FLY THE… FRIENDLY? SKIES
My first airplane ride at age 15 was when my mother flew me and my best friend to New York City. We lived in Boston, so that was about like flying from Kansas City to St. Louis—you’re barely up in the air long enough to feel air sick. A few years later I became a regular on the Boston to St. Louis flights during my college years. That’s what I consider the “golden age” of airplane flights and service. I bet you remember some of these catch phrases: “Fly the Friendly Skies of United” (United Airlines) or, “Dedicated to the Belief That Flying Should be Something Special in the Air” (American Airlines) or the accurate description, back in the day, of “Leading the Way” (TWA).
Those were the days when you could smoke on the airplanes, use vouchers for free alcoholic beverages before your three-course dinner served on china, and then be offered a pillow and soft blanket for a post-meal nap. The women who served up these delights were called ‘stewardesses’ and they all looked like models. There was a height requirement in those days and being easy on the eyes was definitely an asset. And who could forget the Braniff hot pants and go-go boots phase of stewardess fashion in the 1970s? By the 1980s, men were accepted to work as stewards, and then the term “Flight Attendant” was introduced. This was partly an effort to make clear these airline representatives did more than serve you; they were trained to safely attend to you and be prepared to handle emergency situations on board during the flight.
Beginning in the 1980s we started losing passenger perks. They banned smoking on flights (not a problem for me), then came limits on carry-on baggage and squeezing in extra rows of seats. You could still recline your seat those precious three inches, but then they took away the pillows and blankets, so it was hardly worth reclining at all. I swear they made the tiny bathrooms even smaller sometime in the 1990s and then the airlines decided they should charge for luggage over 40 pounds. Hubby used to travel a lot for business and always preferred the no frills option of Southwest Airlines. They used to have the best “on-time” record and most entertaining crews. The biggest change in the airline industry, thanks to terrorism, are the TSA security checks, luggage x-rays and body scans. The long, winding lines of passengers trying to unpack their laptop computers, remove shoes and belts and dig out their photo I.D.s is the norm now. When our son was in college in the mid to late ‘90s, he was chronically late in getting himself to the Midway airport in Chicago to fly home during his vacations. He would literally hop off the train or jump out of a cab minutes before he had to board; these days you better plan to arrive at least an hour and a half before your flight.
This spring has brought us the most bizarre news reports of passengers being mistreated either by security, the flight attendants, or each other! The sight of that Doctor being yanked from his window seat, shoved to the floor, then dragged off the plane was truly shocking! Then we heard about the unusually nasty flight attendant who, for some reason, was really enraged about a young mother’s stroller and yanked it off the plane, nearly injuring the toddler in the process. And on May 9, actual fist fights broke out at the Spirit Airlines ticket counter in Ft. Lauderdale when flights were cancelled. Geez, people—take a chill pill! Just recently, American Airlines announced they were yet again reducing the leg room in certain flights so they can add another row or two. They are determined to overbook their flights with extremely disgruntled passengers. I can’t help but wonder—was there extra leg room? Have they seen us? Most of us are not petite or svelte. The average American boarding an airplane can barely walk down the aisle straight forward; we need to turn a bit so we don’t bump someone’s shoulder as we pass by. If you want any perks at all, you pay for it, like for wi-fi or early boarding.
In comparison, I have wonderful memories of the short-lived Midwest Airlines that I used when visiting my family in Boston. Every row had only two, roomy seats on each side and plenty of leg room. They would still serve a real meal—not the snack packs you buy now for flights over two hours long. Best of all, they always had freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to hand out near the end of the flight. Man, that was the best smelling airplane ever—talk about something special in the air!
Here’s the interesting thing about all those horrible airplane incidents: according to a recent report on ABC news, the passenger satisfaction ratings are higher than ever. Despite being cramped and sometimes having to deal with a grouchy flight attendant or long lines at security check-in, there are fewer cases of lost luggage, and most of the major airlines have improved “on time” records for both arrivals and departures. Now if they could just work on that “friendly skies” issue...