With increased air travel during the holiday season, many are winging long distances for the first time since last holiday season. It’s awful, but is it really worse? I came across a log I kept during one of my most memorable cross-country experiences. This was before TSA Agents, before airlines stopped serving meals, and back when airlines would lose your luggage without charging you a fee for an “Extra Service.” Read and compare to modern day travel—if you dare.
The YEAR 1997. The FLIGHT: Los Angeles (LAX) to New York City (JFK).
4:30 AM: Picked up at home by Phil's Speedy Discount Airport Shuttle. Motto: "If we're more than fifteen minutes late, we wouldn't be the least bit surprised."
5:45: Arrive Los Angeles Airport. Curbside check-in offers high tech Computerized Tracking System (CTS) which assures your luggage will arrive in Nepal twenty minutes before you land in New York.
6:00: Ticket counter uses new Random Queuing System (RQS). Queue is a British term meaning "You're in the wrong line, stupid." I queue up in "Odd Size" line, then am booted out when told "Odd Size" refers to luggage, not body type.
6:15: Security check. Foreign passenger ahead of me is asked: "Did person or persons unknown to you pack your luggage, pat your butt, or recite lyrics to anything by Puff Daddy?" He responds: "My salad shooter has an embolism" and is waved through.
7:30 Pre-boarding begins for pre-boards who need assistance, assistants who need pre-boarding, first class, business class, no class, private first class, menacing youth, passengers on the wrong plane, and those who play dumb and pretend their row has been called.
8:15: Pilot announces "the fine folks in maintenance have informed me they have to re-calibrate and functionalize the leading edge hydraulic spoiler actuation pressure stabilizer, and will get on it as soon as Chief Mechanic Fat Mel finishes his donut."
11:47: Emergency landing to remove Fat Mel from engine cowling.
12:15 PM: Re-takeoff.
12:45: Breakfast. Choices are: "Runny eggs with Sumpthin' Green in 'em" or "Fruit Loops 'n' Curdled Milk."
1:45: Pilot asks if anyone has seen his keys to the liquor cabinet.
2:00: Edited for airline version of "Showgirls" begins.
2:05: Edited for airline version of "Showgirls" ends.
3:15: Pilot says "Passengers on our right side can see Columbus, Ohio. Passengers on our left side can see a hideous monster dismantling the engine."
4:45: Surly flight attendants collect breakfast trays and play Goose the Elderly.
5:00: Inadvertently land at Teterboro, N.J., long term parking lot. Pilot says he'll taxi aircraft to JFK.
5:15: Skippy the co-pilot collects spare change for turnpike tolls.
5:30: Detour to Hackensack so Skippy can drop off laundry and tuck in the kids.
6:15: Arrive at gate.
6:45: Computerized Tracking System claims I don't have any luggage, I never had luggage, I'll never have luggage again, and it's not that fond of my tie.
7:45: Take cab driven by man whose name has seventeen consonants and an umlaut. Ululates show tunes all the way to the hotel.
11:45: Luggage from previous trip delivered to room.
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A Version of this appeared in the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section in 1997
Copyright 1997, 2012