Those not residing in or actively flying domestically in the United States may be unaware of just how challenging air travel can be at the moment. There are simply not enough active pilots or flight crews to meet demand. This is partially because of the pandemic, when everything dried up and many active pilots and crew retired or moved on to other careers, and partly because the airline industry didn’t keep up with training new pilots to replace those who were retiring. In any case, there is a severe shortage of crews, making delays and cancellations more and more common. Throw in a general public eager to travel and you’ve got a formula for fun.
Consider my most recent flight, from Nashville to Boston:
— Flight delayed by 50 minutes before I even arrived at the airport.
— After finally boarding the plane, they determined they needed to reboot the plane’s Operating System, which involves shutting down the plane for 5-10 minutes (did I mention it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Nashville at the time?)
— Upon departing the gate and taxiing towards the the runway, the plane was pulled out of line by air traffic control minutes before takeoff because of air traffic roulette in the northeast.
— Waited on tarmac for two hours, which meant a mandatory return to a gate so passengers could get off for relief or food. While an option, they encouraged everyone to stay on board so they could leave sooner.
— Finally took off 3 1/2 hours late and arrived in Boston after midnight. Flight attendant mentioned she’d just had a 16 hour day. Who am I to complain after hearing that?
Does flying the friendly skies sound glamorous yet? Let me add another tidbit:
Since I’d transferred from another flight, I was in a middle seat at the very back of the plane, seated next to a toxic lump of evaporating booze and churning empty calories throwing up in his mouth and exhaling for the rest of us to enjoy. He kept nodding off and bouncing his head into the seat in front of him like he was head-butting a villain in a Diehard movie. I write this fondly, and find myself missing him already. Almost as much as I miss that middle seat when the plane was being rebooted on a hot day in Music City.
Travel has never been easier, and yet never so challenging. Life is funny that way. If I was impressed with anything during that experience, it’s that everyone on that plane accepted the reality of a moment we couldn’t control. We all suffered that shared experience together in stride, without a single headline-making incident. Maybe there’s hope for society after all.