I still hate flying and do so infrequently probably because I have never understood aeronautical principles. Age with its many gifts has not changed that. And the experience of commercial air travel now is completely unpleasant. Most people who fly today seem to wear what they would wear sitting in their barcolounger. I, however, continue to dress for travel.
But how to do it right in these new times — with machines that literally see right through you? That was the question facing me last week, when I had to fly to a special birthday celebration in Louisville, Kentucky during the work week.
When I first flew on an airplane, I was old, 25 years old exactly. I had finished a summer externship after my first year of medical school and had been invited to a Western state to meet the parents and siblings of a serious beau. The beau and I had planned to return by car home to Louisville, Kentucky, where we were both in medical school.
Still, I was not enthusiastic about this. The entire concept of a large metal container of people staying aloft and moving forward based on flow of air under the wings and two airplane motors made very little sense to me.
Poverty did not stop me from purchasing a first class one way ticket for my first flight. I was also convinced it would be my last flight and had some vague idea that St.Peter might invite those in first class to enter eternity by a special gate. No matter how the flight ended, it was important to me that I be well dressed.
This was 1973. Students were taking drugs, smoking pot, wearing jeans and tie dyed clothes. They certainly were not dressing for travel. Conventions of the day did not sway me from the certainty that I should look my best for this flight. Summer knit suit, matching shoes and handbag, hat and gloves. The plane did not crash.
The relatives of the beau were no doubt aghast at the amount of luggage I brought in order to survive any athletic or social event this busy family could create and must have wondered what kind of young woman arrives at a ranch wearing a hat and gloves?
The day of this most recent trip, the weather was vile. The carrier was the dreadful USAIR. And there were new dress considerations that were perplexing. The press had covered new screening techniques in great detail for the past few weeks. I knew that people would be looking at my lingerie while they tried to find some place that an explosive could be hidden. Now I had to choose special lingerie for flying. Not just a great dress, coat, shoes and gloves, but special under garments as well.
After much thought I chose brief white net boy shorts, with embroidered pink roses and a vamped opening on the sides ending in pink ribbons, and a matching low-cut underwire bra. It would be clear that I had nothing to hide; if I were forced to have a pat-down exam, at least I would be dressed for it. You never know.
After all this preparation, along with a two-hour pre-departure time because of all the warnings, we were rushed through a perfectly ordinary screening process with absolutely no special attention given to imaging my underwear. I must admit, I was a bit put out after all the effort I had extended. It seems that USAIR doesn’t care if their small cramped smelly planes blow up or not.
My clothes for the birthday party stayed in my lap, in a garment bag, throughout the miserable two-hour flight through frightening turbulence. There was no room for leg movement. It is amazing that no one developed a blood clot on that flight. And of course the man just behind me kept coughing – he seemed to have both drug resistant tuberculosis and the first case of SARS, or else a new variant of Ebola virus that just attacked the lungs. At any minute I expected that he would cough quarts of infected blood over the back of my seat. I would have asked him to use proper cough technique, but he didn’t stop coughing long enough for me to stand up and test his knowledge of this important way of preventing the transmission of droplet borne illnesses.
The plane landed in spite of it all. The birthday party was fantastic with time to spend with dear friends who were so important to my life journey. The food and conversation were certainly worth the trip.
I really wanted to move into our lovely suite at Hotel 21 C for an extended visit. Instead, within 12 hours of arrival in Louisville we were back in the air. On an even worse plane — something rented from a regional carrier.
This Cinderella had lost more than her shoe, carriage and footmen. After bourbon and a late night, I too looked a bit like someone who had just rolled out of her barcolounger. At least I knew it.