For most of us these days, travel involves going to the airport, suffering through security, paying extra to check bags, and waiting in a long line to get on the plane. It’s all a far cry from the Golden Age of air travel, when flying was luxurious and there was great legroom for all. Change is a constant, and some shifts, like cheaper fares and no more smoking onboard, have improved the passenger experience. But the scaling back of perks has negatively affected the experience for most of us, making us miss what it once meant to fly. Here are a few of the things I miss about air travel in the old days.
1. Air Travel Was A Special Occasion
There’s no doubt about it: There was once something exciting -- even glamorous -- about getting on a plane. Perhaps it had to do with the novelty; at that time, people were lucky if they got to fly once a year. It was a treat, an adventure, and we treated it as such. We genuinely looked forward to flying, and we dressed for the experience we expected to have: Dresses and suits were the norm; sweatpants and jeans would have been frowned upon. While it’s all about comfort wear now, back then we dressed knowing we’d get comfort and luxe service once onboard. It made a difference!
2. The Security Was Simple
Obviously, security measures at the airport drastically changed after 9/11. While that’s absolutely understandable -- safety must always come first -- I do long for the pre-TSA days when you could sail through security. You simply strolled through a metal detector, collected your belongings, and headed to your gate. Shoes stayed on, nothing had to be unpacked, there were no separate screenings or pat-downs, and all identification checks were done at the check-in counter. Compared to today’s security routine, it was a stress-free snap. Don’t even get me started on the customs queues.
3. There Was No Nickel-And-Diming
Often, today’s air travel feels like a giant nickel-and-dime routine, with an upcharge for everything from checked bags to preferred seating to drinks onboard. This practice started with the discount operators, but it is now regularly employed by our country’s most prestigious airlines in an effort to recoup costs. I miss the extras that were once the standard when it came to flying. I just paid for my ticket, and I didn’t have to worry about anything else but getting to my destination.
4. You Could Stretch Out
It’s not your imagination: The onboard experience has become decidedly snugger in the past 20 years. This squished-in feeling is no accident; rather, it’s by design. Airlines have reduced the pitch, or the amount of space between your seat and the one in front of you, by up to 2 inches in standard seats. What’s more, the seat width in coach has also shrunk about 2 inches. In their quest to cram in extra seats, the airlines have left most passengers a claustrophobic environment that’s hardly pleasant. I miss having extra room and being able to stretch out!
5. There Were Real Meals And Silverware
Today, you’re lucky if you get more than a bag of peanuts or pretzels in short-haul coach on most airlines, and you might even have to pay for soft drinks! Sure, there’s been backlash, but some airline executives say they’re not surprised by it, and even tend to shrug it off. I remember a time when real meals were served to everyone on the plane, from those in first class to those in coach. What’s more, those meals were presented not in heat-and-serve plastic, but on real china and with real silverware. And glassware! It lent an air of elegance to the in-air experience, and I miss the pampering. During this time of airline cost-cutting, if you’re sitting in coach, plan to bring your own meal onboard if you want to eat anything decent while getting from point A to point B.
6. There Were Perks For Kids
There was once real magic in the skies if you were traveling with children. Kids didn’t have to worry about being pushed and pulled through a TSA security line, and once on the plane, they were virtually guaranteed to receive several perks designed to make the trip extra fun. The metal “pilot in training” pins were great extras, as were the pre-flight cockpit tours where you could meet the pilots and check out all the plane’s gadgets and gauges (heck, that was fun for the adults, too!). Coloring books and crayons would often arrive after takeoff, along with special snacks. While some international carriers feature fun perks for kids -- Etihad has “flying nannies” that help entertain kids in all classes -- these are sadly few and far between.
7. People Were Considerate
With so much stress packed into today’s air travel -- what with the enhanced security checks and measures, the cattle-call boarding processes, and the pared-down comfort onboard -- it’s no wonder that people are grumpy. Whether it be the person in front of you who immediately reclines their seat right into your knees, the one who insists on screaming into their cell phone, the one who’s drunk and surly to the flight attendants, or the one who keeps kicking your seat, it seems folks lose all manners once they board a plane. It’s as if the worst of humanity is front and center, and it certainly sucks the fun out of flying.
8. You Could Receive A Warm Welcome At The Gate
And the top thing I miss about the air travel of yesterday? It’s simple, really: I miss the instant reunions, the hugs and kisses from loved ones right after getting off the plane. While I understand why gate greetings were prohibited after 9/11, I hate having to wait until baggage claim to see friendly faces -- my friendly faces. But there’s a glimmer of hope. A few airports, including airports in Pittsburgh and Seattle, have started to relax these restrictions.