Sunday, June 1, 2008
In Flight Service
My first commercial airplane flight was aboard a DC6, flying from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington. The year was 1955 and I was fourteen years old. I wore a gray suit with pink accents—blouse, gloves, shoes and hat. Everyone dressed up to travel back then.
We walked out of the airport and across the tarmac to climb a flight of roll-around stairs where, at the top, the brilliant smile of our stewardess welcomed us aboard. Flight attendants were, by job description: female, young, pretty, single, and registered nurses. They were there to serve our every need.
Flying is very common today, but it wasn’t at that time. The cost was beyond the reach of most families, and if Alaska hadn’t been a hardship post and our way paid by the government, we wouldn’t have been flying, either. One of the catch phrases of the time was the question asked by the stewardesses: “Coffee, tea, or milk?” You were considered urbane and cosmopolitan if you had had that question directed to you, for flying was a luxury, and the airlines did their best to make it feel so.
I don’t remember what the dinner menu was on that flight in 1955, but I remember it was hot, delicious, elegantly served with real dishes and silverware, and they passed around hot towelettes afterward.
The thing that put me in mind of that first flight was a trip I took to Phoenix last week on Southwest Airlines. I love Southwest. It’s the Great Leveler. Everyone has to stand in the same line, everyone has the same amount of leg room, and everyone gets the same bag of peanuts for a snack. They give good value and make it possible for middle-class me to jaunt across the nation north to south to teach a writing workshop. The service they give doesn’t make me feel pampered the way I felt on that long-ago flight, but they get me up and get me down safely and efficiently and at a price (if I buy the ticket far enough ahead) that I can afford.
No dinner on Southwest. No hot towels. Just a bag of peanuts, a lighthearted joke from the (middle-aged, male) flight attendant, and an on-time arrival. Suits me fine.