DANCES WITH WORDS: “The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be!”

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Nick Wolochatiuk

Radio has changed from AM to FM; television has changed from black and white to colour; automatic transmissions have become standard; women’s necklines and hemlines have dived and climbed like the Snowbirds during their aerobatic routine over Parliament Hill on Canada Day.

If you’ve ever flown in a de Havilland Rapide, a Ford TriMotor or a Douglas DC-3, you’ll understand what I’m sharing with you this week: air travel sure ain’t what she used to be!

In the progression from those aircraft to Boeing 777 and Airbus 380…

Hold it! When I used the word ‘progression’, that suggests progress, advancement, improvement and betterment. However, that applies only to the airspeed of today’s airliners. Unfortunately, Point A to Point B travel time and comfort on most regional flights has regressed, deteriorated and become something to endure.

First of all there are the delays due to traffic congestion as you approach any major airport. Then there’s the serpentine lines of passengers anxiously awaiting the assembly line process staffed by indifferent ticket agents, customs and immigration personnel and suspicious security staff.

During the ritual involved in boarding a flight to Florida, my documentation (passport and boarding pass) was scrutinized by a succession of ten different people. I was asked to remove my shoes, belt and Tilley, empty my pockets, turn on my laptop, discard my too-large water bottle, pass through a metal detector and be wanded from head to toe.

Once aboard the aircraft, to penetrate the phalanx of other passengers trying to force their over-sized carry-ons into the under-sized over-crammed overhead bins, I had to exhibit the skills of a football player trying to get the ball through to the opposition’s goal line.

It’s a corollary of Murphy’s Law that passengers in seats B and C take their places before the occupant of seat A arrives. Close behind is the would-be occupant F, who arrives after D and E have just been seated. Even if A or F were slender ballet dancers, they’d find it extremely difficult to access their window seats. To increase airlines’ profit margin, the aisles and seats have become narrower. However, today’s passengers are larger and heavier.

By the way, at disembarkation time, it’s A and F who impulsively scramble to leave their seats first, as they have an urgent need to get their nicotine fix. A and F are also the ones who somehow managed to wedge the largest pieces of luggage into the overhead bins.

I forgot to mention that A and F were in rows 19 and 20, but they could only find room in the overheads way back in rows 32 and 33. Like spawning salmon, they have to fight their way against the flow of other disembarking passengers.  

Next week, I’ll share one of my recent airline travel experiences that proved to be surprisingly enjoyable. It was a rarity worth sharing!

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