My father never trusted airplanes and, to this day, he is scared stiff and has stepped on one only a handful of times, out of sheer necessity. This meant that any family holiday involved excruciatingly long car trips with wake up times as early as 2 am or exciting overnight train rides: Bologna – Paris and Bologna – Amsterdam in sleeper cars are etched in my memory forever.
It wasn’t until I took my first trip abroad alone, at 14, that I boarded a plane. To London. I didn’t inherit my father’s phobia and I never looked back, hopping on planes at a drop of a hat, for business or pleasure. For many years, work meant many trips a month and I started to develop airplane routines, especially for long haul flights: the little bag of cosmetics, toothpaste and pain pills (to keep my skin hydrated, avoid the hardened plane toothpaste or begging the stewardess, to no avail, for a pain pill for my clogged sinuses). On occasion, I even brought my own blanket.
Boarding a flight to any European destination became akin to taking the subway and rigorously done with hand luggage only. I suppose those were the days pre 9/11, when long queues at security were a rarity, when they would let you board a plane 10 minutes before departure and you could still find empty flights.
In the context of my flying history, my latest experience seems rather odd and I blame the media and the relative hassle that boarding planes has become. When I step on a jet, these days, I can’t restrain my ominous thoughts. I don’t necessarily scan other passengers in search of men with beards and prayer beads but, rather, I think of the mysterious (to me) engineering feat that keeps that huge piece of metal up. I have also been reading obsessively reports on the many issues that can go wrong on planes, which is not advised reading material before boarding one.
On my recent flight to Rome, the weather was so severe, we weren’t even served a glass of water – the plane kept on rock and rolling, at the mercy of winds and altitude drops. When stepping on the plane back to LA, I scanned the aircraft, assessing its age (as if I were an expert) and the voice of the captain to gauge his experience and trustworthiness in case of emergency. Two hours into the 13 hour flight, I was looking around trying to imagine how it would feel to realize we would be going down. I became morbid even to myself so I watched four back to back movies to hypnotize my stupidity and redirect its focus on mindless endeavours.
It was my first Alitalia flight in many years (I generally avoid Alitalia because of their unpredictable strikes) but I couldn’t resist trying the new direct Rome to LA service they are currently offering a few times a week. The plane seemed older, the bathroom not terribly clean, my seat broken (I had to be moved) and the food beyond inedible but the crew of tanned, Roman guys was so charming, accommodating and funny that I would actually recommend the experience. Could you imagine a BA or Lufthansa steward chatting you up and propositioning 5 minutes after meeting you? I didn’t think so.
Maybe these travelling Romeos have a reputation of latin lovers to uphold. Be as it may, it will make for a good story for years to come and made up for the inedible meals. Which airline has good food anyway?