A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


My first flight on a commercial airliner was a little more than an hour long.  In that time, the stewardesses (and yes, they were referred to as “stewardesses” back then – or would that be “stewardessi”?) managed to serve beverages, peanuts, a full meal, more beverages, another bag of peanuts and then clean it all up before it was time to land.

It was, as the cartoon character in the commercials used to say, “the o-o-only way to fly!”

It was fun to watch how efficiently the staff moved up and down the aisle of the plane, handing out food and beverages and collecting used cups and trays.  On my first short flight one stewardess had to wrestle a tray away from a gentleman who hadn’t had time to finish his ham.

“Sir, we’re preparing to land,” she told him as she tugged at his plastic tray.

“But I’m not finished!” he growled, stuffing a roll into his mouth and looking for all the world like he would chomp down on her wrist if it got in between his mouth and his meal.

Who needs an in-flight movie when you’ve got entertainment like that?

Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was a healthy, red-blooded 14-year-old male and the airlines at that time required their stewardesses to be young and attractive.  That fact also helped to keep me from crying like a little girl on my first take-off or whimpering about the tight, closed quarters (shouldn’t they find out if people are claustrophobic BEFORE they cram them into the back row of an airplane in between a high school linebacker and a tuba player?).

These days the flight service technicians (or whatever is politically correct to call them) are generally older and more experienced.  And unless you’re flying first class or overseas, they don’t do meals.  Oh, sure – they still do beverages.  And then they walk up and down the aisle tossing out “snacks” – foil pouches that include raisins, crackers, processed cheese and a cookie – which I guess is better than nothing.  But not by much – especially for those of us who remember the heady days of “coffee, tea or filet mignon?”

Unless, of course, you’re Jon.

A couple of weeks ago we took Jon, our 14-year-old son, on his first airplane flight.  He is a good boy with a tender heart, and he was a little nervous about the prospect – especially as we made our way through the new, intense security measures.  But he bravely strapped himself into his window seat and braced himself for the adventure.  He has a sort of nervous stomach, so I worried about how he would handle the take-off (I paid special attention to the location of the barf bag – just in case).  But he smiled and laughed out loud and savored every moment of it.

“That was awesome!” he said. “I wish we could go back and do that again!”

I, on the other hand, was still eyeing that barf bag – and hoping I wouldn’t have to use it.

Thankfully, the flight staff came along quickly with an assortment of beverages – water, juice, milk, soda and a mysterious drink that Jon found absolutely irresistible: ginger ale.

“How much does it cost?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Nothing,” I said.  “It’s free.  All you can drink.”

“No way!” Jon said excitedly.  “I’ll take two!”

Jon was still enjoying his second cup of ginger ale when the staff came around with the snack.  He looked at me hopefully.

“Yes, it’s free,” I said.  “Knock yourself out!”

“Amazing!” he said as he tore into his raisins – something at which he turns up his nose at home. “We just sit here and they bring us free drinks and food!  This is the life, huh Dad?”

I wanted to tell him about the good old days of airline roast beef and chicken cordon bleu, but he was busy trying to talk his mother and sister our of the shortbread cookies in their respective snacks.  And I could see the staff coming with another round of beverages.  He’d have a hard time believing that anything could ever be any better than this.

And maybe it couldn’t.  It’s a new day, and there is a new way of doing things.  Some things are better, and some are worse, but pretty much everything is different.  And different is good.  For the most part it means progress and growth.  And even when it doesn’t . . . well, it is what it is.  As the psalmist said: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Especially if it means we get free ginger ale and snacks on a plane.

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— © Joseph Walker

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