As a young boy, travel by air was a rare treat. We almost always took the family car on vacations and stayed in cheap motels. (That's a blog for another day.)
I flew only a half dozen times before I went off to college, but I loved it.
I loved everything about it. Those strange rubber headphone with the twin hollow tubes that plugged into the armrest. The lights and twist-open vents of the overhead panel.
And the view out the window! I always had to have a window seat. From taxi to touchdown my nose was pressed against the Plexiglas.
I left the window only long enough to make curious stabs at the in-flight meal. In those days it came with a real fork, knife and spoon. What's more, I was filled with child-like (for I was a child at the time) wonder at the square plastic tray and the food that fit perfectly in smaller square compartments.
I loved everything about the airliners with names that started with "7" or "DC." (There was no Airbus in those days.) I learned "pilot speak" listening to the air traffic control channel through those same, odd headphones.
To supplement my education, one Christmas dad gave me a battery powered, air/sea radio. I spent hours on top of our neighbor's garage, watching the distant planes takeoff and land while listening to the tower chatter on the radio.
If only I'd been as clever as Frank Abagnale Jr., I too would have been a Pan Am pilot.
It took a lot to change that love of flying into hate. But they did it.
Flying has been turned into a chore -- a necessary evil.
From the moment you decide to book a flight, the airlines seem to do everything they can to put you in a foul mood with new and ever so creative ways of separating you from your money.
Fees to book over the phone. Fees to check bags. (Shouldn't I get a refund if the bags arrive in Duluth while I am arriving in Denver?) Some now even charge fees to lug your bags onto the plane!
There are also fees for a seat with a few inches of extra leg room, or a seat by the isle or window. Imagine! Airlines will charge you for the privilege of sitting in an exit row where you can heft the over-wing, emergency door at the direction (I assume shouted) of the flight crew. Audience participation.
Then there are fees to change your flight. Fees to snack. Fees to get a blanket or pillow. Fees to watch a movie. Fees to check your email. One airline (Ryanair) even charged to use the toilet.
Not done yet! Once in the airport terminal, there are too few airline employees trying to manage the needs of too many passengers.
And, on the assumption that some people just live to throw away cash on non-refundable tickets, flights are often overbooked. Airlines want to ensure there's a body crammed into every available inch.
If truth is the first casualty of war, then civility is the first casualty of today's air travel.
Don't get me started on the electronic strip search at the security checkpoint. (Yes, I know the airlines are not to blame for that, but how can I overlook it when dissecting why I now hate to fly?)
In the movie "Up in the Air", when frequent flier George Clooney got to 10-million miles, he was rewarded with a visit from the wise chief pilot who engaged in a new age discussion of the meaning of life at 35,000 feet.
I will never get to a million miles with any airline let alone 10-million. The meaning of life continues to elude me.
But even if I did hit 10-million, with the way things are, I would expect little more than a pack of peanuts and a smile.
That's why I now prefer to fly Southwest. The free peanuts and the often giddy flight attendants make feel like I've already arrived.