Mental Gridlock


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What’s the deal with air travel these days?

Way back when I was a wee lad, everyone loved to fly. There was an ineffable romance to the art of air travel. All of it. Airlines, airports, airplanes, and SkyMall. Pilots exuded an unrivaled combination of authority and sex appeal. Stewardesses – sorry, flight attendants – had clout and appeal equivalent to Hollywood Starlets. Airports were shrines to mankind’s triumph over its oldest foe: gravity. Even popular culture, with its non-existent attention span, made transit via airborne tin can comical, if not heroic and sexy. This was a mythical time when those cheap little pilot wings carried more weight in juvenile sewing circles than all of the Pound Puppies and Pokémon in existence.

I was THAT kid –albeit with a notoriously weak stomach. You know the one I speak of.  I was that jittery, curious would-be-adventurer who had to look out of the window at all times. I absolutely had to see the world through the eyes of a falcon. And then look down upon even the pinnacle of predators. To see the world as though it were comprised of miniatures was simultaneously calming and fascinating. Under the protection of the noble knights of Delta, I surveyed all and was intimidated by none. The world was in the palm of my pre-adolescent hand, replete with honey-roasted peanuts and a miniature can of Canada’s finest dry ginger ale.

But as they irritatingly have the tendency to do so, the times, they change. Airports have lost their sheen. Most of them have decayed into musty A-frame hangers, or at best, been reformed into austere surgeon’s lairs. Sailing the sky above has become routine. People have fallen out of love with air travel, much like they did with trains, radio, and the compact disc. No one is excited because they get to fly. They are anxious because they HAVE to fly. Blame it on novelty wearing off, budget cuts, LOST, or echoes of September 11th, but flying commercially no longer elicits the kind of glee it once did. People no longer revere pilots or flight attendants, they tolerate them.

To make matters worse, every passenger now has the fortune of being verbally accosted and interrogated prior to even entering the terminal thanks to the fine folks at the TSA. Look, I respect what you do tremendously Mr. TSA Man, but fundamentally air travel is a service. Try to be nice and respectful about it. Do your job with panache. Your intimidation tactics do nothing but fuel the cycle of anxiety and rudeness that commercial air travel has become. You are the gateway, and no one is going to be pleasant after security’s current business-as-usual attitude.

Honestly though, this bad juju starts with the passengers. It’s undeniable that an agent feeling up your great aunt is an asshole. But he’s an anomaly. Most workers in the airline industry are grumpy only because they have to cater to 500 variations of you daily.  So let’s lighten up, guys. Crack wise. Take a Xanax. Pound a buttery nipple or two. Let’s recognize that everyone involved in getting you from Flint to Beijing in under a day are there to make sure you are magically transported there in a soda can filled with at 53 crying children all the while maintaining a fake smile worthy of an induction into the Guinness Book of Records.

Maybe we’ll never again make torrid, imaginary love with Don Draper’s winged doppelganger the night before a flight. Perhaps that Hindenburg has gone down in flames. But let’s be civil and nice. Treat aviation junkies how we wish to be treated. Maybe then they’ll stop yelling and start smiling for genuine reasons. Then pilots will regain their wings in the eyes of the next 6-year old would-be-adventurer rather than being projectile vomited at. Flight attendants will then be able to enjoy a beer with you at the bar. Not on the plane because of your incessant frown. Heck, you might even surprise yourself and rekindle that dormant love affair you locked up with your inner child 15,000 air miles ago.

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