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Up, up and away – so long as you pack your own bag
The Back Forty
Roger Pond
It’s easy to forget how much air travel has changed over the years. I miss the days when a person could walk into an airport, hand over his suitcase and get on the plane. Now, we arrive hours before take-off, park the car miles away and spend half the morning answering questions about how our bags were packed. Then, we jump on a conveyer and ride through the airport – just like a big bale of hay. Even the airline employees know how silly this is. Several years ago, I handed my ticket to an agent, and he said, “I suppose your bags were packed by strangers?” Someday I’m going to tell the baggage clerk, “No, I didn’t pack my bag. My wife packed it. And neither you nor I are supposed to know what’s in it.” All this hassle comes in the name of progress and security. I can’t speak for everyone, but I felt better in the old days, when I could see where my baggage went. The concept of airline “hubs” with huge planes and enormous airports has gone too far, in my opinion. We’re getting to the point where it costs more to park the car than it does to buy the plane ticket. I have fond memories of flying out of the little airport at Pendleton, Ore., many years ago when United Airlines still scheduled flights there. The Pendleton Airport was small, and I don’t suppose it’s any bigger now that United has abandoned the premises. I sat in that airport one morning and watched the wind howling down the runway – you can’t see the wind in many parts of the country, but you can in Pendleton. The wind there is full of things: Russian thistles, Jim Hill Mustard, chunks of driftwood. This particular morning, windows rattled and lights in the airport lobby began to flicker. I wondered if this was a normal day for that part of the country. A woman staggered in from the parking lot to report someone tried to open the hood on his car. The wind peeled the hood back like someone opening a new can of Spam. “Must have been a tourist,” the woman surmised. Soon after, a fifty-gallon oil drum went rolling across the runway. I figured the breeze was freshening. Airport personnel suggested it was probably an empty oil drum I saw, explaining, “The planes don’t fly when full ones are blowing.” I handed my suitcase to a baggage clerk, and he handed it to the guy behind him. I don’t know what that fellow did with it. I wasn’t worried, though; it’s pretty difficult to lose your luggage when there’s only one airplane. The baggage clerk was the same person who took my ticket and ushered me onto the plane. I think he was in charge of security, too, judging from the little badge on his shirt. Those were the days before metal detectors, photo IDs and $12-per-day parking. Some folks might like the big, modern airports. If I had my druthers, I’d still be flying out of Pendleton. Readers with questions or comments for Roger Pond may write to him in care of this publication.
4/18/2007