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Beacon Senior News

Remember when flying the skies was actually friendly?

Jun 01, 2022 02:52PM ● By Arthur Vidro

Once upon a time flying in an airplane was glamorous. People put on their Sunday best to fly. They paid big bucks for the experience, but they were treated like royalty. They could check as many bags as they wanted. No hidden fees lurked. No strip searches. Food and drink were provided. Crying babies and frightened toddlers were a rarity because bringing young ones on a flight was practically unheard of.

Then everything changed. Wide-body jets that became prevalent circa 1970 needed to be filled to fly at maximum profit. Then the industry deregulated. Finally, the events of September 11, 2001, triggered additional changes that led to the implementation of extra fees right and left.

Once the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 kicked in (one of the things deregulated was the setting of prices) flying became a race to the bottom. The airlines that garnered the largest sales increases were those that provided the cheapest prices, which they accomplished by doing away with existing services and eliminating “luxuries” such as leg room, elbow room, food and drink.

Local women recall their pioneering careers as stewardesses

Those competitors who were slower to do away with services and amenities saw the writing on the wall and followed suit. Or folded.

It became 100 percent about price and 0 percent about quality—a formula that is also hurting other industries.

I flew for the first time when my brother and I were teenagers. This was before the frenzied days of screen addictions, when people on board were not seeking flickering images but calmly thought and spoke like leisurely human beings.

My brother requested from a stewardess a deck of cards to play gin rummy. Cards were a common request then. They were normal playing cards on one side, the airline’s logo on the other. Passengers were encouraged to keep the cards. Those logo-emblazoned cards were publicity for the company.

Next time you fly, ask a stewardess—now they’re called flight attendants—for a deck of cards. They’ll chuckle at your naivety.

Back in the 1970s, not long before I first flew, I saw on “The Carol Burnett Show” a sketch making fun of the practice of flying some passengers in first class while others flew in the then-new “economy” class. A wide-eyed economy passenger walked down the pleasant aisle. But as the economy section began, she stumbled because that’s when the carpet stopped.

A stewardess standing in first class was “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over a little baby until she saw the parents’ tickets were for the economy section. Then she screamed at the economy-class baby and flung it aside.

Passengers in first class got a professionally prepared hot meal. Passengers in economy had bags of peanuts thrown at them.

In the comic sketch, there were no seats in economy. You just stood around. For economy fliers, the plane didn’t even land—the passenger got shoved out the door while the plane was flying.

Yes, the skit went over the top. But in some ways it was prophetic, and in at least one instance, it didn’t go far enough.

Nowadays, hungry fliers would willingly have bags of peanuts thrown at them. If food is even available, you pay the extra fee or you go hungry.

During my life I’ve flown about seven round trips. My last flight was nice. The airline, Northwest, even gave all the passengers fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies during the flight. I truly felt like a guest.

In the terminal in Madison, Wisconsin, as I was waiting for a flight home to the East Coast, one employee, without my saying a word, came over and offered to get me on an earlier flight, at no extra charge.

Yes, that airline did great by me. But now they’re gone, merged into Delta, which is just another cookie-cutter (not cookie-dispensing) cost-cutting outfit.

That was 2006 and I haven’t flown since. It gradually dawned on me that airlines have stopped treating its customers like valued guests and were treating them instead like undesirable blobs of living baggage.

I guess the passengers made unreasonable requests like being allowed off a plane that’s been stuck for hours on the tarmac while no new air is pumped in and restrooms are off-limits. Or being allowed to bring a few large bottles of water onto the plane. (Hey, I was born thirsty.) Available drinking water? Fresh air to breathe? Perish the thought! Or wanting to bring a bag aboard without a fee. Or wanting to check your bags without a fee.

I can’t picture myself flying again. I’m too afraid, but not of crashing. Just afraid of being treated like an interloper, a criminal, or cattle.

Planning on flying soon? Read these tips to stay healthy when flying.