Half the fun? Not. 

Getting there is no longer half the fun. Air travel used to be and still can be enjoyable. For those who can afford it. And even then . . .

Though my latest travel experience may not be representative, it exemplifies the misadventures that increasingly plague travelers.

The trouble began about an hour before I expected to leave for the airport. The airline called to say that my flight wouldn’t leave as scheduled at 8 p.m.— rather, the plane would take off 17 hours later at 1 p.m. the next day. And— I had to check in at Kennedy International Airport at 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t love leaving the house at 7 a.m., and four and a half hours before flight time seemed an excessively long time for checking in.

This is what waiting looks like.(Photo: ABC News)

Since early morning traffic in August is unusually light, I arrived at the airport before 8 a.m. A long, snaking line had already formed. I took my place behind three families and we waited. And waited. Almost an hour later, when the line was winding through the terminal, a few counters opened, and the next phase of the pre-boarding procedures began. Passengers had to haul their bags, one at a time, onto the scale to be weighed. How the fragile-looking older people managed to lift their baggage, I don’t know. I’m pretty strong, so I had no problem walking over to the TSA with a large laptop knapsack on my back and one ample handbag slung over each shoulder. My hands were free to wheel my two smallish bags, one on top of the other. (Before 9/11, passengers confidently left their bags at the checkout counter to slide out of sight on a conveyor belt.) Bags deposited, I walked to security and handed over my boarding pass. It was swiftly rejected by the officer. He had no problem with the new date of departure inked in by hand, but the stamped date was lacking. Horrors. Back to the swarm at the counters. At least I didn’t have to wait on the interminable line. Return to security, where my double-dated boarding pass easily passed muster.

The next hurdle was the body scan. I refuse to expose my body to unnecessary radiation. Of course, I had to wait to be patted down. But God knows I had time. Perhaps I look sufficiently unlike a terrorist that the pat-downs I’ve experienced haven’t been at all aggressive or even unpleasant. Just another routine to be ticked off.

By then it was 9:30— only four hours to while away. But I always carry varied reading material, and there was wifi in the lounge, so the hours slid by effortlessly. Kindles and iPads do lighten the load considerably, and I always have something left to attend to.

The flight itself was uneventful, except for arriving, not at midmorning as originally scheduled, but 17 hours later, at 2:50 in the middle of the night. And my journey wasn’t over.

My husband, who always insists on meeting me personally at the airport, had to leave Capri the day before, because the last boat leaves the island at 10:20 (much earlier in winter). Accustomed to his unfailing punctuality, I stood near the automatic exit doors of Customs, while waiting for the carousel to begin its slow wending through the mass of tired travelers. The doors swung open, I looked out. I expected to see Sal waving and smiling. To my great surprise, for the first time in over 40 years he wasn’t there. I had two cellphones, but the American one couldn’t deal with Italy, and the Italian one had a technical glitch, so there was no way to communicate with my husband. I began to worry and wonder, imagining the disagreeable scenarios that might have detained him. I was sure that Sal was frantically trying to reach me, and then cursing me for not turning on my phone.

At least I had my camera.

All told, I spent only an hour and a half at the airport. Whoever was in charge of updating the arrival times must have gone back to sleep after giving our flight an ETA that was off by 40 minutes. Sal thought he was ahead of time. We left the airport about 3:30 and drove to the port, where we waited for the gates to open and allow us to board the earliest boat at 5:40.

The night was dark and quiet; the usually raucous, teeming Neapolitan streets strangely calm and deserted. The boat slid smoothly out of the harbor and into the Bay of Naples. The coast was barely silhouetted against the dusky sky. As we watched, the sky reddened to a deep crimson. It dissolved into gold as the sun rose behind Vesuvius. That sight almost compensated for the peripatetic journey. We were home just before 7 a.m., only 18 hours late.

Years ago, when many fewer people were flying, the airlines courted and pampered their customers, inviting them to “Fly the friendly skies … .” How times have changed! (Read this for a crackling history of commercial flight in the Unitrf States.) Since the industry was deregulated in 1978, most of the big players are gone. Unable to compete with the nimble upstarts who lured travelers with low fares, they bled red ink until bankruptcy was the only option. Faltering, they merged with one another, but in most cases they were merely postponing the inevitable. “No frills” was the new battle call. The public gladly gave up amenities for the sake of lower fares. But now the airlines bristle with hostility toward their customers, riding roughshod over the majority of travelers. It seems they vie with one another to see who can be least hospitable, on the ground and in flight. It’s true that deregulation has resulted in lower fares, but are we really better off? For short flights. Yes. Undoubtedly. But low-cost transcontinental and international flights force people to trade their basic needs, even dignity, for a ride in “cattle-cars with inedible food that are chronically late.

Practically everything that was always taken for granted now has a price tag. Want a better seat? Pay for it. Need a pillow? A blanket? They’re available, but at a price. Forget about “free” snacks, let alone meals. Bring your own or pay for their tasteless, non-nutritious fare. Each day they dare the public they once courted to pay for an increasingly unpleasant experience.

Speak to an agent? Customer service? Ha! Deal instead with endless automated menus that give no satisfaction or answers to your questions. Be prepared to wait on endless check-in lines. Some now charge for online seat selection. They encourage the purchase of e-tickets because they cost the airlines less. Want a paper ticket? Sure. Pay the extra fee. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, try going to a competitor without real documentation in your hand when you need to transfer to another flight! Used to packing two bags? Tough. If you check more than one, pay extra for the second. People joke that soon we’ll be charged extra for the privilege of sitting in any seat at all or for use of the lavatory. Sadly, that’s not funny. Or fun.

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  • Diane Vacca April 24, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Nobody does it as well as you, Roz!

  • roz Warren August 25, 2011 at 11:45 am

    WONDERFUL!! I LOVE a good rant.