I recall my first airline flight. I was 21 years old and I got to fly from Atlanta, Georgia to my college in Greenville, South Carolina. It was a thrill. Heck, it was a distance of only 135 miles, but what an adventure! I had my face glued to the window as I marveled at the world racing past 20,000 feet below.
Gosh, the flight attendants (we called them "stewardesses", or "stews" back then, as this was the age just before political correctness) were nice and polite and always smiling.
After I got into the work force, my duties soon required me to fly on a weekly basis. Sometimes, I would fly to several places during my workweeks. I became very schooled in flying, scheduling, rescheduling, etc. I knew the major airports like the back of my hand. I knew how to navigate most efficiently to obtain the best car rentals and where all the best airport lounges were located.
Up until around 1980 or so, flying was great. But then, things started to change. Suddenly, it seemed, all the flights were crowded. And there seemed to be more delays than ever before. And the issue of smoking on planes and in airports became a somewhat contentious matter that spilled over into everyday discourse. The service on the flights began to be cut back. Meals that once were tasty had morphed into a bag of peanuts or a few pretzels.
Flight attendants became something between businesslike and surly. Soon, I wasn't enjoying flying all that much. Soon after that, I wasn't liking it at all. It was a chore...something to be endured so that I could remain employed.
Then, when the events of 9-11 occurred, the "friendly skies" truly became decidedly UNfriendly. Wait in line, take off your shoes, boot up your computer, take off your belt, empty your pockets, hurry up!, spread your arms, spread your legs, show your driver's license (what would someone do if they did not drive?), etc, etc...
I could no longer stand to fly. I began following a self-made rule: if I could drive to my destination in an 8-hour time frame, I would drive instead of fly. Sometimes, this meant I would leave on a weekend when before I would fly out on a Monday morning. And that was OK.
But my truly worst moments while flying over the years were these:
---Flying from Atlanta to Dusseldorf, Germany. Changing planes in Paris. A Frenchman, nicely dressed in a business suit sat down next to me. All was fine until he took off his shoes. O. My. God. I didn't know feet could smell that bad. I cannot even describe the odor. It was the worst thing you can imagine...times six. I gagged. Thankfully, he got up to go to the restroom and left his shoes there. I got a towel and covered them up while he was gone. It didn't completely eliminate the odor, which was beginning to peel the paint from the plane's interior, but it helped.
---On a domestic flight at the end of a hard week, I flew home late on a Friday evening. A grandmother sat down next to me with a baby of about two months in her arms. The baby had deposited a huge load into its diaper. The woman had no intention of changing said diaper and the odor was intoxicating. I had to sit there for three hours, asking God why He was doing that to me. I guess He's got a wicked sense of humor.
---On another domestic flight, again at the end of a tiring, hard workweek, I found myself sitting next to a man who weighed 500 pounds if he weighed an ounce. His body spilled over from his seat into mine. He raised the arm rest between us so his frame could fit into the seats. I couldn't breathe. There was nothing I could do but "enjoy" my flight.
---On another flight I inexplicably got hit with the ole diarrhea bug. I was able to get to the restroom time after time after time after time after time, but it made for a less than fun flight.
---Got hit by lightning somewhere over New York state while flying from Canada. We were in a winter storm at the time, and when the lightning hit the plane, it manifested itself as an explosion and a fireball in the plane's galley, which was right behind the cockpit. The passengers went completely silent. Of course we did---we all thought we were going to die immediately. It took the captain an eternity to come on the intercom and announce in a folksy drawl..."Ahhhh, sorry about that, folks........everything's OK........it seems we were hit by lightning........enjoy the rest of your flight".