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Flying ain’t what it used to be

By Merrill Ogden - | Jun 29, 2022

I’ve heard a lot of talk and seen quite a bit of news lately about the airline industry. It hasn’t been good news.

Last weekend, in the USA, there were 634 flight cancellations on Saturday. On Sunday evening, there were at least 730 canceled flights. That may not be a big percentage of all the scheduled flights, but if you’re one of the passengers on a canceled flight, it makes for a bad day.

I’ve been on two trips this year involving six flights, including connecting flights. Flying to Oaxaca, Mexico in February worked out all right.

Flying to Syracuse, New York, earlier this month, involved multiple delays, missed connections, a long day in the Newark, New Jersey, airport, and the stern threat of the cancellation of a flight, if all passengers didn’t board a plane and get seated in a very quick hurry. The flight crew was under a “ticking time bomb” deadline in order to be in compliance with “rest regulations.” We made it, but people were a little grumpy.

The first time I flew in an airplane was when I was a young boy. It was a small, four-seat private plane and we took off from the Richfield airport for two or three loops up around the town.

They were giving plane rides that Saturday for a penny a pound. I don’t remember how old I was; but it cost me nearly fifty cents for my ride.

It was better than any carnival ride I’d ever been on. And at that stage of life, I loved carnival rides – especially the Rock-o-Planes. Being up in that plane and seeing the farm ground down below like a patchwork quilt was thrilling for me.

The next time I remember flying; I probably weighed in at about 135 pounds. It was 1971 and I was winging my way across the country to JFK airport in New York. From there, it was on to Oslo, Norway via Copenhagen, Denmark, where I had been assigned as a missionary.

In those days, we didn’t board airplanes using jetways like we do now. We walked out across the tarmac and climbed stairs to the door of the plane.

Wide body, “jumbo jets” were a new thing at that time. When my traveling companions and I looked at that Scandinavian Airlines Boeing 747, we had mixed feelings. Mostly we were in awe; but we were also a little nervous. How was that “flying barn” going to get off the ground? – let alone make it across the Atlantic Ocean.

The first Boeing 747 was introduced in 1969. It was 231 feet long and had a span of over 195 feet. The tail was as tall as a six-story building. The plane accommodated 33 attendants and 374 to 490 passengers, depending on the configuration.

That airplane weighed 735,000 pounds and cruised at 640 miles per hour. Boeing made aviation history by building the 747 in about 16 months. It took 50,000 people to do it.

The stewardesses, as we called them then, treated us like royalty. As a 19-year-old kid, I wasn’t used to being called “sir” and given so much respect. (Unless someone was being sarcastic)

Since that time, I haven’t traveled by air nearly as much as many people (My wife for one). But in those years since my first trans-Atlantic flight, I’ve had a fair amount of experience.

I have my share of stories which include among others: flying into West Berlin, Germany, before “the wall” came down; being regurgitated upon while on a plane; flying during the days immediately after 9/11; multiple times of experiencing a plane full of passengers applaud the pilot’s landing during extremely turbulent conditions (we were all grateful to be alive); and perhaps the most traumatic event of all: staying up all night long from Frankfurt, Germany to New York, listening to an attorney seated next to me, carry on about his less than happy marriage and life.

Our return trip from the East was on Spirit Airlines. The day after I booked the flight, I saw on TV that many consider Spirit as the worst airline of all. I was worried, but they actually turned out to be pretty darn good.

They, similar to Southwest Airlines, have a casual and jaunty philosophy of how they sometimes deal with their passengers. I do like some of their humor on those airlines. “In the unlikely event of a water landing, there will be no additional charge for the cruise portion of the trip.” “Please return you seat to its full, upright and most uncomfortable position.” “And remember, if you marry one of us, you get to fly for free!”

Yes, flying ain’t what it used to be. And as for me, I’m going to have to decide if the hassle of flying these days is worth it. I seems like it’s a roll of the dice with every trip when I listen to the experiences of others. It’s tempting to just stay closer to home for a while.

On the other hand, I guess I have to realize that it’s 2022. We are just getting over the pandemic weirdness. (And yes, I do understand that COVID is still with us.)

I might just need to loosen up. I could be taking this flying thing way too seriously. Maybe I need to get used to being part of the “cattle herd” being rushed into a big “flying cigar” where there’s never an empty seat. It’s never going to be 1971 again. But I can dream, can’t I? — Merrill


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