After a ton of air travel – a couple of years where I was intimately familiar with the contributing writers for Delta’s Sky magazine Oh good! Another piece by Daza Moskowitz Grumdahl! She’s like a sister to me! – I just completed an eight-month no-fly streak. I didn’t realize I had been grounded for so long. Those months went by quickly.
But then I went to pack and I pulled my overnight bag off the shelf and it was covered with a quarter-inch of dust and dog hair. That told me two things: I haven’t been traveling much lately, and whatever I’ve been doing instead, it’s definitely not cleaning.
Driving to the airport, we forgot where to park. I’ve been to the San Francisco airport dozens of times since November, but only to pick up other people or drop them off. I slow down in front of Terminal 2 and push open the door, because that’s how I handle welcome and bon voyage here in the big city.
A lot has changed in air travel in that time. I got to leave my devices on during takeoff and landing, something that was just starting to be dangled over our heads last year. We had heard rumors that the “turn off your devices” rule was going to be exposed as a bunch of bullshit. I was always suspicious of flight attendants’ admonitions that a high-tech jet engine and expert engineering could be sabotaged and result in hundreds of fiery deaths, just by my Tetris game.
On this flight, when it wasn’t even mentioned in the safety lecture, I turned to the 17-year-old sitting two seats down and asked about the rule and he said, “Oh yeah, you can leave everything on now.”
“Cool,” I said, casually. But inside I was like Sonofabitch! That’s awesome!! Free at last! Thank God almighty – we’re free to battle fear-of-flying nerves with gaming at last!”
Another thing: Overhead space on planes has apparently swelled exponentially. I was the second to last person to board the plane (would have been third to last, but I let a grandmotherly type go in front of me) and I waltzed on with two carry-ons without anyone trying to snag-and-tag. I kept waiting to hear the announcement that there was no overhead space left and the airline would gladly take your bag with the 35mm camera and laptop and toss that puppy right into the baggage area (for free! You’re welcome!). But the announcement never came. I was prepared to signal ahead to my husband, who was already on the plane and seated, to save me some overhead space, using whatever extraneous articles of clothing he could strip off. And worst case scenario, I was ready to push past Grandma to take the spot she had for her little lavender rollie (I don’t care if you got it at a second-hand store for $5 and your grandchildren tease you about it. You can put that sorry thing under your seat.)
But before I got on the plane, I sat in the airport and watched people carrying on these huge things onto planes. There were the obligatory giant suitcases that don’t even come close to fitting in that little cage with the lines drawn in red. Those people stopped caring a long time ago. But I saw these two guys carrying what I can only guess were javelins in padded cylindrical cases. One was green and one was red and they were like 5 feet long. I knew they weren’t going to fit in the overhead. And under the seat? Under four seats, maybe.
“Where do they think they’re going with those things?” I said. “They better not be getting on our plane.”
And then I saw the wedding gown.
Here comes this chick carrying a wedding gown in clear plastic and being worn by a plastic woman’s body form. This dress was calf-length, with no train or anything, but it was substantial in tulle alone. The plastic body form was about a size 8 and kinda busty.
“Where does she think she’s putting that thing?” I said. “She better not be on our plane.”
My husband, who doesn’t know squat about wedding gown-clad torsos or how much space they hog and who incidentally always ends up on the plane before anyone else (I have no idea how he does this), his overhead bags safely tucked away before my zone is even called, pointed out to me that I would be the biggest d-bag on the plane if I complained about someone’s wedding gown taking up more than its allotted space.
“Do you really want to be that woman?” he asked me.
“If she doesn’t have the sense to buy her wedding dress in the same city where she’s getting married, then she can buy a seat for that thing,” I said, craning my neck to see if she was boarding the plane one gate down.
All in all, the changes in flight in the past eight months have been positive. Some things stayed the same: The bathrooms on the plane are still reminiscent of a Little Tykes playhouse, all plasticky, with rounded corners and those fat stick-figure stickers on everything. The babies still cry. The toddlers still kick the seats in front of them.
And the flight attendants still give that look when you ask for a chardonnay before 10 a.m. The it’s-5-o-clock-somewhere attitude is still lost on them, which is surprising since they’re supposed to be these big travelers.