I don’t possess a fear of flying, that does indeed grip some people, but I do dread flying, like a visit to the dentist or a bout with the flu or diarrhea, it’s something I could live without. I harken back to the pre-covid or even pre 9/11 days when there were no security lines, you did not have to take out a small loan to check your bags, the stewardesses looked like Audrey Hepburn and the pilots like John Wayne, and the fellow passengers were professional and well-dressed. Flying was an extravagant experience and they even served real food with real silverware and there was enough room in your seat that you did not feel claustrophobic as soon as you sat down.
Recently I had a trip to Washington DC and flew through Reagan National, a modest sized airport compared to the mega hubs like in Atlanta and Dallas. It was under renovation, and it seems like it is always under renovation. Like one of those busy highways in a city, that falls apart faster than the maintenance crews can fix it. I wonder if somehow the airport manager gets paid a bonus for always having the airport under construction and making entering the airport an obstacle course for people carrying luggage. As I entered the airport, I did temporarily get lost for a minute in the corn maze of construction, and somehow ended up in a dead-end corridor, but luckily, I have the All-Trails app on my phone and found my way back.
Surprisingly I made it through the security checkpoint fairly quickly, which was a relief, but since I had expected a long line, I arrived at my gate 2 hours before the flight. No problem, I’ll grab a drink and sit down and read the latest David Sedaris book, who doesn’t enjoy some biting satire and a Manhattan. Well, the gate and bar area were a complete zoo packed with travelers of every size, shape and color. The airport had put more gates in the area than originally designed and had not increased the space, seating or number of bars, an important metric in my book. I clawed my way through the crowd, which reminded me of the bar scene from Star Wars, and ordered the Manhattan, which cost $17. Now I appreciate the fact that an airport bar is a convenience, and they have a captured customer base, but $17 for a Manhattan made from cheap bourbon is well, annoying, especially for a bourbon snob like me. It’s like charging a wine sommelier $20 to drink Boone’s Farm.
After overpaying for my drink, I began wandering around the seating area for a seat, hence the name, but none were to be found. There were about 500 people crammed into a space built for 250, and all had luggage to avoid the $30 check luggage fee. As I stood drinking my overpriced Manhattan eventually one of the Flights started to board and a few seats opened up, so I outraced an old lady in a walker and grabbed a seat. Her walker had a built-in seat anyway. I then opened up my David Sedaris book and then tried to relax, while listening to the Flight announcements, but that was not in any way helpful. The announcements were coming out garbled and in broken English, and sounded a bit like the adults in Charlie Brown, if they spoke Spanish. Luckily, I had the Flight App loaded on my phone, so I went back to reading, and tried to avoid the eyes of the old lady in the walker who was glaring at me.
Eventually the time to start boarding my Flight came…and then went. With no announcement, in garbled adult Charlie Brown Spanish or any language. I then got up and wandered over to the gate, and 3 old people fought for my old seat like a Worldwide Wrestling event for seniors. I am not sure who won, but I am sure a couple of them will be visiting their doctor when they get home.
As I waited near the gate and the boarding time slipped by without any announcement people started to murmur that the Flight was cancelled and that feeling of dread begin. There were only 2 more flights from Reagan National airport to my hometown and I bet they were already overbooked. With luck I could get a flight home in 3 days and the airlines would not provide a hotel room because they would claim there was a weather delay, somewhere in the United States, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky here in D.C. I guess I could live in the airport for 3 days like Tom Hanks did in the airport move “The Terminal.”
But alas, a Spanglish Charlie Brown announcement was made that the Flight would soon start boarding, or at least I think that’s what it said by the smiling reaction of the people near the gate. Eventually we did indeed board and I was happy to be sitting next to an older lady who safely occupied the confines of her seat and did not spill over into mine. Everyone got seated and we were patiently waiting for the Flight Attendants to do their safety briefings that we would blissfully ignore, but there was none. After sitting about 20 minutes, the pilot came on, (he did not sound like John Wayne), and announced that there was a minor hydraulic issue, and they were waiting on a maintenance person to check it out. I was happy to hear the world “minor” and begin to open up my Davis Sedaris book when a lady a few seats in front of me went into hysterics. She started screaming about the plane being unsafe and she was going to die, or something like that. I was just about to unstrap my seat belt and comfort the poor lady and say some things like flying in a plane is safer than driving, (true), that the maintenance crew were very good (maybe), and she would be home shortly (unlikely), but luckily a Flight attendant named Dorothy showed up. Dorothy quickly explained that it was just a minor hydraulic issue and not something significant like a crack in the fuselage or wing that would cause the plane to crash. Dorothy must have missed the day in Flight Attendance class where they give the lesson on how to calm a person in hysterics because mentioning the words crack in the wing and crash to a person in hysterics was not a good idea. This caused the person much more angst and it took quite a bit of cajoling by Dorothy (and some good meds) to get this person to relax. At this point I would have shelled out $17 for another Manhattan. Just as calmness returned to the cabin the lady next to me asked if it was OK to use her phone. I said I assumed so since we were just sitting on the ground and not going anywhere anytime soon. She then proceeded to call her mother, which I thought was interesting because she was easily in her seventies so had mother had to be in her nineties. She then explained to her mother that she was on the flight, calling from a cell phone, and there was a delay, so don’t leave for the airport to pick her up just yet. I had a lot of thoughts. First, you are in your 70s and your mom still picks you up at the airport? You feel comfortable riding in a car driven by your 90-year-old mother? What if your mother leaves for the airport and the flight gets diverted, how do you reach her? Does she have a cell phone, does she know how to text? Does she have the All-Trails app to navigate through the airport construction?
While I was pondering all of these questions another 30 minutes passed and then the pilot came up on the intercom, hoping for good news, expecting bad, instead the pilot made a joke about giving tours of the cockpit. Like Dorothy, I think he missed the day in Piot training where they cover customer relations. Finally, after another 30 minutes the pilot did announce that everything was fixed, and we would be taking off shortly. The lady who was in hysterics earlier was now asleep, the meds had done their trick. And the old lady next to me called her mom, who was fortunately still awake and not at bingo, and said that she would land in about 2 hours and to time her arrival around then. The flight itself was non-eventful, the fuselage did not crack nor did the wing fall off. As I made my way to my car, I looked for a lady in her 90s circling the airport in a 2005 Crown Victoria, but I did not see her. I hope she went to the right airport. Once home, I made a very nice Manhattan using a premium rye whiskey, and finished off my book, and prayed that I wouldn’t have to fly again.