'Get off My Lawn' Moment: Back When Air Travel *Used* to Be Fun

'Get off My Lawn' Moment: Back When Air Travel *Used* to Be Fun
Flight board at NY's Laguardia Airport. Credit: Roxanne Hoge, used with permission

Thursday night, June 16, LaGuardia airport, NYC. Our flight is currently delayed six hours due to “weather.” Rumors are flying that it will be canceled altogether, and we’ll be sitting here at midnight with the awful decision—do we sleep on the floor, or do we pay a fortune to stay in a utilitarian hotel?

They are blaming the weather. Yes, the weather, which seems strange since it’s been springtime bliss all day here in New York, and there’s no sign of anything dark in the sky. “There’s activity way up there,” our check-in lady says knowingly. “It’s really high.”

Ah, I see. Due to some extremely high, invisible, incredibly dangerous weather system, hundreds of flights have been cancelled. It has nothing to do with the shortage of pilots, crew, and air traffic control that has been plaguing the system for months, despite the whispers we’re hearing from the officials at the gate.

As I’m sitting here, my chatty wife strikes up a conversation with the folks slumped on the ground next to us. They’ve been here since 7 a.m., they say, and have been loaded onto two planes already, only to be offloaded an hour or two later. “We’ve hit Shake Shack twice already,” the dude says. “We’re thinking about a third time.” The lady sitting next to him shakes her head. Too much Shack, evidently.

Now, it’s nearly time for me to share a “Get off my lawn!” moment. Did you know that flying actually used to be fun?

I’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s first discuss air travel today. When you pull up to LA’s LAX or New York’s JFK, you are immediately bombarded with loud threats. “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR UNATTENDED!” the LAX loudspeakers will screech, over and over and over till you feel dizzy. “Your car will be IMPOUNDED!”

If you try to avoid the crowds and traffic, and go instead to the former Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and pull over to let out your passenger, a cop will appear within seconds to bang on your hood and yell, “Move on!”

“Well, I need to let my kid out for his flight, officer.”

“Quickly, QUICKLY!” they will shout, little Napoleons given a tiny taste of power and loving it.

When you finally get in the terminal, you will be constantly reminded of all the legal dangers you are currently facing.  “No SMOKING ANYWHERE!” the PA will scream incessantly at JFK.  “VIOLATIONS WILL BE CAUSE FOR YOUR REMOVAL FROM THE AIRPORT AND SERIOUS FINES!” As if, since the 1990s, there’s a person remaining in the U.S. who thinks you’re allowed to smoke in an airport.

As I write here at LaGuardia, the speakers have just jolted me out of my reverie to remind me loudly not to accept any luggage or packages from strangers.  Oh, thanks for giving me the heads up! This sweaty guy just asked me to hold a bulging paper bag; he said he’d be right back. Maybe next time I’ll say no.

If you manage to survive all these sonic intrusions, you get the opportunity to take off half your clothes, open all your bags, and stand in line for 45 minutes so you can be scanned by some high-tech device. For whatever reason, I am almost always picked out for extra security, and they always seem to find a reason to feel my butt, which is flattering, I s’pose, but… strange.

One of our great commenters here at RedState wrote, “The beginning of the end was the TSA.”  I can’t help but think he’s right.

While I was all in on security after 9/11, and staunchly supported increased measures, I now wonder if we didn’t all overreact. While the terrorists didn’t win a war, they have clearly inflicted a cost that we’re still paying today.

If you’ve made it on the plane (Hallelujah!), consider yourself lucky. You will be reminded several more times that you’re not allowed to smoke, and that you will be electrocuted and possibly waterboarded if you try. Even look funny at an exit door, and you will be lobotomized. Be sure to turn on “airplane mode,” for no reason anyone can explain, or there will be serious consequences!

Good times.

Yes, that’s my wife’s tweet. Perks of the job. And the results of having to sit here for six hours.

Gather round, young ‘uns. Did you know it wasn’t always this way? Let me take you back to the good old days of air travel.

For starters, you didn’t really have to be on time, much less three hours early for your flight. Five minutes before flight time? Hit the accelerator, dude! Screech up to the terminal, hop out of the car, and wave to your buddy, then do a full sprint to the gate. Smile at the flight attendant, as she waves you onto the plane.  Head for the back, kick back, and light up a smoke.

Yes, you heard me – you could smoke on planes. Then if you had friends on the flight, you could order up a beer, saunter over to them, sit on an armrest, and just hang out.  Nobody cared. The flight attendant wouldn’t shoo you away, and the loudspeaker wouldn’t threaten you with bodily pain if you didn’t return to your seat immediately.

Some things have improved, to be fair. LaGuardia Airport, an armpit that has been under renovation for most of my entire adult life, finally seems to be near completion and is frankly gorgeous. The myriad restaurants are lovely–if you got out of the stock market in time–and the shops are top-notch too, although I drew the line at the $119 Hugo Boss tee shirt. And whoever thought there’d be a spectacular fountain right in the middle of an airport terminal?

Fountain at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport. Credit: Bob Hoge, used with permission

As I sit here waiting for my flight inevitably to be canceled, I am aware of all the progress and technological advances right here in front of me. Yet, I can’t help but be a little nostalgic for the free-for-all, Wild Wild West that was travel before 9/11 (and earlier).

UPDATE: 7:43 pm. As expected, JetBlue has canceled our flight. Because they’re claiming it’s because of weather, they will pay for nothing: no hotel, no meals, nada. I repeat, there is no “weather” here. My wife and I shall now spend the evening trying to figure out how to get to Savannah by tomorrow a.m. to pick up our kids. Thanks a lot, JetBlue.

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