Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Returning to flight

I'm airborne as I write this and it occurs to me that it's been well over a year since I've flown anywhere. My wife and I used to fly often to return to my parents' home on holidays and the like. The addition of a baby to my family put the brakes on that and 9/11 hammered that decision in place with big honking spikes. Getting a family with a baby on board a plane at a crowded airport was challenging enough before the additional security was enacted in the wake of the September 11 attacks. There are an awful lot of things needed by traveling babies that the TSA might get nervous about. We settled on making trips by car split up between 2 days. All in all, not that big of a problem

At the same time, my business trips tapered off. The dot-bomb had happened and the economy got hit by 9/11 in a one-two punch so businesses of all types had to start cutting back. Travel was considered a serious luxury as opposed to a requirement, especially in the tech field that's my career. In the years between 9/11 and now, I've actually flown twice on business, where before that I was doing 5-6 trips a year, all by plane.

This morning's flight has started well and we took off into a crisp blue sky with just a few clouds. The bright sunshine outside belied the temperatures which were hanging around 30 when I left the house. The snowfall last night has placed the roads and other boundaries in high contrast making the farmland we headed out over even more of a patchwork than usual. The captain just announced a moment ago that we've reached our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet and we're way, way above any clouds in the area. The sky is that impossible blue I remember so well, the kind you only get once you've risen above the ground haze.

It's another hour and 20 minutes or so to Florida, yet another amazement. The vacations we took there when I was a kid growing up in Indiana took us 2 days on the road. And to think I overheard someone at the gate moaning about how long it'll take to get there. I'd blow it off to youth but the old geezer looked like he was 10 years older than I am. Impatience, it appears, is not the provenance of the young.

One item I wasn't prepared for was the change in cabin service. It now appears that flights occuring during lunch time don't net you a meal any more. You can buy one on the plane for $5, cash, paid to the flight attendant. I realize that the meals airlines served back in the coach class (steerage section?) were never anything to write home about but I know from working behind the airlines' scenes how much those lunches actually cost the company. To hold back on them now when ticket prices still tip $250-$300 for some of the flights lasting 2 hours seems a bit tight fisted. That many of the airlines have gone this route and still can't stay out of bankruptcy makes you wonder where all the money is going. Fuel, to be sure. But perhaps some of the people working there are making more money than they ought? It's not the flight attendants, the gate agents, or the people working the reservation phones, that's for sure. The rest of them I'll leave to someone else to vouch for.

I do enjoy flying, however. I never get tired of the view or the feeling of flight. One of these days, I'll scrape together enough money for those pilot lessons I've been promising to myself. To slip the surly bonds of earth.... one of these days.