Silence was in short supply on our trip home from Orlando Wednesday night. The plane was late and overcrowded, and naturally there were lots of small children. It wasn't long until I was desperate for Tinkerbell's wand so I could whisk them all off to Never-Never Land. Sitting directly behind us were twins about 18 months old who took turns screaming for the entire two hour flight. Their three-year old sibling joined in whenever she was forced to sit in her own seat with her seat belt fastened. As if in sympathy, at least half a dozen other little ones occasionally chimed into the chorus. Even my husband's expensive noise canceling headphones weren't enough to drown out the cacophony.
I wanted to be patient and sympathetic. Before long, we'll have a little traveler of our own in the family, and one day he might be just as loud and obnoxious on a plane trip as the trio behind me was last night. But I was tired too, it was late, I had watched all the TV shows on my iPad and my eyes felt too strained to read. By the time we drove home in the cold, blustery rain, I was done in and could easily have thrown a good hissy fit of my own.
I've been flying for a long time but not long enough to have experienced airplane travel in its heyday, as depicted on the new TV show Pan Am. According to my husband, who has been flying since he was a toddler, traveling on a jet plane was once very much like the elegant, relaxing experience that show reflects. Apart from the blatant sexism and the despicable objectification of women, (which could be the subject of another post entirely) flying seemed to be a very nice experience. The stewardess' were practically beauty queens, passengers were treated like royalty, and libations flowed freely. The cabins were spacious and comfortable, and the travelers comfort and convenience was paramount.
In return, I imagine passengers held themselves to a higher standard as well. One of my friends traveled extensively with her four children back in the 1960's, and recalls that preparing for an airplane trip was something like dressing for church. "We all got new outfits for the plane ride," she said, which included jackets and ties for the boys. "People often dressed up to fly back then - it was a big occasion!"
What a change. Planes are packed to the gills with people lugging their huge carry-ons, totes, and computers aboard. They've dressed as casually and comfortably as possible so they won't set off any alarms going through security. Besides, it's miserable enough to be stuffed into a tiny seat with only six inches of leg room- who needs panty hose and neckties? Garbled announcements are repeated on the loudspeaker, urging everyone to move out of the aisle and take their seats as soon as possible so the plane can push back from the gate and be considered "on time" for departure.
No wonder children cry. I feel like crying too.
So I propose a moment of silence, to help my eardrums recover from the din last night, and in memory of the days when flying was something to celebrate.
**For travel stories with a much more positive spin, read Traveling Light, Colleen Freisen's delightful accounts of her exotic journeys. She's recently spent some time in an ashram in India, which makes my recent travel experiences simply pale in comparison.**