Are The Years of Happy Travel Behind Us?

Remember the days when flying used to be enjoyable? So often we travel to faraway places and talk about our fabulous destinations, the wonderful food, the beautiful views. But when was the last time you had something nice to say about getting there?

On Sunday, returning from a family wedding in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to upgrade to the First Class cabin. Funny enough, though I was excited initially, I was nearly saddened once I arrived at my window at 2A. My faux leather seat felt more like a soft recliner and less like a scratchy fortress. A fresh bottle of water awaited me on the armrest tray. And the cheerful flight attendant happily brought me a soft, dark blue blanket and pillow to curl up with during my flight.

But what made me sad was remembering that this was how it once was when you flew, no matter what class you were in. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my short thirty-two years, and I remember the days when it was a great adventure. The stewards and stewardesses (you used to be able to call them that) would provide a whole assortment of logo-ed entertainment knickknacks, from plastic airline wings to decks of playing cards. They would smile and greet you enthusiastically upon entering and exiting the plane. They would even offer to grab drinks without the formal beverage service.

I gazed longingly at the empty spaces where television screens once hung from the cabin ceiling. I remember how much I used to love boarding the plane with my favorite magazine in hand, pulling the freely provided in-flight headphones from their plastic casings in the seat pocket in front of me, plugging them into the armrests, and connecting to the whole world of airline radio. If I was lucky, it’d be a long flight, and those marvelous TV screens would flicker mid-flight, offering movies and short television clips.

As I noshed on a warm piece of chicken and salad from my first class perch, I even thought about how nice it was to receive a hot meal during your flights. Back in the day, it didn’t matter – First Class, Business Class, Coach Class. Everyone received tray and a smile. Even if it wasn’t the best meal in the world, there was an edible salad or not-so-stiff roll. Before they started to cut meals, airlines were even venturing more in the natural and organic market, offering local, healthier items.

Now, you’re lucky if they’re selling a cold box of cheese and crackers.

Observing my fellow passengers – they didn’t look any happier in First Class than they did in Coach – I wondered if we’ll ever get back to that appreciation of travel, or if airlines will continue to squish us out of our comfort zones. It seems like each time I fly, the attendants are grumpier and grumpier, and the amenities are less and less. Some airlines, like Alaska and Frontier, have adjusted their cabins to make them more user-friendly, keeping the few blankets and pillows still available and even installing personal TVs in the case of Frontier, but the comforts of travel seem to be falling to the wayside. Will we eventually stop traveling due to the hassle and discomfort of getting to our destinations?