On a recent flight from GSP to LaGuardia, a woman sitting next to me blew her nose into a Kleenex and then stuffed the tissue into the seat back pocket in front of her. She was wearing pajama bottoms, a sweatshirt, and one of those toilet-seat shaped neck pillows that gave her the appearance of a whiplash victim. I glanced to the man sitting on my other side to see if he had noticed the incident, but he was too busy digging into a large bag of Doritos to judge his fellow passengers. Like the nose blower, he was also dressed for comfort—sweatpants, an oversized t-shirt, and large sneakers that he had kicked off and were now diffusing a smell that was competing admirably with the cool ranch aroma coming from his fingertips.
I’m not old enough to remember the jet-setting days of the ’60s when ying was glamorous, but in airline ads from those days, the seats seem as large as settees and the aisles as wide as sidewalks. And everyone looks fabulous. The air hostesses in their pillbox hats, miniskirts, and silk scarves tied at the neck. The passengers in suits and ties or cocktail dresses and pearls, nibbling on shrimp cocktails and sipping Champagne. The scene is much different today. While flight attendants and pilots still dress with some semblance of style and professionalism, many of the passengers look like they are at a slumber party.
I also imagine the passengers in the ’60s were somewhat better behaved than their modern counterparts. I’m sure they said things like “excuse me” if they accidentally elbowed the person next
to them, or thought better than to bring slices of onion pizza or tuna sandwiches on board. But, then again, they didn’t have the stress of competing for overhead storage space or ying for hours pressed into a space only slightly larger than a toddler’s car seat.
At the airport, waiting to board my flight back from New York, I looked around the gate and noticed a very old man wearing a blue cap with WWII Veteran printed on the front. As the boarding process began, I wondered why he was not getting on the plane before everyone else. But when an airport attendant pushed an elderly woman in a wheelchair up next to him, who reached out and grabbed his hand, I realized he had been waiting for his wife. They were the last two passengers to board the plane, and they shuffled slowly up the aisle to their seats in the bulkhead row. A minute later, a flight attendant and two men who had been seated in first class approached the couple. After a brief conversation and some handshakes, the flight attendant led the elderly couple to first class and the two men sat down in the bulkhead seats. I smiled to myself, plugged in my noise-canceling headphones, and thought: all is not lost.