Flying in 2017

Passing through security at Denver International Airport, I’m not happy about flying, not even when about to see some of my favorite people. Or, flying is like waking up in the morning … give it some time and it gets better.

I’m no Jack and Diane, but life in airports goes on, long after the thrill of flying is gone. Part of it’s TSA. Today, I’m an hour early and so I’m not concerned that they slow me down. I don’t mind the little pat down they gave my shirt-pocket snaps. The sadness arises from the entire pattern of long, dutiful lines, x-rays and fully body scanners—they smell of mortality. I’m not referring to technology safety concerns, but to the fact that these protocols arose from a death mission, a truly dramatic success from, I assume, the point of view of Bin Laden, a hijacking day that was itself politically hijacked, and one whose memory may slowly fade, buried beneath other memories of violence, but whose long lines will not shorten.

There’s more, curmudgeonly speaking. A decade or so ago, flying was more of an adventure because one might meet some interesting people either on the way to the airport or on the flight. Surely some extraverts still do. But not I. Occasionally, I lift my eyes from a communications device to see most of my neighbors’ are glued to theirs. I can imagine one of the smartest guys in the room—years ago—chatting with someone on a bus or plane and thinking, “Soon these boring talks will be over and we will have much more interesting things to do with handheld devices, such as read alternate facts or internet memes.“ And so it was.

The news, too, leaks in on these trips. Much of the news has to do with the President of the United States, even the international news. 

How does someone who, in 2016, refused—and would refuse again—to vote for either of the “top” presidential candidates feel as this news washes over him? For a lover of internet privacy and neutrality, as well as the milk of human kindness, for an opponent of America’s love affair with consumption, automobiles, and oil—it’s like standing on the beach and feeling the sand under one’s feet being pulled away. I used to think sand on the beaches was naturally permanent until I learned dump trucks were “nourishing” the beaches in San Diego with additional sand. 

On the positive side (in case anyone was doubting) … flying strikes me as a nearly perfected form of transportation in terms of safety, far safer than my earlier walk to the bus stop, crossing a few small-town streets. During our brief time on this planet, we can see people, real people with real hugs, whom we otherwise might never be able to see once our paths have parted. Add to that advantage my personal success in downsizing from one carry-on bag to none, putting a good deal of my belongings in my Marmot vest, not because the weather is cold but because the vest has pockets seemingly designed for a Kindle, a phone, and a wallet. So, I am traveling light.

Life on the plane gets better. This Frontier pilot is a match for the best Southwestern parody of the pre-flight instructions: 

Now that you’ve buckled your seat belt, we will show you how you did it… . If the pressure in the cabin drops, a mask will descend, supplying you with gin—oxygin, that is. For those already tired of these jokes, there are six exit doors to this air craft… . If Frontier Airlines becomes Frontier Cruise Lines there’s a life vest under your seat … . The fine for setting off a smoke alarm is twenty-two-hundred dollars—if you had that kind money, you’d be on an airline that gives away free drinks. Just an hour and forty minutes to Cancun. Not really—[falsetto] “Kansas city.” I am now turning off the cabin lights so you can sleep and won’t have to work.

Well done.

On landing, just before permission is granted, the cabin is abuzz with cell phones. The woman in front of me holds high her bright screen, and I don’t know if there’s a non-sequitor: “How was your mammogram? Just landed in Kansas city.” Seems abrupt. Maybe I’m still waking up.

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