I can remember the first time I flew on an airplane.
My family had been in Washington and I got sick. So my parents decided that my dad and I would fly back while everyone else drove back.
I was pretty much a skinny little waif at the time and I probably looked mostly dead, so the stewardesses went out of their way to make me comfortable. They moved us up to first class, gave me little pilot’s wings and treated me like royalty. I was in love.
Back then, flying was a big thing. Men wore suits, women wore their high heels and the kids wore their Sunday best. They served you real food and the whole thing was a big adventure.
Jump forward to today.
My wife, son and I recently flew to Denver. We got a great deal on ticket prices. Once we signed up online, we had to add the cost of checking a bag (taking a carry-on was even more expensive) and even the cost of a seat. You could choose seats that cost $6 and up. I am assuming they would give you the co-pilot’s seat if you were willing to pay enough.
There were no free snacks or drinks. And if you wanted a drink, you could only pay by credit card. No cash.
This was all well and good, because they got us to Denver without crashing and all I really wanted was to get from point A to point B. I can bring my own snacks. But it made me think about the future of airline travel. Here is what you can expect in the not-too-distant future …
You and your wife are booking a flight to Denver. The tickets are dirt cheap. But you have to pay for a seat. Prices range from $25 to $500.
“What are the $500 seats?” you ask.
“Recliners with your own personal masseuse,” she answers.
“Hey …” you say.
“Forget it, buster, we’re getting the cheap seats. We also have to pay for our luggage.”
“Plus we have to pay if we bring purses, wallets, or if either of us has larger than a size 10 shoe.”
“Really?” you respond. “What if we just put my wallet in your purse?”
“Nope, they have wallet-sniffing dogs. We have to pay for everything or they’ll make us go back through security again.”
So you pay up and head for the airport.
You arrive to see that most of the passengers are wearing what looks like pajamas or maybe swimming suits. You see your seats are in the back. They are plastic chairs bolted to the floor with seat belts. There are little TV screens on posts in front of the chairs, though.
“Well, at least we get TV,” you think. For $25, of course. Credit cards only.
You know that little thing they do about safety that you never listen to? It will be different in the future. You’d better listen.
“In case of an emergency,” your stewardess says, “the oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling, at which time you can use your credit card if you want to breathe. The charge is $50.”
Someone sitting by you in the cheap says interrupts.
“What if I only have cash?”
The stewardess looks at him like he is a Cro-Magnon man who has just been transported in time to the present.
“Hold your breath,” she says.
“Also,” she says, “there are a limited number of flotation devices on board. The first 50 people to use their credit cards will be issued the flotation devices.”
The plane takes off. You have to go to the restroom, so you try to unbuckle your seatbelt. It’s locked! You look at your little TV screen.
“If you wish to unbuckle your seatbelt, insert credit card” it says.
Your wife is trying to get the window blind open. She beats on it, scratches it, then finally looks at her little TV screen. “Insert credit card to release blind,” it says.
You pay up and head for the restroom. The door is locked even though it says vacant. There is a tiny little sign with little letters that says, “Insert credit card to use restroom.” You have no choice! You stumble inside and the door shuts behind you. Signs say “insert credit card for toilet paper. Premium toilet paper $5 extra.” And “insert credit card for soap.”
You try to leave the restroom but the door is stuck. A little old woman is outside pounding on the door and yelling, “What are you doing in there? Taking a bath?” You insert credit card to get out.
Eventually, you arrive in Denver and escape the plane. It takes longer than usual to exit, because at the door the stewardess is collecting a $25 exit fee, just like when you try to leave a foreign country. Credit card only.
You stumble through the airport to the baggage area. There are armed guards watching every passenger closely. They are not looking for terrorists. They are making sure you pay your “baggage collection fee” by credit card at the carousel.
And I don’t even have time to tell you about the snacks and the by-the-minute charges for wi-fi!
There’s only one thing they can’t charge me for … the memories of those stewardesses who took care of me when I was a little boy on my first flight. Some things really are priceless.