Traverse City Record-Eagle

Columns

September 16, 2012

Ed Hungness: Not-so-friendly skies

Throughout the summer I have been following with interest as my sister and brother-in-law made plans for a post-Labor Day driving adventure. They wanted to see the country the old-fashioned way; behind the wheel of their automobile. What a novel idea! When I hear of someone's upcoming vacation plans, they're often focused on the dreaded hassle of reaching their paradise destination via air travel. It is a price they must pay before enjoying themselves.

These days it's not so much fun to fly. It used to be a thrill just getting to your destination. Today's air travelers begin their well-earned rest by arriving at the airport two hours early and then endure a humiliating series of security screenings.

On past flights, I have been asked to remove my shoes and put them in a plastic dishpan along with the contents of my pockets. After setting off alarm bells because my belt buckle is too big, I am shuffled off to the sidelines. Fellow travelers look at me like I have just escaped from a maximum security prison as an electronic wand is passed over various parts of my body. They pass me by with heads shaking and not-so-happy faces as payback for slowing their progress to the gate.

My carry-on bag is opened and a complete stranger, wearing rubber gloves, paws through my underwear looking for that sample-size bottle of mouthwash that might exceed the legal limits. My bottle of purified spring water, for which I paid $2.50 prior to entering the security maze, is confiscated and the man asks to see a photo I.D. before he lets me proceed. Remember "flying the friendly skies?"

Finally, I've passed all the tests. With shoes back on, I gather my possessions, stuff the $689 ticket back into my pocket and weave my way to the departure gate. I collapse into a chair and wait. I sit with anticipation for an hour before the first attendant shows up at the podium. There is a flight delay and the waiting seems endless.

As I gaze at the clear blue sky and sunshine streaming through the concourse window, my fellow travelers and I are informed over a loudspeaker that our delay is "weather related." At this point I am wondering if it is all worth it.

Once on the plane and seated, I watch the circus act featuring my fellow travelers jamming their carry-on baggage into the already filled overhead bins. Either my legs are getting longer or the distance between the seat and my knees is shrinking. A 280-pound guy that looks like a football lineman squeezes into the seat directly in front of me. As he settles in, with ear buds in place, he reclines his seat back into my lap and I'm now studying the unusual pattern of hair plugs embedded in the top of his head.

I was in such a rush to arrive early that I failed to eat prior to departure and began to think about how hungry I was. Those old enough to recall when it was a treat to travel by air might remember cloth napkins, real silverware, a choice between chicken and steak, a glass of wine and of course, dessert. There were blankets if you were chilly, a pillow if you wanted to snooze and complimentary decks of playing cards. Back in the day, the "stewardess" even passed out free cigarettes!

I hope my sister and brother-in-law enjoy their driving adventure. They will be on the road for almost a month traveling across our beautiful country. They won't be scanned, patted down, or subjected to a myriad of rules and regulations. They will just enjoy the freedom of being Americans and doing what they please. Drive safely.

Ed Hungness and his wife are year-round residents of Fife Lake. He can be reached at edhungness@yahoo.com or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633

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