Remember when you actually enjoyed flying?
You had a chance to catch up on your reading or your work. You could nap. You could watch a movie or have a cocktail; you could relax.
Planes carried fewer people. You usually sat next to an empty seat. Seats seemed wider with ample legroom. On night flights or red-eyes, you could go to the back of the plane and stretch out across three seats. You could always find extra pillows and blankets.
The flight service excelled. Cabin attendants seemed more pleasant. They didn’t have to deal with plane loads of irate passengers. They enjoyed their jobs.
Although the food didn’t really taste so good, you still liked it — especially if you didn’t eat TV dinners in your home. You actually enjoyed this different taste on the plane. The altitude helped by diminishing the sensitivity of your tastebuds.
Now, as you know all too well, flying has become a chore: TSA restrictions; searches; delays; baggage limitations and charges; and overcrowded planes.
Today, airlines fill nearly all the seats. They charge more for beverages and provide diminutive snacks. Seat width and leg room have decreased. “Pack ’em in” has become the airline mantra.
Although in-flight service has deteriorated, operational quality has improved. We hear of fewer accidents or mishaps. Pilots have become more skilled. Take Capt. Chester “Sully” Sullenberger, for example, the pilot who landed his crippled plane safely in the Hudson River with no loss of lives.
Today, even turbulence doesn’t make us fear that the plane will crash. Planes have become more sophisticated and sturdy, pilots more experienced and better able to deal with emergencies.
So, where is the fear of flying?
Fear of flying stems from the possibility you may have to sit next to a “large” person. Sitting in the aisle seat can make it bearable. But center and window seats portend an uncomfortable flight. And you have no control over this situation. It’s luck of the draw.
One-third of the population ranks as obese. The average man weighs 194 pounds. The average woman weighs 165 pounds. They’re big people, and they’re the average.
Can they fit in a seat 18-inch wide? If they can’t, some of them will spill over onto your seat. And that’s what I fear. Moreover, the odds of this happening — one in three — does not favor me; seat belt extender, anyone?
There’s nothing you or I can do about it. We’re helpless. Airline service people would gladly move you to another seat if they could. But they have no empty seats. You’re stuck, figuratively and maybe even literally.
Making large people buy a second seat or move to first or business class poses the subject of another essay.
Maybe the airlines can create a new class of premium seating in addition to exit rows, front of the plane and the like. What about seats next to thin people?
So, why then do I write to Siesta Key residents about this fear of flying: Siesta Key fitness.
First lady Michelle Obama has made it her project to get Americans exercising more, eating less and losing weight. A worthy objective, and here’s where Siesta Keyers excel.
Have you seen the abundance of runners, joggers, walkers, bikers on Midnight Pass? Every day, year-round, especially in the early morning, people of all ages, shapes and sizes move to their own drummer.
The clothes and techniques and equipment vary. Some wear stylish athletic gear, others old T-shirts and tank tops. Some move with grace and speed, others just move. Some have earplugs to enjoy their music or news. Others walk and run and listen to the birds. Some people move while talking with their friends. Others run alone. And some move while talking on a cell phone. (Well, they’re at least moving.)
No matter the personal approach, we see Siesta Keyers attempting to stay in shape.
Bravo, all of you. And may one of you sit next to me on my next flight out of Sarasota or Tampa.
Jeffrey Weisman owned an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. In Sarasota, he creates fine-art photography and serves on the board of directors of Art Center Sarasota.