A fine rant on the state of air travel today: My Wonderful Trip To South Africa That Didn’t Happen Thanks To The TSA And Delta Airlines
At this reminded me, one of the reasons I’m so incensed by George Bush, Jr. and his cronies is the way they have managed to suck out completely the romance of air travel.
I can vaguely remember the first time I flew, in a Vickers Viscount, from Canberra to Sydney (or in any event, from Canberra to somewhere). Looking at the photos now, I am struck by how small it seems.
In those days everything was simple and direct, my parents packed our luggage, it was handed over at the counter, weighed, labelled and carted off. We more or less walked along side it as we walked out of the terminal onto the tarmac, and walked up to the aircraft. The thing I remember the most is the sweet smell of burnt kerosene.
As the years went by, the airlines upgraded their hardware. First to McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and then Boeing 727s. Learning that the flight was to be on a DC-9 was always a disappointment. But in either case, going up the rear stairs was always cool.
For our first international trip, our first leg up to Hong Kong was on a Qantas 707. It seemed huge in comparison to the aircraft I’d flown on until then, but even so we were all disappointed that we didn’t get to fly on a 747. As it turned out, that wasn’t to be the next flight either, which turned out to be a DC-10. The ride on a 747 came eventually, along with a variety of Airbuses that I have trouble distinguishing. But each time there were more gadgets, more dials and buttons on the armrest. More music channels (although never anything worth listening to). More freebies and giveaways. The first time the overhead screen plotted the journey on a map of the world. The first screen on the back of the chair in front of you.
It was so sexy.
As the years went by, airport facilities were upgraded as well. There were fewer walks on the tarmac, and more direct passages via aerobridges. Metal detectors made their appearance. Visitors were slowly shunted out to the periphery of the terminal. Luggage was no longer delivered out the front, instead you had to wait in yet another lounge at the end of the trip, and wait some more for it to appear on the carousel.
And now it’s no longer fun at all. I dread having to travel by air. The time it takes to get to the airport. The time needed to check in. The fact that I cannot remove my silver bracelet, so the the metal detector goes off and I get frisked. Having to take my shoes off. Having to power up my laptop. Being careless and having to give up a pair of forgotten nail scissors or a tube of gel or toothpaste. The bargains at the duty-free shops that aren’t. Wanting to grab the suitcases as fast as possible and get out of there. Hoping to look sufficiently innocent to not be hauled over and have more time wasted by security guards looking for contraband that I wouldn’t be stupid enough to sneak through in the first place.
In many airports you can’t even see the aircraft outside, never mind a runway where you might pass some time seeing take offs and landings. That might distract you from buying litre bottles of gin and kilogram packets of Toblerone. And what I want to buy, they no longer sell. I tried to buy some film in Hong Kong’s new airport a few years ago… after trying a couple of shops someone behind the counter told me that she didn’t think anyone stocked it in the terminal any more.
Even the smell of kerosene has vanished.