Flying: Then and Now

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Remember when airplane travel was fun?  It sure wasn’t fun for the doctor dragged off that overbooked plane.  And, it certainly wasn’t fun for the women sitting near the guy who peed on the seat in front of him or those “exposed” to the exhibitionists masturbating for thrills.  Reports of sexual assaults on planes are way up, possibly because of increased reporting, though no regulatory body tracks reports.  And, airlines are flummoxed about what to do.  It’s not like the women can call 911!

These events made some noteworthy headlines.  But, we want to talk about incremental changes.  Safety is sometimes the reason.  But, predominantly, it’s the bottom line.  As ABBA’s song lyrics emphasize…money, money, money.

We appreciate that safety is important and the need to create the TSA after 9/11.  But, let’s be honest, it’s a pain to be at the airport two hours in advance of your flight to navigate the TSA lines and follow all the rules.

Remove your shoes, belts, jackets, jewelry, and hats.  Don’t have any liquid in your carry-on bag that’s more than 3.4 ounces.  Huh?  Oh, that jives with the European Union’s limit of 100 milliliters.  It’s the metric system, silly.  That unopened bottle of water from home won’t make it through security.  Friends can no longer meet you at the gate when you arrive.  You can lock your luggage, but only with TSA-approved locks the agency can open with a master key.  Big brother?

Don’t forget to tell a TSA rep that you’ve had a hip or knee replacement.  You can ignore TSA’s requirement that you bring a certificate or letter from your doctor.  You’ll just have to go through that special metal detector and wait for a same-sex pat-down.

Airlines hype cheap fares but forget the bennies.  We’ve been paying for checked bags since 2008.  No racks with magazines to read.  No pillows.  No blankets.  No free food.  Oh, maybe in first class.  Often no seat-back TVs.  You are expected to watch the airline’s library of movies and TV programs on your phone, tablet, or laptop.  Some planes and waiting area seating have been retrofitted with electrical plugs.  Keep your fingers crossed they are plentiful and working.

Passengers are packed in like sardines as airlines add additional seating.  Legroom?  Forget it.  In some cases, the retrofitting has caused windows to become unaligned with rows, a source of potential conflict that may require mediation if you and the person in the row sharing the window can’t agree whether the shade should be up or down.  Overbooking flights is, unfortunately, now standard and legal in order to compensate for customers who don’t show up.  No more empty middle seats.

And, wow, American Airlines is now saying it will shrink its bathrooms to 24 inches.  Airlines’ bathrooms used to be 34 inches wide on average, then dropped to 27 inches. The best stock market buy to take advantage of the aging of America may be relevant here.  Buy stock in companies making adult diapers.  One investment firm predicts a 48% increase in diaper sales by 2020.  American Airlines’ passengers of all ages may soon become part of that booming market.

The 2018 top 10 worldwide airlines were just named.  To rate high, an airline must demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort.  Hmmm…not one U.S. airline made it into the top 10.  Gee, wonder why?

Okay, we’ve been venting but there are some positives.   No more smoking on planes.  What young person would believe there once were smoking sections on planes and an ashtray built into the arm of every seat??  Many airlines automatically issue oldies a TSA pre-approved boarding pass.  Yes!!  Importantly, female flight attendants are no longer fired at age 32, or when they marry, or if they put on a few pounds.

Also, the fee some airlines charge for carry-on bags has proved to be positive.  It motivates passengers to check their bags so boarding and deplaning don’t take forever.  By the way, could we return to the logical boarding of the last seats first?  Oh, no, that approach is long dead.  We guess that’s because it gave precedence to the cheap seats’ access to limited overhead space.

So our wrinkled wisdom for today?  Book a window seat.  Scientists say that will reduce your chances of getting sick from the plane flight.  The odds of being sucked out a cracked window are pretty slim.  Oldies should feel free to board early with the people with disabilities.  Cranky doesn’t count as a disability, but they don’t ask.  Dress in layers; planes are oblivious to outside temperatures.  And, be sure to bring your portable charger.  A long flight without something to read or watch is definitely not fun.  As a backup, you might pack an actual book in your carry-on bag.  How retro!

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