The Editor’s Desk: The joy (?) of flying

Air travel was once glamorous and enjoyable. What happened?

The first time I travelled on a plane was the summer of 1969, when I was five years old. Although I have little memory of the event, it must have been not long after the Apollo 11 moon landing, because I am informed by my mother that as I boarded the plane, I asked the pilot when we would be blasting off, thus proving that a) even at that young age I was interested in the news and b) I did not know much about how airplanes operated.

My most recent flight was three weeks ago, travelling from Kamloops to Quebec City and back again. I therefore have half-a-century of flying under my belt, and remember flights where the glamour of air travel was still present: passengers dressed up, meals were included in the ticket price (and served on real china with real cutlery), pillows, blankets, headphones, and even toiletries were readily available, and flight attendants would pass out candies for passengers to suck on during take-off and landing to help alleviate the effects of changing air pressure.

Many of these things are still available, of course, but long gone are the days when they were handed out for free. Almost everything attached to flying now has a separate price tag attached, even after one has paid for a ticket, from selecting a seat to checking a bag. I almost expected, during the safety presentation, to hear “In the event of sudden cabin de-pressurization, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. If this happens, please swipe a credit card (debit not accepted) in the slot on your armrest; oxygen flow will commence when payment has been authorized.”

The safety presentations on Air Canada were all given by flight attendants miming along to a prerecorded message, unlike on some airlines, which now present catchy safety films in an attempt to persuade passengers to actually pay attention (British Airways has recently done one where a variety of celebrities audition for a supremely clueless director, who at one point mistakes Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman for the tea lady). Watching six different safety presentations during the course of my recent travels made me feel sorry for the flight attendants, who must be supremely aware that barely anyone is listening.

Dressing up to go on a plane? Well, that ship has well and truly sailed. I know that many people bemoan this fact, but I honestly can’t blame passengers who dress for comfort rather than style on a plane trip, given the crowded conditions, narrow seats, and lack of leg room, a situation made worse if the person in front reclines their seat. Almost as soon as we boarded the plane bound from Toronto to Vancouver the man ahead of me put his seat back, and when it became apparent this was going to last for the duration of the flight I briefly considered climbing over the seat and throttling him, but thought better of the idea.

Our flight to Vancouver had been delayed, and as we began our descent passengers were informed that those going on to Prince George and Kamloops had very tight connections; could anyone not going to those destinations please remain in their seats when we were at the gate, and let others disembark first? So of course that’s precisely what happened.

Ha ha ha! Just kidding. As soon as the plane stopped, every single passenger stood up to get off, then remained standing for an awkward 10 minutes or so when there were difficulties with the bridge leading to the terminal and we couldn’t go anywhere. As for the people who persist in bringing aboard “carry-on” bags the size of steamer trunks, then get stroppy when there’s no room in the overhead bin: there is a circle of Hell reserved for them.

The glamour of air travel has disappeared for the vast majority of passengers; I’m glad I got a small taste of it before it vanished. And all these years later, I’m secretly still a bit sorry that planes don’t blast off.

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