Kent Bernhardt: The Friendly Skies
Does anyone really enjoy the experience of air travel?
Surely, there must be a few people left who find airports and airplanes to be fascinating, but I’m not one of them.
I don’t fly that much, so I probably have no right to rail against the airline industry. And to be honest, most of the problems I experience are a result of my total inexperience with the process of flying, not the fault of professionals who deal with air travel novices like me every day.
I just completed a lovely trip to Utah to visit my daughter who lives and works in Zion National Park. If you’ve been there, you know that southern Utah is a place of breathtaking beauty. I’d show you pictures, but a camera simply can’t capture the majesty and depth of the landscape there.
Part of my journey involved a round trip airplane ticket to Las Vegas. I purchased my tickets well in advance to save a bundle, and we all know how expensive it is to fly across the country. I once bought a car for less than I paid to fly out there.
I should tell you up front that I don’t like flying; the arriving, the taking off, the landing – none of it appeals to me. My whole body tenses as soon as I get within a mile of the airport in anticipation of the grueling regimen I’m about to face. It’s a bit like a root canal, but without the glamour.
The process of checking bags seems to change every time I fly, so I’ve learned that it’s best just to ask someone what to do. I had the feeling the person helping me through that process was talking down to me, but in an airport, you have to talk down to me. Come to think of it, you have to talk down to me in a lot of areas of life.
Next, it’s the security check. Here’s where I really fumble the ball.
I miss the old days when airports didn’t automatically assume you’re a member of ISIS. I understand that it’s the troubled times in which we live and we have to do what we can to protect all travelers, but I’ve always harbored the feeling that the people in life who want to kill us will always find a way, so taking my shoes off and raising my arms in that scanner probably won’t help.
The part of the security process I hate most is emptying my pockets in those little trays. I always seem to have keys, receipts, and reading glasses flying everywhere. In fact, on the return trip home, I lost my reading glasses at the security check. I hope someone is enjoying them.
Boarding the actual plane is interesting too. They place you in zones. Zone one is usually the people in first class who paid a lot more for their ticket than I did, and they get to board first. They’re usually enjoying their second Bloody Mary before I climb aboard.
I’m usually in zone four, which is only one step above cattle.
Once crammed neatly in my seat, I prepare myself for takeoff. That usually involves a short prayer; something like:
“Lord, please protect me while I’m in this miracle of modern aviation being hurled through the atmosphere at speeds and heights I was probably never meant to experience.
I thank you for the airline professionals guiding the plane, and I pray for their continued sobriety. I thank you for the stewards and stewardesses who in a few moments will offer me a tiny can of Pringles for four dollars that cost the airline a quarter.
Protect me from the need to use the bathroom, but should the need arise, protect me from the effect of hitting a sudden air pocket while in there.
And if it be your will, please reunite me with my luggage upon arrival. Amen.”
Takeoffs are not my favorite. On the trip out of Vegas, the plane shuddered a little while leaving the ground. I quickly searched my memory to recall if I’d ever felt that before. I hadn’t. It was probably nothing, but that’s never stopped a professional worrier like me.
The flight itself is usually a breeze, so the only other fretting I do is during the landing. And I tell you honestly that the moment that plane comes to a full stop at the terminal is usually the happiest moment of my trip.
I realize many of you are seasoned veterans of air travel, so my tensions and fears seem trivial to you. And I’m well aware that air travel, statistically speaking, is still the safest form of travel on earth.
Deep in my heart, I’m grateful to Orville and Wilbur for introducing the world to this amazing form of transportation.
But forgive me if I maintain my healthy respect for the phrase “What goes up must come down.” The only question is how fast.
By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt Rowan Public Library As part of the Adult Summer Reading program and ongoing Book Bites, Rowan... read more