Monday, July 3, 2017

Remembering My First Fliight

My first-ever airplane trip was on this date in 1970. It was a trans-Atlantic flight from New York's JFK airport to Luxembourg, with a stop-over in Iceland. I was a college student at the time, heading off to Europe for the summer in order to study German in Salzburg, Austria. And, like so many other financially limited travelers in those days I used Icelandic Airlines, which (as this 1973 ad from Icelandic's 5th Avenue window emphasized) then offered the lowest jet fares to Europe. Airfares were, of course, all wonderfully regulated in those days, but apparently the agreement allowing a US Air Base in Iceland also allowed Icelandic Airlines to fly to and from the US at its lower rates. (I am not sure what exactly Iceland's deal was with Luxembourg!)

Besides being inexpensive, flying was for the most part a much pleasanter experience then than now in almost every way. Of course, real meals were served on the plane - on real plates, with drinks in real glasses. In those days, unlike now, airport security had not yet become such a preoccupation. So your family and friends could accompany you all the way to the gate and wait with you as long as they chose, without ever having to go though metal detectors or any other such machines. While I obviously get the case for contemporary airport security, there is little else about the changes in the modern airport and airplane experience since then that seems like much of an improvement. 

Why remember 1970? My summer in Europe was a  great experience, but in many respects it was an otherwise grim year - most memorable for the spring of the infamous Cambodian "incursion," the shootings of students at Kent State, the construction-worker riots on Wall Street, etc. It is obviously not the case that everything was always better in the past! We have certainly had more tranquil years since then and have lived through a lot of progress in so many areas of life since 1970. Even so, remembering some of the nicer things from the past can remind us how much has also been lost, losses both tangible and intangible, and how those losses are symbolic of an ongoing unraveling, the fuller implications of which are only now becoming evident.

It is helpful to remember how much better at least some things in life were back then and what we have lost - the price we have paid as our greed and lust for individual convenience have contributed to a progressively inexorable degradation of the fundamental fabric of social and community life.

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