I used to love to fly. I used to love to strap myself into a seat on an airplane headed to places I’d never been before – Boston, Denver, Arizona, Chicago, New York, Europe, San Francisco. Back in the olden days (the 1980s) I’d maybe call a travel agent, or call an airline directly, and book passage to adventure. In those days getting on a passenger plane was a lot more simple. I know this might be hard to imagine, but in those days you didn’t have to take your shoes off, fit your cosmetics and contact lens cleaner in a little plastic bag, or stand your body in front of a scanner thing. And when you exited the plane on your return trip, your loved ones could wait for you right where you got off the plane. It was very cool.
I worked for a small charter airplane place for a while. Every now and then a pilot would invite me to go up with him for a free ride. One time a pilot-friend invited me to go up for a ride in a Cessna 152 aerobat – the kinds of planes that can perform stunts. Once we got in the air my friend asked me if I’d like to do a loop. No, not really, I told him. But he looked so disappointed that I agreed to let him loop-dee-loop me. And ohmygosh! It was so fun! The earth became the sky and the sky became the earth, and my face did that thing where the gravity made my skin flap. Now THAT was a plane ride!
A couple of times I got coupons for free introductory flying lessons – and of course I had to use the coupons, right? You can’t let those things go to waste. So I got to fly a little bit on my own while the pilot sat next to me to make sure I didn’t fly his plane into the ground. I enjoyed those free lessons. I never got up the gumption to go beyond the introductory lessons, though.
My first plane ride was a flight around Mount Rainier in a little plane owned and flown by the legendary pilot, Jimmy Beech – who had been a friend of my dad’s. I still remember the excitement of that first plane ride – how Jimmy brought us low over the glaciers and meadows of Rainier.
But before I ever got into a plane I was having flying dreams. In my dreams I’d spread my arms like a bird spreads its wings, and then I’d push off from my toes and soar over our backyard. Those dreams were the best.
In the last ten years or so I’ve developed a dread of flying. I dread being told to take off my shoes; remove all metal from my pockets; put the laptop in a separate container; make sure the cellphone doesn’t come through the scanner with me; put all my cosmetics and contact lens stuff in the plastic bag; and stand in front of the machine that checks our bodies for whatever it is that it checks our bodies for. I dread loading and unloading myself and my stuff from the plane.
Last weekend my husband and I flew from Seattle to Missoula for a wedding. Given my experiences with flying since 9-11 I had some trepidation. But the flights to and from proved to be a miracle of simplicity for us! It was like going back to the days before 2001. For some reason that we still don’t understand, our boarding passes had “pre-check” written on them. This meant we could keep our shoes on, keep our laptops in our backpacks, avoid the machine that checks our bodies, and walk through the metal detector right to our boarding gate. It was awesome.
Once we were on the Alaska Airlines turbo-prop in Seattle there was a little delay because there appeared to be an extra passenger on the plane. But we all had fun with that. I joked, “Well, that can’t be good.” A fellow sitting kitty corner in front of me turned around, grinning, and looked back my direction. I said, “It’s you, isn’t it?” He started cracking up then. Eventually, the flight attendants got it all sorted out and we took off for Montana.
My husband and I were in the very last seats in the plane. We were back where the flight attendants hang out during the flight, and we got to chat with them about hikes around Missoula and so forth. When it came time to serve us our drinks, we were the first people they served. And when the plane landed in Missoula, my husband and I were able to quickly retrieve our bags, and were the first people to exit from the rear of the plane. This, my friends, is what hassle-free flying looks like.
On the way back from Missoula there were nine TSA agents waiting at the security checkpoint and my husband and I were the only people in line – so, with our “pre-check” boarding passes, we zipped through security in record time. I looked over at one of the agents and said, “You’re all here just for me, right?” He started laughing and said, “Yes. We’ve all been waiting for you!”
We had another nice flight back to Seattle – this time on a small jet. It only took 40 minutes for the return trip!
I think I may have re-discovered my love of flying. I’m telling you – “pre-check” rocks!