After being cooped up inside the airplane for thirty minutes, a cabin filled with passengers learned we would not be taking off.
“We can’t seem to locate the pilot,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker.
“We’re doing our best to remedy the situation. In the meantime, sit tight.”
Is there really any other way to sit on an airplane these days?
The man next to me had claimed the armrest and, as he began to snore, his legs relaxed into a wide stance, his knees encroaching into my tight space.
I thought about the Good Ole Days.
Before we had to take off our shoes. Before we had to be patted down and swabbed. Before we had to be x-rayed and scanned and probed.
Once upon a time, people loved to travel by air. Folks even dressed up to look nice in the airport because air travel was for the elite. Cheerful clerks gave us our boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them gently on the conveyer belt. So long as our suitcases didn’t weigh over eleventy-seven tons, we were allowed to check two bags through without any additional charges.
In the good ole days, security was minimal. A man could carry a whole case of rubbing alcohol onto the plane if he wanted; no one would have thought a thing about it. No one had to remove his shoes or belts or jacket. We did not have to be x-rayed or scanned or swabbed or probed. Our gels and liquids did not have to be segregated into quart-sized baggies.
Once upon a time, air travel was sexy. Flight attendants were women. We called them stewardesses. They liked their jobs and seemed interested in passengers’ comfort.
In the 1970s, stewardesses had names like Kimberly, Debbie, Julie and Susie. They wore starched uniforms and easy smiles. Tall and tan and leggy, stewardesses looked like life-sized Barbie Dolls.
Appearing quickly at the touch of a button, stewardesses wore starched uniforms and easy smiles, prepared to offer an extra blanket.
But back then, everyone had blankets. And pillows. And if you got on the plane early enough, there were even magazines to borrow. Good ones.
People rarely needed anything. After all, our bags had been checked and were out of the way, so we read books or napped. No one walked around admonishing passengers to turn off their electric devices because those things hadn’t been invented yet.
Once passengers buckled up, they started to think about the meal they were going to receive because for a time, every major airline served 4-course meals. And these meals were gourmet.
The Transportation Library archival collections at Northwestern University lists scores of old airline menus. United Airlines’ coach class meals included salads, desserts, sandwiches and beverages, with menu items such as “Broiled Tenderloin Tips a la Deutsch” (1973, Chicago – San Francisco) and Continental boasted ” Breast of Chicken Vodkaliano” (1979, Washington to Denver).
My husband remembers United Airline’s Sunshine Flight that departed daily from Rochester, New York to Florida in the 1970s. “Everyone got crab legs and a slice of key-lime pie,” he says with a faraway look in his eye.
I remember airline meals coming on silver trays with cloth napkins and real cutlery. Everyone was given knives. And no one worried about getting stabbed.
On my recent trip to Florida, I felt fortunate to have received my tiny pouch of pretzels and half can of soda.
While we waited for the pilot to be located, the woman on my right read over my shoulder as as I typed my words. “I see you’re writing about the way air travel used to be.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “There used to be a lot more legroom.”
Once upon a time, there was more legroom.
And more space between seats, too.
And they never misplaced the pilots.
What do you remember about flying in the Good Old Days?
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