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Back when I was a kid I remember going on my first plane flights without adult supervision. I would fly from Stockton California to Long Beach to see my friend Chris who had been my next door neighbor when my dad was stationed in Long Beach. Back then I flew on Pacific Southwest Airlines whose aircraft featured a smile on the nose. PSA is now part of US Air but my memories of flying as a kid are much more enjoyable than flying now. I don’t do air travel and crowded airports well after Iraq so I do what I can to make the travel as easy as possible but certain things can get to me, especially on the American side of the pond.
When I was a kid air travel was considered to be somewhat of an adventure. In fact until the major railroads ended their passenger service in the early 1970s and left us with Amtrak my family almost always travelled by train. Even the commercials made air travel seem almost magical. Advertising lines like “Fly the friendly skies” “The big bird with the golden tail” and “First Class leg space even in Coach” went another. Even coach passengers were treated with a modicum of respect and while meals and leg room may not have been what it was in First Class you didn’t feel like you were traveling steerage either, which is what I equate flying in “Coach” to be. Likewise because we didn’t perceive a terrorist threat we didn’t have to deal with the now common TSA agents and security screenings that take one back to the good old days of when a Gestapo Agent politely asked “your papers please.” But I digress…
Steerage of course was what steamship lines used to call 3rd Class where immigrants and other less than desirable passengers sailed to ensure that they did not trouble the elites traveling in First Class. As I said I equate Coach with Steerage without the ability to throw a party with dancing, singing and beer for everyone. Little has changed and while all air travelers occupy a high tech metal cylinder propelled by tremendous jet engines those little curtains that separate the First Class from Business or Coach are as impenetrable as were the locked doors on the Titanic.
Today so far has been yet another adventure in air travel. It began with a delay due to weather on the inbound flight which resulted in such a tight turn around that it affected my follow on flight. Since that flight involved an different airline I spent an hour at the check in desk as the lady helping me worked her hardest to get me rebooked and out of the other airline’s system. So I had a well deserved beer while waiting for that flight prayed that the aircraft would leave on time.
It left the gate on time but alas the Air Controllers at Newark had other plans. As we taxied out to take off we pulled over off of the runway. The Captain announced that Newark had told us to sit on the Tarmac in Norfolk for 40 minutes. We arrived at Newark less than an hour before takeoff. Thankfully there was a shuttle bus between terminals and I hitched a ride to make it on time even finding a few minutes to do a “defueling operation” in the men’s room and a refuel my bladder with an overpriced soda before boarding the aircraft.
No my flight has been interesting. I flew to Newark on United Express. I flew to Frankfurt on a United flight that used to be a Continental aircraft that still had its Continental crew. The aircraft, a very nice Boeing 777 was thankfully not full and I got a full row to myself back in steerage. The service on the Continental/United flight was good. Unfortunately unlike the American Airlines flights that I took to Houston and back last week this aircraft did not have any wireless free internet, so I had no ability to communicate in the air. So after we were airborne I pulled out my Kindle and did my Evening Prayer liturgy before reading a book about the Battleship Bismarck.
I landed at Frankfurt just before 630 AM local time and of course passed through the Customs and Border Police. Now unlike the TSA agents, the German Border Police or Grenzschutz command respect. There is something about Germany where you do exactly what the police tell you to do. I remember back when I was stationed in Germany in the 198-s and it was quite common to see Grenzschutz officers walking the airport with automatic rifles and machine guns. That of course was in the era of the Rad Brigades and the Bader-Meinhoff terrorist group as well as the beginnings of PLO and Libyan sponsored terrorists. I remember once when Judy and I saw a person that we believed was a Bader-Meinhoff terrorist in Wiesbaden and went to report it to the Polizei. That was an interesting experience as we were interrogated about the report for over an hour in German. Now days the Polizei are just as efficient but compared to our airport security seem so much more efficient and less obtrusive.
Since I read, speak and write German and have studied copious amounts of German history I go through those security points like a pro, like Newman going through the line at the Soup Nazi kitchen.
While in Frankfurt I have a couple of hours to relax, if that is possible at an airport. Unlike major American and British Airports which have almost the feel of going to a mall, albeit a mall that you have to get a full body scan, fondled and possibly strip searched to enter many European airports are all about air travel with very small areas devoted to shopping or being able to drink beer with breakfast. I actually like it when I have to travel through London’s Heathrow airport because I know a couple of pubs where I can have fried eggs and bacon rashers with a sliced tomato and a couple of pints of beer between flights. Heathrow is amazing, it is like an upscale mall packed with people from the world over and it has a couple of decent bookstores which I always found something interesting to read, usually books about military history not easily available in the United States. But while I can read German fairly well it is not what I do for fun or relaxation so what I find in the a German airport is not as entertaining as in the UK.
Upon arriving at Frankfurt I did get a salad and beer and the airport has changed some over the years, a few more places to eat and shop but nothing like Heathrow. I guess the weirdest thing is looking across the runway to where Rheim Main Air Base used to be. Back in January 1984 when I first arrived in Germany it was massive. You looked across the runway from the German side and there was line upon line of C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transports. Even in 1996 when I came to support the Bosnia mission Rhein Main was still busy though being reduced due to the end of the Cold War. As late as 5-7 years ago you could see the old USAF hangers and buildings. Now the area is being redeveloped and it is hard to tell the airbase was ever there.
Long Gone…Rhein Main Airbase in its Heyday…
So I post this from Frankfurt International Airport while waiting for my final flight of this very long day. It will be on a Lufthansa flight and a relatively short commuter type flight. When I get to Stuttgart I will be picked up from the airport by staff from the Judge Advocate’s office and believe that I will be offering my testimony today. That may change with the delay in my flight and so I will see. I am scheduled to fly back Saturday from Stuttgart back through Newark and Norfolk and should be home in time for dinner with Judy at Gordon Biersch.
So until my next post…