by Pat Whalley

UP, UP AND AWAY, part on

Over the past forty five years I have flown a lot. I have seen the experience change from an exciting event to be looked forward to into a downright harassing experience which is nothing short of something to be endured, not enjoyed.

My first trip was from England to Seattle, a visit to my mother and her cousin, who shared a home there. I was accompanied by my four daughters, aged four, three and eighteen months old twins, also my mother-in-law, a dear lady who was my best friend.

We started our journey at Manchester airport in northern England. In those days people dressed up to fly, it was a fairly new experience for most people and they dressed for the event. Most women like ourselves, were in dresses and high heels, men were in suits and ties. Not a very comfortable way to spend a long journey in rather cramped conditions but that was 1970 and that is how we dressed.

The line up was short as there were many clerks at the check-in desks so we were dealt with fairly quickly and sent on our way, we had time for a cup of tea before going quickly through security and on to the gate. Once on the plane we were given a boiled sweet to suck on while we took off.

I remember sitting listening to the hostess describing the seatbelt, the evacuation route and the crash position and carefully reading the card showing all the features of the plane and where the exits where. Meanwhile the children had emptied the entire contents of the pockets and one of them was wearing the airsick bag on her head.

Fast forward to today’s flying experience. You know it is going to be a long day so dress in comfortable clothes, take book, snacks and some form of electrical tablet to amuse yourself. You no longer enter the airport in wide eyed wonder instead you search for your check in area, which may or may not actually have the name of the aircraft company you thought you were flying with. Because many companies share seats on planes of other companies, it can be quite a puzzle to find out where you need to be. You may have a ticket on “Air cheapo” but are actually going with Delta. Your ticket, which is now just part of an email printout, says nothing about Delta, so you wonder around looking for a counter for Air cheapo.

After looking at the departure board, you find that Air cheapo plus three other obscure airlines are all going to your destination at the same time, departing from the same gate as Delta, so you realize you are actually going with Delta and head over to the appropriate counter. Here you are expected to get a boarding pass from a machine. Not being very “up” with computers, you try to follow instructions but having put your passport into a slot in various positions and getting no luck, you seek help. An assistant with a plastic smile wanders over and tries to not look like she is dealing with a cretin, while she simply goes through the steps, gives you the necessary form and directs you to the line up that says “bag drop off”.

The line for the check-in desk winds back and forth like a snake and you shuffle along moving bags with your feet for a half hour. You spend so much time that you get friendly with another passenger who is in the line and, by the time you reach the counter you know all his history, where he is going and have made plans for coffee in two weeks time.

When the line spits you out into the desk area another person with a plastic smile directs you to a desk. I guess they assume that the whole brain-deadening experience of the bag shuffling line up has made you unable to find your own way to a desk.

Papers, passport and other various crap is presented and scanned before your luggage gets it’s (hopefully) correct tag and is thrown onto a conveyor. You are now free to enjoy a further two hours of boredom before you need to present yourself at the departure gate. Why they want you to arrive at the airport three hours before a flight is a mystery. It means that thousands of people are crowded in, all looking for their correct desk and then left to wonder around in search of coffee and a placed to sit and kill time before it is time to depart.

Frequent travellers have learned how to present themselves at security. I now wear sandals that can be slipped off quickly, a minimum layer of clothing, anything vaguely suspicious goes in my checked baggage so all I present is my purse and a travel bag with my book, an e reader, some snacks, an empty water bottle and an empty travel mug. The bottle and mug can both be filled after the security check. I have learned on previous travels that it pays to carry both hot and cold refreshment on the plane as you never know how long it will be before these items are offered.

I settle into my window seat, have nothing under my feet except my purse, my liquid refreshment is stowed away in the pocket and I have my book to get lost in. Of course, I try to look as though I am listening to the take off safety instructions and do always look which window I may have to crawl out of, but I spend most of the journey buried in my book. After a couple of hours I drift of to sleep and hopefully arrive at my destination before I get too bored.

Air travel is a necessity if modern life, to be endured rather than enjoyed but rather than fight the boredom of the day of travel, I have learned to go with the floe and pretend it isn’t happening.

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