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Frank J. Dinan: Airlines have taken the fun out of flying

I took my first airline flight in 1959 when I flew to Pittsburgh for a job interview. I remember it well. My seat was automatically reserved when my ticket was purchased. I arrived at the airport shortly before my departure time, and a red cap took my bag at the curb. I handed in my ticket at the departure gate, walked across the tarmac, climbed a flight of stairs and was greeted by a stewardess who said, “Welcome aboard, sir.”

It was an early morning flight and I had eaten breakfast at home because I thought that airline food wouldn’t be very good. I was wrong. I declined breakfast but changed my mind when I saw the sumptuous breakfasts that others were eating. “Certainly, sir, what would you like?” I was given three breakfast choices, and opted for ham and eggs, toast, home fries, juice and coffee. It was delicious.

After breakfast I was offered a choice of magazines to read during the flight. My fellow passengers and I, dressed in our Sunday best, settled back in our seats for a two-hour flight. As I left the plane, a stewardess said, “Enjoy your stay in Pittsburgh, sir.” I loved the whole experience.

Things have changed since then. Now I have to arrive at least two hours before my departure time, wait in long lines, present credentials and hope that my name is not the same as someone else’s on a no-fly list. Next, I have to partially undress to be searched, then be subjected to an X-ray examination. When that inquisition ends, I have to race to my departure gate and hope that I can find a space for my carry-on luggage.

My fellow passengers and I, some dressed as if on their way to work in the engine room of a tramp steamer, are herded on board, squeezed through very narrow aisles and jammed into seats that are too small for anyone who is old enough to have finished grammar school. During the flight, I might get a small pack of pretzels to munch on to distract me from my discomfort.

Of course, the inflation-adjusted price of tickets has risen since those bygone days, and the airlines now charge extra fees for everything they can think of. I can’t help but wonder why ticket prices rise while services decline and fuel costs drop – two major expenses for airline flights.

Due to today’s heavy air traffic, more flights are canceled or delayed, and the chances of reaching my destination on time decrease regularly. I need especially good luck if I have to make a connecting flight.

If I were to repeat my 1959 flight to Pittsburgh today, everything about the experience would be less satisfactory. Despite today’s faster airplanes, my door-to-door travel time would be longer. I would be treated less like a human being and more like herded cattle.

I could forget all about courtesy and comfort, and could not expect any sort of meal to be served on my flight. And if I were unfortunate enough to have to change any of my travel plans, I would have to pay excessive fees to do so.

Now, whenever I am tempted to fly anywhere that is less than multiple hundreds of miles away, I remind myself of how painful flying has become and check out the train and bus schedules.

It’s true that some of these airline changes are due to enhanced security, but many are due to the airlines themselves. Way back then, flying was fun and comfortable, but “progress” has changed that. Ah, for the good old days!