Thursday, July 11, 2013

Yes, Flying Really Was Much Better in the 60s!

Flying in the near future: on 'Skyrider' seats!

Most people who take to the skies today-  post - 1980s massive de-regulation -  have no clue about how great getting on a jet used to be in this country. Crammed into typical economy class cabins with minimal leg room, smacked by the seat in front and barely any over head space, not to mention being dinged for everything from extra luggage to snacks, to even choice of seat (now), many believe this is how it's always been.

But if they saw how we traveled in the 60s they'd be livid. Wide aisles so you didn't careen into the push carts bearing drinks (on the way to the rest room), two wide seats on either side of the spacious aisle with plenty of leg room, and full decent meals that make even today's pay-to-eat offerings look like pig slop.  Indeed, traveling back then was more like taking business class today.

My favorite jaunt was between New Orleans and Miami, from 1966 through 1969, via National Airlines. The fare was a fixed 90 bucks, and the total trip took 90 minutes to cross over the Gulf of Mexico. There was no milling about, waiting at a "gate" to get on the plane. As soon as you arrived you showed your ticket then boarded.

Within ten minutes of being airborne the airline hostesses were ready to serve you any beverage desired along with a hot sandwich (for such a short trip full meals weren't available). That included: hot pastrami, corned beef, or just plain hamburgers. I can vouch that the quality would beat even most first class fare served these days.  The 1960s flight experience was perhaps most faithfully portrayed  in the short-lived 2012 TV series "Pan Am". (I only watched one episode but thought it was fairly accurate!)

In the 1960s class differentiation on flights was neither as extreme or emphasized as it is today. Yes, there was a smallish first class option but in general you had to be a real tool to use that when the regular seating was so comfortable (they didn't use the term "economy" because Cheeze Louise, it wasn't like taking a Greyhound bus back then - though it is like that today!) 

By the time you reached your destination you were refreshed and not frazzled after long waits, security searches, cramped leg room and other tribulations. In other words, you enjoyed the flight experience.

Yes, yes, I know, the current purveyors of flying box car sardine accommodations will assert flying is much safer now, with less fire prone seats, some better designs etc. that permits at least a decent chance of escape from a crash, such as we saw at San Francisco. That's a point, but I argue that had the regulation of airlines continued those improvements would still have been made and now, we'd have comfortable flights along with the new safety enhancements.

The main purpose of deregulation was for airlines to pile in more people and make more money. (And please don't tell me flights are cheaper now, because I can cite just as many examples showing how the prices of key flights are outrageous - depending on the cities involved: think $750 from COS to Atlanta!)

Yes, more people can travel today ....but what has that translated into? Well, I call it a "Greyhound of the skies". You're packed in just like you were in the old Greyhound buses of the past. Candy and nut wrappers strewn all about by the end of the flight, trying to squeeze out of your seat to use the loo, and then loads of cranky passengers not at all enthralled with their predicament- especially if a screaming tot is added to the mix.

Furthermore, the differences between first class and economy have reflected the general and growing inequality in our society. And as they stretch the first class seats to give them more room, at more expense, they shrink the economy class to piss regular fliers off even more. The new plan being considered is to remove two restrooms in the rear of each economy cabin and jam in four more seats.

The next step after that? Probably to replace current seating with 'Skyrider' seats so people can feel like they're on a bicycle seat while traveling 4 hours from NYC to San Francisco.  Meanwhile, on one website called Flyertalk, we learned from a fellow blogger just how close we are to class warfare in the sky. Evidently disgusted by the grubby conditions on his flight, this Robespierre of the unfriendly skies invoked the French Revolution and warned: If you annoy “the salt of the earth enough, the rank and file and what have you, sometimes you wind up beheaded.”

Hmmmmm...better be careful there, son, lest the Patriot Act and its NSA patronizers label you a "terrorist"

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