Travel as torture

Airplane squeeze

I’ll be leaving next week for the annual big summer vacation.  As someone who is a homebody, I’m never that thrilled by these sojourns, but we will be traveling on a ship for most of the trip, which means that I’ll get some vacation too:  they’ll feed me, clean my room, and do my laundry.  To me, that’s a pretty damn good vacation right there, even if I don’t go anywhere at all.

I’ll try to post as I travel, but internet connections are rare and expensive, so I can’t make any promises.  I’m hoping that those of my friends who have posting privileges take advantage of my absence to write (hint, hint!).  Also, I’ll try to have Open Threads available, so that you all can share your knowledge and insights.

But about the trip — we have to fly to our ship’s starting port.  I hate flying.  You can explain the science of flight to me until you’re blue in the face, but I can never forget that I’m 30,000 feet up there, and that it’s a long way down.  Being claustrophobic doesn’t help either.  And as to that point, Victor Davis Hanson totally gets it.

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  • Oldflyer

    Love the picture.   Reminds me of my resolve to never take another commercial flight.  Ahh!  I can remember when it was such a pleasure; I loved everything about it.
    Now, no thanks. 
    Talking to (much younger) friends who are still airline pilots, I think all of the enjoyment has even been sucked out of that aspect of flying.   But, there was a time.

  • Bookworm

    We had no money for flying when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, but I remember the commercials showing how glamorous it was.  I also remember picking people up at the airport and that was quick and easy.  You just walked right up to the gate.

    This song always reminds me of a past I never actually knew, but still knew about:

  • Charles Martel

    In the late Sixties I used to do a lot of San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Francisco flying on the legendary old Pacific Southwest Airlines, which charged $10 for its Midnight Flyer service between the two towns (regular fare was $14). The seats were big and comfy, and the stewardesses wore miniskirts. Drinks, if you could fake your way past the ID requirement, were cheap, too.
    I remember flying up to SF one night on PSA in a driving rainstorm with a buddy in the Navy who had to report back to Alameda Naval Air Station. The pilot was one of the best I’ve ever flown with. Despite all sorts of wind, low visibility, and turbulence, the guy was so good that we did not know we had landed and already consumed 1,000 feet of runway until we heard the engines roar in reverse thrust and felt him applying the brakes. The only thing I can compare it to is when you go to get a blood sample taken and the nurse is so damned competent that you ask, “So, are you going to put it in or not?” when the needle has already been in your arm for 10 seconds.

  • Oldflyer

    Ha, Charles.  I wonder if youe were flying on the PSA BAe 146.  I flew it out of Dulles for a long defunct airline, then tried to sell it around the world as an employee of British Aerospace.   It was  dream to land.  Hard to make a bad one.  The point I am getting to is that on a weekend flight my wife went with me.  I had an exceptional landing, and the guy sitting next to my wife, said “that is a hellava pilot”.  She responded, “I know he is mine”.

  • jj

    You take me back, Charles.  When I was schooling in Boston I pretty regularly popped down to NY, mostly on long-gone Northeast.  (“Yellowbirds,” owing to their extensive routing throughout the Caribbean, with the service base in Jamaica).  It cost $8.00, and it was pretty much like getting on a bus.  You could arrive ten minutes before the flight – they left every hour – get a ticket at the gate, walk out onto the tarmac and up the stair to the plane.  Eight bucks.  And, if you felt like it, you could arrive for the hourly Eastern shuttle that left on the half hour.  That cost $11.00, and they would not leave you behind.  If the DC-9 at 8:30 was full and there were people standing in the terminal, they’d roll out another one.  I’ve seen three fully-loaded Eastern DC-9s go, one right after the other.  The fourth one had about a dozen people on it, but that was their deal, and promise to the passengers: if we fill it up, out rolls another one.  For $11.00!  (God knows how many planes and crews they had hanging around Logan, LaGuardia, and Washington National, ready to crank it up at a moment’s notice.)  There were people who commuted every morning to NY from Boston, and came home in the evening.  The actual “here-to-there” flying time was about fifteen minutes, but it took fifty, the additional 35 being expended on getting to altitude, descending into the LaGuardia racetrack, getting lined up by ATC, etc.
    Those were the days.  Drinking age in NY was 18, too, so you were served after the first ten minutes in the air.  DC-9s were great little machines – took off in thunderstorms, landed in blizzards – whatever. The pilots were all vets, most of them well under thirty; they were ready: wind them up, they go.  Once getting back to school on Northeast, Logan was impossibly socked in, we went to some cow pasture in New Hampshire as an alternate.  Everybody, crew and passengers, piled into the little terminal’s one coffee-shop, instantly putting it over-capacity.  The stewardesses were helping the waitresses.  We were all about halfway through breakfast when somebody came in and spoke briefly to the captain, who wiped his mouth, jumped up, and yelled: “we got a window at Boston, but we gotta go now!”  Stampede back to the plane, he had the thing moving before the door was closed.  We taxied to the end of the runway at about 40, hit the brakes, rammed it into reverse thrust (yes, DC-9s are eminently capable of backing up), backed it around and got it pointed down the runway (no taxiways in this little place, wherever it was,) and away we went.  Landing in Boston was entertaining, you couldn’t see the wing-tips, and must have been right at minimums. I think maybe two planes came in after us, then Logan closed for the day.  An exciting time, all for eight bucks!
    Not too terribly long thereafter, come to think of it, I had a $55 flight from Boston to West Palm Beach for Christmas.  What was supposed to happen was a National positioning flight from Logan to JFK, then change to a Delta 727 NY to West Palm.  (“Positioning” because the National plane was a DC-8, and they needed that big thing to go someplace international from JFK.  They did this every day.)  However.  Took off from Logan late owing to weather in NY.  Screwed around burning fuel for two hours, then gave up and diverted to Bradley.  Sat there for a while, tried again, floated around a while – second meal on the plane – still no go at JFK.  Diverted to Philly.  Mad scramble there, National wrote me a ticket on Allegheny which was going to try for JFK.  Forget it.  After another meal, back to Philadelphia.  (The east coast is now thoroughly screwed up beyond repair, everybody’s faking it.)  Allegheny writes me a ticket on a Delta 727 bound for Atlanta.  What the hell, at least it’s in the right direction.  They fed me again, too.  Arrive in Atlanta.  Anything for West Palm?  Nope, we got New Orleans, Caracas Venezuela, St. Thomas, Miami.  Okay, Miami’s getting close, let’s go there!  Delta writes me a ticket on an American flight to Miami.  Ate again.  OK, now I’m at least in the same state, how do I get from Miami up to West Palm?  Well, Eastern runs a couple of daily Florida shuttles in a big circle around the state.  Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm-Fort Meyers-Orlando-Jacksonville back to Miami.  Every plane Eastern owns is either grounded up north or tied up somewhere else, so they roll out a DC-4.  Fine with me, hadn’t been on one in a few years, but okay.  Away we go.  I got fed again!  Finally got into West Palm nine hours late, and my bag – which had been to St. Louis but met me perfectly in Miami – appeared at baggage claim right with me.  So, for $55, five airlines, two breakfasts, two lunches, one dinner.  That was a day’s solid entertainment for less than the price of an orchestra ticket!  

