Written for a column in The Lebanon Democrat, but i did not want to submit such a dark column the week before Christmas. Nevertheless, there are some real negatives about traveling through the Christmas season compared to what it used to be.
CHATTANOOGA — Last week, Maureen took a two-legged flight to Chattanooga, concluding on what I call “Tree Top Airlines.” to begin our ten-day escape from the Southwest corner.
While excited about seeing family for the Christmas season, the problem of getting there has become an unavoidable pain.
When coming to Lebanon for the holidays, it was rather simple but still no picnic. We would rise at dark-thirty, find our way to Lindbergh Field, and catch a Southwest Airlines direct flight to Nashville. From there, it was a twenty minute drive to Deer Park, often getting there for supper.
The morning of our flight, we arose a bit early, finished packing and we drove in the rain — yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he brought the Southwest corner a wonderful gift: a slew of storms coming in off of the Pacific to greatly solve the reigning drought — to Coronado where my friend Pete Toennies took us to the airport.
Then the fun began.
At the TSA security check, the checkeree pointed out Maureen was “Pre-TSA” but i was not. He pointed me to the full check line (about five times as long) which required putting coats, shoes, belts, and my computer (which had to go through separately), and everything with metal through the scanner.
Another TSA agent tried to explain it was a random process when i asked. i how they could separate a married couple, especially since we had both been “Pre-TSA” for about a dozen flights in the past two years. The agent kept mumbling “random, random” while ushering me to the long line.
While i admit Maureen is quite a bit more responsible than i am, i am a retired Navy officer. I was responsible for nuclear weapons in three tours and held a “top secret atomal” security clearance, and now, i can walk or drive onto almost every military installation with no search by flashing my retired Navy ID card. But i’m not respectable enough to avoid the rather bizarre “random” screening of TSA.
i complied with the agents. There was a man significantly older than me pushed to the head of the line in a wheel chair. He could barely stand and an agent had to help him get out of his overcoat before he had to be helped through the magic screening box. In this process that took about five minutes, i wondered if he was random. While waiting for this search to conclude, the agents opened up a new line and ushered about thirty people behind me to this new screening post. About ten of them finished before me. Then a young man who did not understand the requirements was put in front of me to be re-screened and he had to keep coming back to the line to deposit something else he could not take through on his person. Consequently, my trip through the scan took almost 20 minutes longer than Maureen’s.
As we waited for our flight, i was struck with our current inability to be alone. i went to the men’s restroom and listened to a man in the next urinal talk on his mobile phone while doing his business. i stood in the walkways and watched an uncountable number of people talking on their mobile phones or “texting” on the way to their gate. Perhaps even more negative for the future, teens and pre-teens hunched over video games, oblivious to all but their small screens. They appeared almost anti-social, a projection for a hunchbacked, bug-eyed, introvert coming next decade.
The first leg of our flight ended at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It was a grey afternoon, and as we approached the gargantuan mass of concrete, grey against grey, seemed to be more out of Orwell’s 1984 than today’s real world provider of air travel with emphasis on customer service.
The carrier offered drinks, but power drinks, alcoholic beverages, and appetizers came at a price, a high price. We declined. The night before we left, someone told us airlines are reducing seat space from 33 to 28 inches. I have friends who have to fly first class now because they can’t fit in the current seat size.
It is a far cry from Berry Field in September 1967 when i took my first plane trip. i was flown to Providence, R.I. on my way to Navy OCS in Newport. My parents drove me to Donelson, the Nashville suburb where they stood by the window at the gate as I walked outside to the plane’s boarding stairs. En route, i was served a good meal and paid one dollar for a half-bottle of wine. Berry, now Nashville International, was small and comfortable. Parking was not a problem. The Providence Airport was the same except we were handed umbrellas for our walk from the plane to the terminal in the rain.
People talked to each other. They weren’t as self absorbed. There was no security screening. There were no mobile phones or video games. The stewardesses were proud of their title and their service. It was a different age. i would prefer my Christmas flights to be more like they were a half-century ago rather than the way they are today.