Fun with Air Travel

This past weekend I did something I have rarely done: I went away alone. My daughter and I have flown regularly together over the years to visit my parents, but these trips have become less frequent with the increasing demands of school. When she was younger, the logistics of child and dog care were too daunting for me to leave home overnight. Once, years ago when my mother was hospitalized and very sick, I flew to see her. But, until now, I have never gone away without husband or daughter, just for fun. This trip to Atlanta was to be a celebratory reunion of old friends. 
Bad weather, bad luck, discomfort and indignity seem to be standard in air travel. Of course, in these days of underwear bombers and terrorist plots, any flight that arrives eventually and safely at its final destination may be considered a success. In my own recent flight experience, delay and frustration were caused by all the usual factors: interminable security lines, thunderstorms, snow, ice, hail, excessive heat, mechanical trouble, alarming noises, strange smells, missing crew members and heavy runway traffic.

A typical flight for me usually begins promisingly enough. The plane arrives at the gate, late but not exceptionally so. Passengers are boarded. We are set to go; all appears in order. The plane is picking up speed on the runway when it stops and the engines are cut. The pilot reports a situation that puts us in limbo. The wait on the concourse is extended multiple times, before we return to the gate and disembark. No information is provided, but we are advised to remain near the gate. On our last flight, the wait on the runway and back in the airport totaled seven hours. Accordingly, I did not have high hopes for this trip.

My low expectations, however, were far exceeded. Security was a breeze.  The flight departed and arrived on time, the weather was beautiful, and my companions were enjoyable. I had the window seat in a row of three. We were all strangers, but we began talking and continued for the duration of the flight. The near certainty that we would never meet again gave us the freedom to dispense with small talk and get straight to life’s big issues. We had strikingly different backgrounds and opinions, but the discussion remained courteous and pleasant. Remarkably, we all recognized that the real value was in sharing our ideas, not in trying to prove a point. To judge by the example of our political leaders and pundits, we would conclude that opposing opinions cannot be aired without stirring up contention, competition and bitterness. It was refreshing to see that this must not always be the case.

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