WALLY'S WORLD: Air travel simply isn’t fun anymore

It’s a sure sign of age when you find yourself saying, with increasing regularity, “Things are different today.”

Well yeah, that’s actually pretty obvious – leave it to the elderly to notice the self-evident – whether you’re speaking of fashion, politics, divorce rates, hairstyles, sexual behavior or most anything else.

Take for example this column’s subject: flying. I flew for the first time when I joined the Army. The United States government paid for my flight on United Airlines to San Francisco. Believe it or not, I arrived at SeaTac only 15 minutes before departure. Even though we took off at 11 a.m. and the trip took only a few hours, a sandwich-and-salad lunch was served and I had a couple of drinks.

The second time I flew was three months later when I completed basic training and returned to Enumclaw on a two-week leave. That flight left San Francisco at 9 in the evening and, believe it or not, the plane was half empty. In fact, I stretched out on several empty seats and went to sleep.

Can you imagine such a thing?

And finally, my third flight was two weeks later. I boarded at SeaTac around 11 a.m. for a nonstop trip to New York. This plane was rather crowded, but there were still empty seats in coach, which, needless to say, is what I paid for. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, they sat me in first-class. I wasn’t about to point out their error, so I had an unlimited supply of booze coast to coast. By the time we landed at LaGuardia Airport, I was certainly well-primed for my first encounter with Manhattan.

Well, friends, “things are different today.” Just in case you’ve been living in a cave and therefore haven’t heard, or in case you haven’t flown the last couple of years, flying simply isn’t fun anymore. In fact, it’s a pain in the duppa. If there’s any other way to get where you’re going, take it. Walk if necessary.

The last flight I bravely tolerated was from SeaTac to Richmond, Va., with a three-hour layover in Atlanta. This was before X-ray scans. Instead, my body was swept with some kind of magic wand that seemed to ding on every damned thing from the fillings in my teeth to my pocket change. So, I was taken behind a screen where I removed my belt, emptied my pockets and received a back-handed body pat-down that didn’t pay much attention to my groin. But even if it had included the current full-palm groping, it wouldn’t have bothered me (I should point out I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, so don’t start thinking I’m kinky.)

However, what really agitated me was the hour-long line at SeaTac and the hour-and-a-half wait in Atlanta, the inability to get more than one drink on either flight and the fact that we had nothing to eat but peanuts. Then too, we were packed in that cigar tube like feedlot cattle, but with less leg room. Not one empty seat on either plane. It was simply no fun at all.

Since it’s politically incorrect to profile and single out or detain suspected terrorists, I suppose the security procedures are necessary. And anyway, it won’t be long before we have a crop of home-grown, all-American terrorists who will make their bid for martyrdom. The government won’t be able to profile these crazies even if it wants too; for example, the Oklahoma City bomber several years ago.

On my return, cross-county trip from Richmond, I gave up on the airlines and took the train. My, oh my, what a delightful way to travel! Just kick back with a martini in the club car and watch America flash by your window. Of course, the trip took three days and this might be a problem if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. But if you’re on vacation, trying to relax with some free time, trust me, take the train.

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