Family · Travel

Love at First Flight

Looking back, I’m impressed my mother let us go. My sister and I were teenagers in 1978, age 16 and 19, flying for the first time across the country to visit our brother in California. We had saved our own money to go, and Mom ran out of excuses and reasons to say no. So, off we flew on Continental Airlines, roundtrip from Newark to Los Angeles for a whopping $278. For me, it was love at first flight. The clouds outside my window, the tray table, the ear phones, the movie, the free soda and lunch – it just kept getting better and better. This new world, fully contained within the plane, was tidy, compact, and sustaining. There was a place for everything and everything had its place. It was the perfect foil to my burgeoning independence. And thus, a frequent flyer was born.

Road trips never get old for me. Although off to a late start, I have always loved traveling, by plane, boat, train, car. With six children in tow, my parents stayed close to home and never flew anywhere. We traveled by car and vacationed at the Jersey shore and upstate New York, and took daily trips to Jones Beach, Fire Island and New York City. As much as I savored every moment and outing, they paled in comparison to flying high above the ground, so my first flight truly was a game changer. When I moved to Southern California (yes, that trip at age 16 sold me on living there), I took a job as a secretary for a cruise line. It took a few years, but I did upgrade from the complaint department to marketing, and there I found my happy place working on the ships from time to time. Whether training the shipboard staff on implementing loyalty programs or escorting a film crew to shoot promotional material, the trips to the ships were as fun as the work on the ships. Well, maybe a little less so for the red-eye from LAX to Fort Lauderdale, which was immediately followed by a full day working. Brutal. My first international flight was bound for Costa Rica, and the difference from domestic was delightful. “Would you like some rum with your Diet Coke?” Sí, señora! I vowed I’d always fly international from then on, though that’s a work in progress.

Flying often for work introduced me to the higher echelon of first class. Oversized seats, spacious legroom, free drinks, cloth napkins and real silverware. Now that’s the way to fly. It’s demoralizing to travel in coach after being spoiled in first class. Seinfeld covered this dichotomy brilliantly in the now-famous episode with Elaine suffering in cramped coach and Jerry living it up next to a gorgeous blonde while sipping wine in first class. To Tuscany!

Of course I’ve had some rough flights, due to both turbulence and circumstance. The most frightening white-knuckler took place on approach to Aspen. If I never hear the term “dipping the wing” again, that’d be great. On one of my flights back home to LA, I came down with the flu, a crazy acute onset. Those little airsick bags are just not up to the task; enough said. A sudden bright flash outside my window departing LAX one night was disconcerting. We flew over the ocean and came right back to land, as the pilot knew four working engines were better than three. Um, yeah. That easily could have been a more frightening white-knuckler. A short weekend trip to Dallas became even shorter after missing my connection in Memphis, and not for the lack of sprinting and begging as they closed the door right in front of me. Seconds matter.

My husband is like-minded when it comes to traveling, and his story is similar to mine. First time on a plane as a teen, he also fell in love with flying, the ocean and California – all of it a far cry from his small northern Wisconsin hometown. We flew our first-born at the tender age of five weeks old to meet her grandmother in that small town in Wisconsin, and our tiny baby fit perfectly on the tray table for a diaper change. (Yes, better wipe yours down before your next in-flight meal – you never know.) We flew often when the children were very young, and they were champs. The proverbial apples fallen from our tree, they also loved their little corner of the plane world with their window on the sky, a tray table with coloring books and juice, and earphones that tuned everyone else out. Of course, the occasional bad-timed ear infection made for a long, tearful flight, and I offer heartfelt apologies to the passengers on those flights when we were the ones with the crying baby, or worse, the seat-kicking toddler. Thank goodness those days are over.

As the children got older, it became increasingly easier to fly with them. No more strollers, diapers, bottles, or extra carry-ons full of food and activities. They had all they needed in their own little backpacks. They loved to travel and the only bickering was over who’d get the window seat. (We took turns.) No more kicking or crying, except for that one flight out of Boston… The children were ages 3, 5 and 7, and we were headed to LA with a crazy routing from DC through Boston. Storms delayed our departure, which of course put our connection at risk. We alerted the attendant who called ahead to let them know we were on the way. When we landed in Boston, the attendant asked everyone to stay seated so our family of five could make the next flight. And EVERYONE STAYED SEATED while we ran off the plane. I think I even heard clapping! It was an amazing moment. Giddy with the goodwill of our fellow passengers bidding us a fond adieu and bon voyage, we simply weren’t prepared for the about-face we were about to encounter. We boarded our connection just as the door was closing. Silent sneers made clear that these passengers were none too happy waiting for us. We gulped, apologized profusely, and tried to scurry the children along to their seats, only to hear the oldest say, “First one gets the window!” as she knocked the youngest out of her way and took off. And the youngest promptly dropped to his knees in full wail, as it was his turn for the window. Good times! You don’t get entertainment like that in first class, do you?

Visiting family in Wisconsin and Texas, friends in California, and the Outer Banks in August consumed our travel dollars and vacation days. As much as we loved seeing family and escaping to our summer week at the beach, we longed to see more of our world so we finally got passports for the children and renewed our own. Our first international trip was to Ireland, and it rekindled our love of adventure and whet the children’s appetite as well. We spent a week exploring and snorkeling the beaches of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas last year. This year we’re staying domestic with a family wedding in Milwaukee, but we are venturing up north to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, the third of five Great Lakes in which we’ve stepped foot – two to go.

I suppose if I had to fly very often for work it would get old and tiresome. The schlepp becomes tedious dealing with airports and delays and gate changes and mean people. Flying has changed so much since I boarded my first plane back in 1978, but the thrill remains for me. It’s usually the start of an adventure and the chance to seek out something new and different, even if the destination is one I’ve been to before. Back in March I joined some dear friends for a ladies’ weekend in my old stomping grounds of Los Angeles, and I flew a similar roundtrip itinerary to that very first trip I took almost 40 years ago. If only it all cost the same.

What about you, dear reader? What are some of your most memorable travel moments? Please share!

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