Taking to the skies

An Eastern Airlines’ sleek Constellation provided my very first ride on a commercial flight in 1957, taking me from my Baltimore home to Miami, in which environment I was to dwell for the next 20 years. In the 63 years since that propeller-powered first flight, I have strapped myself into countless steel cylinders, happily flying to and from airports across the globe, including multiple visits to Europe and one adventure to Russia’s third-largest city, Ekaterinburg.

Despite all of that experience, I approached a short airborne hop from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta this past weekend with a tad of trepidation. Several years had elapsed since my latest plane trip, and I didn’t feel confident that I could navigate the modern electronic check-in process.

No worries, our daughter, Katie, assured me. “I can check you in on my computer the day before your flight. We can print your boarding pass, and you can go straight to the TSA stations to be screened.” She was right. Even with my two artificial hips, I made my way through the screening with ease. I boarded my flight like a veteran and took my seat (middle seat of a three-seat row, next-to-last row in the rear of the aircraft, a large Airbus).

For the return trip, our son-in-law, Chris, also was able to check me in in advance on his laptop, and the screening process was smooth and easy. I had a window seat on an otherwise empty row this time. Great!

As a retired journalist, I tend to notice details, particularly the behavior of others when they aren’t in control of their environments. From the fresh eyes of one who hadn’t flown in a while, here are a few observations.

On crowded flights, people seem to fall into two broad categories. They either are polite and considerate of strangers, or they behave as if they are the center of the universe and their needs take priority over those of others who share the cramped space with them. This is particularly true when it comes to competition for space in the overhead bin.

Flying used to be fun, a pleasant experience. No more. Now it’s an ordeal, and that affects the way we behave.

When the plane is less crowded, more people fall in the polite, considerate category. Stands to reason. But this next observation applies to all of them. Everyone has a phone, and no one reads a book while flying. Well, almost no one. Checking out every row on the overbooked 200-seat Airbus would have been a challenge, so there might have been a book reader or two in First Class, to be fair. There were none in the smaller aircraft on my return flight. Just one. Me.

The next time I fly, I will approach checking in with more confidence. Mastering the touch-screen kiosk at an airport restaurant is another matter. It insisted that I order a drink, then wouldn’t let me do it. I ate my veggie burger dry. It cost me 10 bucks and change.



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