My children have been on more than their share of airplanes. My son was just a few weeks old when he took his first cross-country flight. Both kids' passports sport chubby babyfaces, even though their mugs subsequently morphed into chiseled cheekbones before the documents needed to be renewed. Although they balk at a 20-minute car ride, they take an 11-hour transatlantic flight in stride.
Growing up, I never understood people who did not love to fly. As kids, we were treated like royalty: stewardesses gave us pilot wing pins (made of metal, not the cheap plastic stick-on ones they have today), replica planes, coloring books, and decks of cards. My brothers and I played hours of Casino, Whist, Slap Jack, and Spades with our trusty Pan Am deck of cards, which never stuck together, no matter how many 7-Ups we spilled on our seatback trays. And if a seven of hearts were to fall out of reach under our seats, no worry, we would just press the call button and another deck would be presented to us on a tray.
Planes are microcosms of daily life, sort of what I imagine an ant farm would be like if I were so inclined to ever learn about what goes on in ant farms. Each person on the flight is representative of some sort of archetype somewhere. The thrill of finding that your seatmate is from the same midwestern state as your freshman roommate--what a coincidence! The man in the aisle seat has those Bose noise-minimizing headphones--cool! Maybe the couple in the exit row is on their honeymoon--will it last? Isn't it a little early for the woman in the window seat to be ordering a Bloody Mary mix? And, just as in real life, there are neighborhoods that are strictly off-limits to to the not-so-well-heeled: the "gated communities" of the First and Business classes. And they say we have no caste system in America.
I have always loved not only airplanes, but airports. Just like the most vibrant cities, major metropolitan airports are jumping all the time, with restaurants, shops, bathrooms, buses, and people from literally all over the world. There are even enclaves for those who are too fancy for the rest of us--those awesome airport lounges--and mini chapels, for those who don't think getting 35,000 miles closer to the heavens is going to be good enough. Prior to September 11, airports felt safe and fun--I occasionally thought it would be fun to live in one, sort of like being in the Truman Show. Or Sesame Street. Everyone there had a role to play and a purpose. Elmo and Big Bird might have Hooper's Store, but JFK has an awesome Duty Free shop! And if I lived there, I would have time to decide whether I wanted to choose as my souvenir a snow globe of the Statue of Liberty or a box of peanut brittle with a NY logo. I remember being slightly freaked out by the Hare Krishnas and elderly nuns soliciting in the terminals, but that part of the show just gave us something to giggle about as we waited at the gate.
My son, born in 2001, does not see the fun in flying that I do. Although he does not know this, when he was barely five months old, he was a passenger on one of the planes that ultimately hit the World Trade Center just hours after we disembarked. I can still hear his inconsolable shrieks while we waited in baggage claim in Logan Airport, late in the evening on September 10. The cries did not dissipate even when we made our way to the comfort of his grandparents' place. He had never had communicated such unmitigated terror before, and he has not since, 10 years later. It saddens me to think my children are growing up seeing the act of travel as a burden rather than one of the best parts of the journey.