Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fear of Flying

Alas, dear reader, we're talking about the world of air travel since 9/11, not the Erica Jong bed-to-bed romp that enlivened our reading lists in the 1970s. Yesterday your scribe ventured on an airplane for the first time since that sad and unforgettable date, despite all the horror stories he had heard about long lines, plastic (or non-existent) food, and sardine-can-like conditions. He is pleased to report that his experiences were far more pleasant than unpleasant.

Things did not begin well, as Metro North went into the tank early Wednesday morning and created a rush-hour nightmare. However, by midafternoon, things were pretty much back to normal, and your scribe boarded a train that was running half an hour late, and thus precisely on schedule for its successor, so everything worked out as promised. The Carey Bus driver (or whatever the line is called these days) optimistically forecast a 40-minute ride to JFK, and indeed for a while we were whizzing along after passing through the Midtown Tunnel. But soon thereafter traffic slowed to a crawl, and remained at that glacial pace until we finally got to the airport precisely one hour and 40 minutes later.

But your undaunted reporter had built in plenty of extra time, having heard horror stories of long check-in and security lines. Hah! Having had the foresight to check in online and print out his boarding pass earlier in the day, your scribe waltzed straight over to the security line, took off his cordovan penny loafers (no tassels, of course), emptied his pockets, and strode confidently through the metal detector.

BZZZZZZ!!! Oops. What had he forgotten to declare? Oh, yes - the plastic camera probably had a snitch or two of metal in it. OK, here we go again.

BZZZZZZ!!! Now what?! Step over here, sir - we need to do a complete check on you. Oh, great, I'd just won the security equivalent of the PowerBall jackpot. As other travelers streamed past him, your scribe was asked to sit in a chair and lift up his legs, then stand and hold out his arms, while he was wanded and patted down from soup to nuts, as it were. The security officer who carried all this out was very polite, but very thorough. Turns that out the small metal clip on my plastic pen was the culprit.

Finally your scribe was released and allowed to continue on his way. Proceeding to the gate, he learned that there had been a change of venue, which meant walking from one terminal to another. But at least it was all a post-screening journey, and assisted by moving conveyor belts that are fun to walk on but a little tricky to disengage from. On leaving the spongy accelerated belt, one feels as though one's magnificent seven-league boots have suddenly fallen off, and life has slammed into a slow-motion mode.

Thence to the real gate. The paper boarding pass was scanned, your scribe's name appeared in green LCD letters, and onto the plane he went. Mercifully, it was only about two-thirds full, so there were plenty of empty middle seats. All very civilized.

We closed the doors precisely on time. However, we had to sit at the gate for nearly an hour before being pushed off. Not to worry, the captain said: the published schedule allowed for this eventuality, and we would be making up time en route. True to his word, when our turn came the captain told us we were number one for takeoff, and pushed the throttles to the wall. A former Marine aviator, he flew that 767 as though it were a F-15, taking us into a steep climb straight to cruising altitude. And less than five hours later, he pointed the nose downward and slid us smoothly into PDX International. We were more than half an hour early.

And so, gentle reader, if you, too, have been hesitant to fly in recent years because of the dramatic changes to the world of air travel, fear not - it is really very like to the good old days that you may remember so fondly. And it sure beats driving coast-to-coast!

Greetings from sunny (really!) downtown Portland, where your Greenwich Library card is treated like an honored guest.


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