I’ve been out and about this summer visiting a wide range of locations. All of my destinations were within the borders of the continental United States. The travel industry, judging by the packed jetliners I sat in, appears to be in terrific shape. I know that gas prices and such are the usual hue and cry of the industry, but on all the flights I participated in, there were few empty seats.
Airport lounges from Atlanta to New York City to Albuquerque were filled with impatient and world-weary travelers, and all seemed to be confident that their matching black roll-on suitcases were going to fit into the overhead bins and hence, avoid the dreaded luggage surcharge. Petite air stewards quickly became short-tempered bulldogs as air travelers made repeated attempts at stuffing over-packed suitcases into the bins, and it was not hard to catch the exasperated glances exchanged between the tired airline workers.
I have a hard time understanding why air travelers, seated at the rear of a plane, jump up the moment the “all clear” chime sounds and push ahead down the narrow aisle of a jet. Simple physics indicate that the occupants toward the front of the plane must stand, retrieve luggage, and debark before the latter individuals. At that moment, a strange panic occurs and a small boned woman surges forward, say, a total of five feet, toward the plane exit, and then stands in complete surprise while the rest of the plane wearily wait their turn. Amazing.
On one flight I sat next to a young man who, by his imposing physical appearance, appeared to be a promising candidate for some professional sports team. We made quite a pair in our three-seat combination, and our knees touched the backs of the seats in front of us. Why, then, did the well-dressed and coiffed Atlanta matrons in front of us immediately slam their seats back into our laps upon take off? Both the athlete and I cried out (it killed both our knees). The two women never acknowledged our discomfort and remained in relaxed mode for the next two hours. The gentleman next to me turned and spoke one word, “Sardines.”
On a stopover at Dallas Airport, my wife and I enjoyed an unexpected six-hour layover, much of it sitting on the plane, as a line of thunderstorms settled in over the field. Apparently the rule is if lightening strikes, there must be a fifteen-minute cessation of lightening before planes can leave the terminal and cue for take-off. For six hours, lightening struck approximately every 15 minutes. About halfway through our cramped ordeal, we were ordered to de-plane, a direction I was certain that had been implemented for our comfort.
Wrong. Due to a recent debacle where a flight was stranded on the tarmac for many hours, it appears that now a passenger has the right to be compensated for time spent sitting on a plane. We exited the plane, looked in vain for outlets to charge our smartphones, and then re-boarded for another two and a half hour spa experience.
Some terminals are examples of attempts to make the drudgery and tedium of air travel a bit more pleasant. To enter the Sunport (that’s the name of the Albuquerque Airport) is to be transported into the multi-cultural setting of the southwest. Viga ceilings, Mexican tiles, artisanal furniture, and more greet a visitor to New Mexico, and the effect is immediate and soothing.
The Delta terminal at New York’s La Guardia field is decidedly high tech. There are iPads outfitted with games, computer friendly kiosks, and contrary to Dallas, there are sockets everywhere for the ubiquitous battery driven devices all travelers tote nowadays.
The mode of transportation I enjoyed the most this summer was the ferry (free, mind you!) across the Savannah River from the big convention center on Hutchinson Island to historic River Street. Whether in the morning with a fresh coffee in hand, or late at night with a tummy full of Savannah’s legendary cuisine, I never tired of the slow chug of the engine and the sight of the gigantic container ships and their jovial attendants, the stubby tug boats.
If I was lucky, I grabbed a place to stand on the ferry’s railing with my bride at my side and enjoyed the cool air and the refreshing spray kicked up by the ferry’s shallow draft. Upon reaching the dock, everyone hesitated a bit and lined up in a cheerful and orderly way to safely exit to dry land. No pushing travelers with wheeled suitcases, no seatbacks crunching my knees, and no six-hour wait in the middle of the Savannah River channel marred my visit to Georgia’s costal gem. I’m ready to return.
Harry Musselwhite is senior lecturer in Music at Berry College.