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When flying used to be fun

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

On one of my son’s birthdays when he was little, we flew as a family to Orlando. The boys were super excited about their first flight. It was a special day, and a special event when we boarded the plane.

My wife, Sharon, told one of the Delta flight attendants that it was Bobby’s birthday, and as we boarded, the co-pilot pulled him aside and asked him if he would want to sit in the pilot’s chair.

This was way pre-9-11, and security wasn’t what it is now. Back in those days, the cockpit door sometimes remained open, and we could see the clouds through the cockpit windows. We didn’t worry about box cutters or shoe or underwear bombs. Stuff like that never occurred to us, especially not on a flight to see Mickey Mouse.

Bobby, who turned 4 that day, was too shy to accept the birthday offer, but my older son, John, jumped in the pilot’s seat and marveled at the zillions of controls and instruments in front of him.

“What does this button do?” John asked.

“I don’t know. We’ve never tried it. Push it and see,” the co-pilot replied, demonstrating that pilots do have a good sense of humor. At least this one did.

Of course, as soon as John made a motion toward the button, Sharon and I both jumped to make sure that it did not get pushed, and the co-pilot started laughing.

That’s the atmosphere we used to have when flying the friendly blue skies. Flying to a vacation spot was as special as being there, and when it was almost over, we looked forward to flying back. It was part of the adventure.

All that has changed over the decades, as we all see on the news almost daily. Air travel is not all that special anymore. As a matter of fact, it is quite a hassle, the worst part of a trip at times.

It was to the family who got kicked off the Delta flight recently, and to the Chinese doctor who was dragged off a United Airlines plane because he would not give up his seat due to overbooking.

It also was for a friend whose plane was turned around just before reaching Houston because of bad weather, even though the storm blew through quickly. She spent another night and day trying to make it back home.

Airlines have hardened after 9-11. Tight security has a lot to do with it, but the way airlines treat their passengers is also a frame of mind, perhaps an overreaction to the very strict security measures, or maybe a lack of ability to perceive passengers as people rather than cattle.

I should not paint all airlines with a single brush. Southwest Airlines got some good publicity recently, when due to a personal emergency they had to rebook a passenger flight. They made sure everything was taken care of, and even made the woman a lunch kit for the later flight.

I love flying Southwest and book my trip with them if they fly to where I want to go. So, not all airlines are evil, definitely not Southwest.

Panam didn’t used to be either, but they went under a long time ago. Before they did, though, I took my son, John, to Europe, and we booked the trip on Panam. But things didn’t go as planned.

We had a two-hour delay in Houston because there was a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Our plane to New York had to go around it before arriving in Houston from another city.Then it took some time to board.

The pilot reassured us that he would put the plane in high gear and make up some of the time we lost, but we thought we were surely still going to miss our connecting flight to Vienna.

And that was just fine with me, because we would stay in a hotel for one night and eat on the airline’s dime. The next day I would show John around New York City. He was about to get a white tornado tour. Then we would board the flight to Vienna and sleep on the plane. Great plan.

“Don’t hurry. The flight to Vienna is long-gone,” I told John as we walked through the terminal to the departure gate so that I could pick up my free hotel and meal vouchers.

Then a distant voice started yelling from the back of the terminal. “Are you Mr. Toth? Please hurry. We’ve held the plane for you.”

“Does this mean that we won’t be staying in New York tonight?” asked a disappointed 10-year-old.

That is the way airlines used to operate, even though in this case their considerate attitude had an inadvertent backlash. BTW: The flight to Vienna arrived on time.