How I came to loathe flying
I recall when I was quite young driving along the San Francisco docks with my parents and seeing the big white Matson Line ships. I asked my father where those ships went. He thought, Hawaii. I fell in love even then with the idea of going to Hawaii on a Matson liner.
Matson was the primary mode of transport from the west coast to the islands, and they opened up the concept of a Hawaiian vacation to the well-heeled. They not only provided the ships, they also offered primo accommodation at the other end at the famous ‘pink palace’, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
The change, however, came about when Pan-Am began flying folk across the 3,000 miles of Pacific. The Pan-Am Clippers epitomized easier access, still reserved for the rich. But, after World War Two, the Pan Am monopoly fell and countless other airlines got into the act. Prices fell and the islands became a reasonable vacation destination for even the average Joe Lunchbucket. Those were the glory days for the Hawaiian tourism industry.
I have, in my adult life, gone to Hawaii more than a dozen times on assorted airlines, though never by ship. I’ve flown there on now defunct CP Air, equally deceased and much lamented Wardair, Northwestern, Aloha, also dead Harmony, an atrocious service I was delighted to see go down called Royal, deceased Canada 3000, and the last time via Air Alaska. Somehow it seems ironic that Alaska should fly to Hawaii, since Hawaiian doesn’t fly to Alaska. Those last two states to be admitted to the Union should stick together more.
Anyway, the airline industry is in crisis and you’ll note the number of defunct airlines I mentioned. Some of them deserved to fold; others didn’t. But, the point must be considered that flying has become a dreadful experience. This isn’t due to such vagaries as the possibility of hurtling nose first towards the Pacific in a steep, powerless dive from 35,000 feet; or the fact that there is just enough leg room between rows of seats to almost guarantee deep-vein thrombosis. Even the new reality that gives us meals that are even worse than they used to be and you have to pay for them, or there are no meals whatsoever, is tolerable. Lost luggage is a pain in the ass, and so are late departures, but I can stand those.
In fact, our Alaska flight from Seattle to Kauai was extremely good (OK, there was the lost luggage thing, but we got it back the next day). It left on time and arrived well ahead of schedule. It was smooth and borderline pleasant (the less said about the ‘meals’ the better, or the fact they kept serving booze to the young preppie looking couple across from us even though they were getting thoroughly shitfaced; real irresponsible) and unchallenging.
No, the problem wasn’t the airline, but the MF terminals and their ineptitude and rudeness in how they deal with the traveling public. The legacy of 9/11 still looms large and the terrorist attack has somehow given termini not just in the US but globally the mandate to treat passengers as abusively and stupidly as ever they possibly can. If the Islamic bad guys really want to see the impact of their behavior earlier in the decade they should look at what the traveling public must go through in order to gain access to an airplane. Aside from the ludicrous restrictions on what can and cannot be taken aboard, what galls me the most is that there is no point in arguing with these illogical bozos that have been commissioned to carry out the screening. Should you argue or point out their often-stunning illogic you could be in for a major screening or worse.
When we were departing Kauai I was taken aside because I ‘beeped’. That is, aside from having no belt on, no shoes, and with my change and wallet in the little tray, I still beeped. That rendered me suspect. My beeping came about because I had neglected to remove my watch and the pendant I wear around my neck. Silly me. So, I was taken aside while some guy three months out of high school gave me the once over and eyed me suspiciously all the while. The man behind me, about the same age, was subject to the same scrutiny.
“I guess they were pinpointing old white guy terrorists this time around,” Wendy offered, after I’d been through the ordeal. Ironically, when I went through the next security check, later that same day, none of the aforementioned gear evoked a beep.
Meanwhile, the airlines are bleeding because a put-upon public has decided it would rather drive the family bus to Wichita Falls to see Grandma, than to fly. Can’t really blame them. Hawaiian tourism, meanwhile, is being whacked. Kauai, this time around, was tomblike compared with earlier ventures there. You want an uncrowded beach? On two occasions we were on the beach in front of where we stay – a beach that serves at least a half-dozen resorts – and we were the sole occupants thereof.
Will sanity ever return to the airline industry? Will flying ever again be an enjoyable experience costing within the bank account of the average Joe and Jill?
I no longer count on that, but I hope I’m wrong. Meanwhile, I am going to have to muster up the energy for the next time I fly, and that has nothing to do with being afraid of crashing. Crashing is easy, airport security is hell.