Airline travel is too often taken for granted

2012-04-26T00:00:00Z Airline travel is too often taken for grantedOpinion by Barbara Russek Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super - no it really is a plane! Cool! I'm ready to board.

During a recent whirlwind two-day trip to California I took a total of four commercial flights. Commercial airline travel is now at the top of my hit parade of ways to get from point A to B.

Yes, we all know the litany of airline complaints: the food (or lack thereof), delayed flights, extra charges on most carriers for this or that, cramped seats that make you wonder just what would happen if you gained another few pounds. The list goes on.

All of that is trumped by the "miracle" of a huge piece of machinery frequently weighing more than 100 tons that, defying gravity, smoothly lifts off and, with the help of experienced pilots, traffic controllers and technology, gets to its destination in a fraction of the time that it took before the advent of air travel.

Man's interest in flying goes back thousands of years. To name but a few highlights, provided by the Pima Air & Space Museum:

• 200 BC: A Chinese general attaches himself to a kite to fly over enemy territory and survived.

• 1400s-early 1500s: Leonardo da Vinci creates many sketches of flying machines, though there is no evidence he actually created one himself.

• 1903: The famous Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, make the first flight of their powered, fixed-wing plane.

• Today: Jets circle the globe on a daily basis.

I'm in awe of it all. My trip this past March was no exception. Requirements to remove my jacket, shoes and shoulder bag, toss my drink and wait in line to pass through security were a small price to pay for the airlines doing everything possible within guidelines to ensure my safety.

Security personnel, whom I consider the unsung heroes of the airlines, can boast of an exceptional record. According to the librarian at the Pima Air & Space Museum, since Sept. 11, 2001, there has not been a single instance of a successful hijacking of a U.S. commercial carrier.

With more than 22,000 commercial planes flying in U.S. skies per day, carrying nearly 2 million people, those are huge bragging rights.

By the way, all four planes I took on my last trip left on time or even a couple of minutes early. Watching out the window as those big birds sailed up and away filled me with wonder, as it always does. Every time I see the cars become ants and start to get the bigger picture, life takes on a new perspective. It doesn't revolve around me, that's for sure.

Despite a couple of recent well-publicized events, airline pilots and attendants should be honored for maintaining America's outstanding record of safety.

Commercial planes are statistically the safest mode of transportation. The librarian at the air and space museum told me that there have been only four fatal accidents involving passengers on U.S carriers since that fateful September day, three involving commuter planes.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed his plane safely in the Hudson River in 2009, when a flock of geese caused both engines to fail.

Yet many other pilot heroics often go unrecognized by passengers, who are rushing to get off the plane and get on with their lives. My friend Chrysanne still feels remorse about forgetting to thank the pilot whose quick thinking avoided disaster - some years ago, he diverted her plane sharply upward just as it was about to touch ground after he saw another jet blocking the runway.

During my recent trip, all flight attendants were pleasant, helpful and fun to talk to. On the leg back to Phoenix from Monterey, Calif., I joked to the attendant that I wouldn't be able to fit in my matchbox-sized seat if I gained an extra couple of ounces. "Okay then, only diet soda for you," she teased.

And just for the record, both going and coming, my luggage arrived on time and in good condition.

In spite of the many tales of airline woes, the fact that we're here to tell those tales speaks for commercial airline travel more eloquently than words ever could.

Foothills resident Barbara Russek would love to hear stories of commercial airline travel. She can be contacted at Babette2@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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