  • Jose

    I last flew 10 years ago, only because I was traveling on orders to a catch a military flight to the great sand box. It was uncomfortably intimate then, sitting next to people I knew, and I was 60 lbs lighter than I am now. Add TSA groping, which would get me arrested if I tried it.

    I’ll never get on another commercial flight if I can avoid it. I would gladly pay more if conditions were better, but 1st class prices are simply outrageous.

    My current tentative travel plans include a trip to Alaska, during winter, by automobile. Should be much more comfortable and lower stress.

  • Spartacus

    Best pre-flight safety announcement I’ve ever heard, on an Alaska Air flight hastily chartered by the DOD: “If your assault rifle won’t fit into the overhead compartment above you, please feel free to store it under your seat.”
    Sometimes, surrealism just rocks.

  • Charles Martel

    Oldflyer, most of my adventures took place on Boeings. PSA acquired the Brit jets you’re talking about later in the game. I liked them, too. They had a refreshingly different look and flew pretty smoothly. A lot of my flights south were to Burbank, where the practice was to come in Aeroflot-style at a steep angle in the hopes of catching the furthest end of the airport’s short runway. The BAe 146s almost seemed to enjoy it.
    jj, what a great story about the best $55 ride ever. That it included a ride in a DC-4 had to have been the cherry on top.

  • Earl

    We flew PSA in the ’60s….it was great. 
    The reason it was so great is that it was an “intrastate” flight….so there was competition, since the federal government regulations only applied to “interstate” flights.  If PSA jacked up its prices, or otherwise ticked off the public, they would lose market share.
    We couldn’t afford to fly “interstate”, because the federal regulators determined virtually everything – schedules, prices, etc.  The airlines that were “in” – that is, the crony capitalists – were always ready to show their “tame” regulators how prices needed to be raised to cover the costs of the amenities, or how no more capacity was needed between the cities they served, in order to keep competitors out of that market. That explains the DC-9 taking off with 12 passengers….in a competitive market, that is NOT going to happen. 
    The downside of all that regulation is that prices were so high that “regular people” were basically shut out of interstate flying, except for occasional trips for which they saved and saved, sometimes for years.  Once the regulation was eliminated, the prices came down radically…..any airline that tried to keep the wide seats, fancy meals, etc. lost market share to the Southwest Airlines of the world.  No question that I don’t like the “cattle call” feeling of Southwest flights….but I’m retired and I can AFFORD to fly to Kentucky to see my Mom.  I’ll take two stops and narrow seats every day of the week in order to have access to that.  Apparently, a lot of Americans agree with me about this……
    All the complaining I hear about the “good old days” of airline flying reminds me of what I heard in England in 1997 when we drove 5,000 miles on B roads and “spaghetti” roads in six weeks.  I kept hearing folks complaining about the congestion of the roads, about “caravans” (travel trailers) blocking narrow lanes, about caravan parks blighting the views at the seaside, etc..  These complaints were ALWAYS from relatively well-off folks, who had the roads (and the seaside resorts) to themselves pre-Thatcher, when no one not in the top quintile or so could afford an automobile or the gas to run it.  Once auto travel got “democratized”, things weren’t nearly as nice for the upper levels of society, and they resented the change.
    Given my position on the economic ladder, as well as my philosophical commitments, I’m happy with the free market, even if it means less legroom that I prefer on the airplane to Kentucky.

  • beefrank

    I remember my aunts treated my sister and I with a trip to Disneyland and our first plane flight. We flew PSA on the SFO-BUR route in a big twin prop plane. For an eight-year-old, the 90-minute, noisy, vibrating flight was extremely exciting as I stared out the window.  I remember the metal armrest ashtray lids clamoring during the entire trip.

  • Danny Lemieux

    My earliest memory as a young expat boy was flying Lockheed Constellations across the Atlantic. We would fly via refueling stops in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Shannon, Ireland. Although very young, I do remember the cabin steward cooking steak dinners for the passengers in the galley and serving fine wines to my parents. Also remember many low-level flights on DC-3s, the allied workhorse of WWII, well into my teens. Great planes that rocked and rolled with every air pocket – loved those flights.