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Susan Page

Airing The Pros And Cons Of Air Travel

“You want to know what it’s like to be on a plane for 22 hours? Sit in a chair, squeeze your head as hard as you can, don’t stop, then take a paper bag and put it over your mouth and nose and breath your own air over and over and over.” – Lewis Black, standup comedian

I travel by air almost every month and mostly love it, but here’s a warning: If you’re flying to a Neighbor Island, never sit in row 26 seat A. Your seat won’t recline, there’s no window and it will seem as if a jet engine was surgically implanted into your skull. It’s only a 45-minute flight, but brains have been damaged in less time.

Air travel has some discomforts these days, but imagine being on the voyaging canoes Hokule’a and Hikianalia, which sailed for two and a half days to arrive in Hilo, with the crew suffering high waves, the urge to barf and no GPS. That same weekend, I took the flight from Kona at 5:25 p.m. and landed on Oahu at 6:15 without becoming seasick, just partially deaf.

We travelers are pretty spoiled and impatient. A flight delay of five minutes and passengers start glaring at watches and sending dire texts. But once the plane takes off, out come iPads, headsets and sleep aids.

Comic Louis C.K. quips, “People say there are delays on flights. Delays, really? New York to California in five hours, that used to take 30 years, a bunch of people used to die on the way there, have a baby, you would end up with a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now you watch a movie and (go to the toilet) and you’re home.”

The vast majority of the world’s population has never flown. These unlucky masses have missed the “cattle lines” inching into security, disrobing into a plastic bin, the magical TSA wand or the upright spread-eagle X-ray. These non-fliers actually walk places, visit neighbors and don’t have the backside spread brought on by long-term sitting.

Ever since my husband Jerry had a knee replacement and a heart defibrillator implanted, he’s been subjected to the extra TSA scrutiny on senior citizens with such devices. As I breeze through security, Jerry, the Navy hero POW, is held back and vigorously patted down as if an explosive device might be in his prosthetic knee. (tsa.gov/traveler-information covers every disability issue.)

Last February, we traveled to South Africa via London, an unfortunately long routing choice. On that trip we experienced a variety of airport security measures in the Third World, from Johannesburg to Swaziland to Zimbabwe to Botswana. Security agents were not only lax but disconcertingly jovial compared to our grave-faced U.S. agents. My brain went into overtime imagining ways a terrorist might exploit these airports. But watching lots of movies helped quell my fear. If a bomb exploded, I at least wanted Meryl Streep to go down with me.

According to the Air Traffic Controllers Association web-site, in the U.S. alone more than 87,000 flights are flown per day: approximately 28,000 commercial flights like American, United or Hawaiian; around “27,178 private planes, 24,548 air taxi flights (planes for hire), 5,260 military flights and 2,148 air cargo flights (Federal Express, UPS, etc.). At any given moment, roughly 5,000 planes are in the skies above the United States. In one year, controllers handle an average of 64 million take-offs and landings.”

Air travel is by far the safest way to go, a good thing since we live 2,563 miles from LAX. In fact, I’m exceedingly grateful for air flight, which I call a miracle, a remark that causes my son, now an American Airlines pilot, to snicker. Hey, I live in Hawaii and can be in Africa in a day. What’s not miraculous about that?

Important note: Thanks to our heroic servicemen and women, who sacrificed greatly through many conflicts, we have the freedom to travel the skies and even whine about our bad seating. God bless their souls on this Memorial Day and every day.

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