Flight Talk

Over the years, I’ve embarked on more than a few airline flights, the vast majority of them for business of one sort or another, and it’s interesting to consider what’s changed… and how.

The most obvious change, as a result of nine-eleven, is that flying now takes considerably longer than it once did. That’s the result of several factors. First, because fuel economy is a priority, the majority of jet airliners now cruise at speeds slightly slower than they did a generation ago. Second, security procedures add significantly to travel times for the individual traveler. Third, because planes are always full, have less spacious seating, and because most airlines charge extra for checked baggage, it takes longer to board and disembark [unless you’re in first/business class] because there’s never enough space for all the carry-on bags. Fourth, because of the volume of air traffic and the hub-and-spoke airline model, there’s a lower percentage of direct flights, except on high-volume routes, and more connecting flights.

At the same time, in real dollar terms, flying is, overall terms, somewhat less expensive than a generation ago, and the noise level is slightly lower.

I’ve also noted a general improvement in the availability and quality of food establishments at the larger airports, possibly because more people are stuck there longer.

But one of the biggest changes that I’ve noticed involves travelers themselves. Once upon a time, people used to talk to other people on flights. Today, it seems to me that the majority of travelers don their earphones or ear-buds and retreat into one form or another of electronic unreality.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of people in the adjoining seat, or while waiting to board, some in fascinating professions or with intriguing backgrounds, such as the electrician whose specialty was working on powered high-voltage lines and equipment, various dead-heading pilots, the B-budget movie actress, the Iranian-born doctor who came to the U.S. as a child, the Charolais cattle breeder and rancher, and the former judge who ended up in a second career involving the film industry and politics.

And I wouldn’t have heard their stories or learned some interesting facts if I’d been wrapped up in electronics.

2 thoughts on “Flight Talk”

  1. Tim says:

    I once met a fascinating girl who was a professional dancer on a flight to Berlin. By the time we landed I knew a great deal about the physical effort involved in what – to the audience – looks effortless.

    Her passion for her profession and her dedication was a real eye opener.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    I’ve had several excellent conversations on planes, but they tend to be with people who are around my own age (at the time) or higher. I’m 48, but look somewhat younger. No one under a certain age (lately, 35 or so) seems interested in talking to me….

    …. until they learn I’m an Emergency Physician and then they all have a story with which to regale me – generally about a colleague who ‘really screwed up’ or about ‘the bill from hell’ or a very long wait that they or a friend or a family member had.

    And then perhaps I regret trying to have a conversation with the person.

    On the other hand, I’ve had a great time talking with several people: a woman who was a court recorder for the Nuremburg Trials, a professional football player, the warden of a prison, and a state senator from an adjacent state.

    So… I haven’t yet thrown out the baby with the bath water, but I do carry a Nook and tend to get a lot of reading done on planes.

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