There were a lot of tired, disappointed people in the Denver airport the Friday night before Father’s Day. Tornados around Chicago had wrought an itinerary nightmare of the sort normally reserved for winter’s snowstorms. “Flying sure isn’t what it used to be,” one passenger remarked. Others nodded sadly.
We’ve always had weather disruptions, but these days their impact is worse. The twin budget busters of crazy fuel prices and crazier health care prices have driven airlines, like the rest of us, to tighten our belts. While the rest of us try to run full loads in our dishwashers and combine errands around town, the airlines pack as many people as they can into as few routes as possible. So when the system snarls, the customer service lines move slowly as modern-day Florence Nightingales do what they can, putting hundreds of people into far fewer available seats.
Me, I got lucky. My spot on standby turned into seat on a plane, headed in the right direction. What could have been an 18-hour delayed arrival, was only 9 hours, thanks to a guy who looked eerily like my uncle, a guy who knew magic that the self-service kiosk didn’t know, a guy who made the two-hour wait Worth It.
Things were looking up, but the signs of the times didn’t stop when I settled into my seat on the redeye. The lights were dimmed, and soon I was dozing with the rest of the exhausted passengers. But an hour later, I was awake again. Maybe it was the whimpering little boy behind me. Maybe it was the turbulence. But what registered first was the cold. I buttoned my oxford shirt’s top collar button. There would be no blanket, no pillow. The spring swine flu scare had put an end to those little comforts.
Ah well. Opening my carryon, I reached for modern day answers to my modern day ills. An iPod full of music to soothe my weary head. A notebook computer, to warm my lap and keep my hands warm. Neither as soft as the pillow and blanket of the old days. But flying isn’t what it used to be.