable and bigger than I thought it would be. I was in my Army uniform, but certainly not prepared for the fuss made over me by the flight crew. Two lovely Stewardesses welcomed me aboard and asked me where I was headed. They told me they often stayed in San Antonio and that it was a fun town, very accommodating to soldiers from nearby Fort Sam. (If I was a little quicker on the uptake, I probably could have scored a phone number at that moment, but I was still a shy kid and missed the chance.) They escorted me to my seat and asked me if I'd like a drink. I asked how much and they said "free". I was beginning to enjoy flying.

Our takeoff was smooth even though this was in the pre-jet era when planes were propelled by, well, propellers. My next surprise came when lunch was served. I was unused to eating in restaurants, so any meal served to me looked delicious. True it was in those little compartmentalized airline trays made for quick heating while in the air, but I didn't care...I ate every scrap on the plate. Later, the beautiful and charming Stewardesses (God they smelled good) sashayed down the aisles cheerfully dispensing coffee, soft drinks, or hard liquor in tiny bottles. With a full stomach and a couple of beers under my belt, I dozed pleasantly to the steady drone of the plane's engines.

We touched down in San Antonio in late afternoon. As we exited the plane down the stairs to the broiling Texas tarmac, the still smiling Stewardesses bid us farewell and thanked us for flying Braniff. My first experience turned out to be a most enjoyable one for me, and for many years to come, I always looked forward to going to the airport and getting on a plane. It's different now...between the lack of competition in the airline industry, the replacement of lovely Stewardesses with cranky flight attendants, the post-9/11 security measures, the substitution of a bag of pretzels for in-flight meals...well you get the picture.

Final thought, my days in the army were mostly a lot of fun, (View "You're in the Army Now") but its surely no fun for American soldiers today stationed in scary places like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They left their families and the safety of America to fight for what our country has always stood for...freedom, democracy and human rights. As bad as the airline experience has become, I'm sure they would welcome that flight home to all they left behind. Say a prayer for their safe return.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

1 comment:

joe del broccolo said...

Those guys are fighting over there so those idiot goat lovers don't get to plant bombs on our planes!