Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Commercial flying: changes for the better - or worse? Your call...

Where's the flight crew? Where are my peanuts?
(Photo by
I remember the first time I flew in a plane.

I was 17 at the time, and it was not a large commercial jet liner I'd climbed into. It was a Turbo Beaver, a six-seat bush plane, often used for fighting forest fires, one that took from from water, not a runway Makes sense. I was in the bush, working as a junior forest ranger in Gogama, Ontario for the summer, and as a treat, they took us up for rides in a Turbo Beaver.

It was quite a ride - even after some of us were "water-bombed" during one of the takeoffs from Lake Minisinakwa (hey, it was used for fighting fires, remember?)

To quote from my (very first "travel") journal:
"In every direction we looked, nothing met our eyes but lakes and forests. It was far out!"
Actually, that was not the first time I'd flown; it was the first time I remember flying. Apparently in moving from Ottawa to Winnipeg when I was two years old, our family flew. But, of course, I don't remember that flight.

Fast forward two years from my junior forest ranger days, and I'm climbing onto an Air Canada jet in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I've just finished my first term at the University of New Brunswick, and I was flying home to Toronto for Christmas.

That became a familiar routine over the next several years, and the pattern continued, although not as often, when I graduated and moved out west.

But flying really became part of my life when I started working as a travel writer. There's no getting around. It's part of the job.

Since then, I've pretty much seen the "best of times, and the worst of times" with respect to the different airlines and the services they offer travellers.

Some of the best airlines I've flown on include Cathay Pacific (to Thailand via Hong Kong), Eva Air (to Malaysia via Taipei) and British Airways (to Africa via London). I won't get into a list of my worst flying experiences here (that's a story for another time, perhaps); but, suffice it to say, I have experienced my share of missing luggage, broken baggage, and connection SNAFUS (I remember running through the Orly Airport in Paris trying to make a connection once - I kept waiting for the Home Alone music to start playing).

When I began flying regularly in my university days, in-flight meals were almost guaranteed for any flight longer than two hours. We all know that's not the case, these days, when you're lucky to get free pretzels or cookies. But now we also have to pay for checking baggage, for not checking baggage, to get a blanket or pillow - the things we always used to take for granted.

Mind you, we do have state-of-the-art technology to get us from Point A to Point B these days; however, I sure would have liked to experience flying in the so-called Golden Age of Flying.

Or at least, I'd like to have experienced it the way it was portrayed in movies like Back from Eternity or Five Came Back and on TV shows like Pan Am.

Economy airlines are the norm, these days. (John Geary clip)

Having experienced major muscle cramps and knots after flying economy class halfway across the Western Hemisphere, I certainly like the idea of wider seats with more leg room. And the idea of large lounges or stand-up bars in plane also appeals to me. (India's Kingfisher Airlines did have stand-up bars in some of its planes - what would you expect from an airline owned by a brewery? - but that didn't save it from bankruptcy.)

As well, I think the idea of flying on a plane with curtained berths for sleeping at night would be cool.

And back then, there was virtually no security like we have to go through today to board a plane.

I think flying in a large flying boat (think, Indiana Jones) would be a great experience to enjoy, at least once, anyway.

However, flying back then may not have been all it was cracked up to be. There is a certain romance associated with flying in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s that all nostalgia tends to stimulate - and like most nostalgia, perhaps colours the situation a bit more favourably than how it really was.
Who wouldn't be enticed to fly south
by this poster?

While paying baggage fees and having to purchase mostly bad meals may be a pain-in-the-butt, and lining up for security checkpoints is tedious and tiring, there are many things we do not have to put up with these days:

  • Smoking. It used to be common, more people smoked, and not just cigarettes - cigars and pipes were not uncommon. Welcome to the Smoky Skies. 
  • Lack of entertainment. We have music, movies, and on some airlines, singing flight attendants. Back in the day, you could write postcards. By hand. Then post them when you landed.
  • Drunks. Back in the day, booze was mostly free. Knock yourself (and many did). But boozy seat-mates are not always the best of company. (To be fair, on the Asian-based airlines I've used, it's still free. "Erica, just give me two cokes and four of those mini-bottles of rum, please!" But of course, Yours Truly is a pleasant drunk...)
  • Really expensive flights. During the Golden Age, only the really well-off could fly. 
  • Danger. While several high-profile crashes have been in the news these days, it's still much safer to fly now than it was 50 years ago, when the chance of crashing was five times greater than it is today.
The list goes on; more details are provided in a 2013 Fast Company article.

The more I think about, the more I think I'll put up with some of the negatives we have on today's commercial flights. (Either that, or finally break down and fly first class - just once! - to see how the other half lives.)

In the meantime...

Pass the pretzels, please.

No comments:

Post a Comment