Can we please grow out of the awkward, preteen years of commercial air travel?
So I’m sitting in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and I’m pretty pissed. Our gate says that our flight to San Francisco is on time, but the internet says otherwise. And the internet always knows best.
Only now – five minutes before we are supposed to depart – does a human representative of Virgin America finally confirm what we already knew. We’ll be lucky if we get out of here tonight. Which is unfortunate, because the quickest way to come down from a weekend high is with a flight delay. Also, I’m now going to have to find and consume something made of dark chocolate.
I know I sound like a spoiled child of the first world (which, I suppose, I am). And Virgin America is certainly a lesser evil than its indisputably evil airline counterparts. And, of course, we can’t control the weather (yet). But as I sit here, glaring at the departures board, I can’t help but feel like we’re stuck in this horrible, awkward, acne-ridden transition period for air travel, where flying commercial is no longer glamorous, but not yet convenient enough to make up for it.
Today, I had a glimpse into what flying must have been like in its earlier, sexier days. My sister and I embarked on our first ever seaplane adventure this afternoon, from Orcas Island (San Juan Islands) to Lake Union (Seattle). The stated departure time was 3:00pm, so only at 2:50pm did we motor on over to the designated dock. Our plane was 15 minutes late, but no one gave a damn. We just sat on the dock in the sun, eyes on the horizon so we wouldn’t miss the water landing.
And once the plane did make its dramatic approach, there was no jostling for position in line. There were only a dozen of us, after all, sun-soaked and giddy. And with no physical tickets or assigned seating, our “check-in” was merely a quick roll call from a wonderfully jolly pilot, and a request for a volunteer co-pilot. Which a very chivalrous (and not unattractive) dude from Los Angeles ceded to my sister. The pilot then helped each and every one of us aboard.
The plane itself was from another era. Which is to say, it was old. Old seats, old seat belts, old safety instruction cards. And an old control board, which my sister, fortunately, did not need to use, her role as copilot being more decorative than functional.
But despite the disheveled surroundings, the flight itself was incredible. And intimate. These days, when I fly, I don’t even really think about the fact that I’m, well, flying. And how ridiculously amazing that is. Sure, on a 747 you can peer through that tiny, oval window with two-inch thick glass and see some clouds and stuff. But it may as well be a screen showing a video of clouds. The experience of flying has long been abstracted from the experience of flying. If ya know what I mean.
And serious bonus: our pilot didn’t give a damn about our “electronic devices.” Meaning I didn’t even have to be sneaky about taking the pictures shown here, and uploading them from the plane. Which reaffirms my (and many others’) belief that the safety threat that our phones supposedly pose to planes during takeoff and landing is bullshit.
Anyway, this was the first flight in a really, really long time where I actually looked out the window for more than seconds at a time. I wasn’t alone: everyone was glued to his or her respective (very large) window. The descent into Seattle’s Lake Union was beautiful, and we all held our breath when the plane touched down (with barely a splash). And then our gallant pilot helped us each off the plane.
I am willing to accept that glamour and excitement and intimacy are not things we should expect from today’s commercial airlines. Honestly, they’re not even things I think we should want. Given the volume and frequency of air travel today, what we need are efficiency, predictability and convenience.
But these are not things we are getting. It can take an hour to get through security. Flights are delayed more often than not. And how is it possible that the majority of airplanes are still not equipped with Wi-Fi?? I get that there are factors – like national security – that trump my desire to spend as little time in an airport as humanly possible. I guess I’m just venting in the hope that in five/ten years, we’ll look back on this awkward, preteen period in the history of long-distance travel and laugh. Like we laugh at those horrible (still painful) middle school photos. Because the future will have its shit together.
And when we’re done laughing, we’ll teleport ourselves wherever the hell we want to go.