I have never truly got over the excitement of getting on a plane. My first plane trip was in the late 1970’s, a time in which the average person got pants-wettingly excited about flying. I was about 4 or 5 years old and my parents bravely decided to take my younger sister and I on a family holiday to Florida. These were the days of elegant air travel, and my mother intended to stick to that directive. To that end, she purchased matching Colombo-esque trench coats for my 3 year old sister and I. In pigtails, we dutifully trotted along behind my parents in bell bottom trousers, carrying our matching sky-blue, faux- leather suitcases. I am sure we looked, at best, like miniature businessmen on their way to a door-to -door vacuum cleaner convention. At worst, we were a hair’s breadth away from standing on a street corner with one side of the jacket open, murmuring under our breath, “Pssst, hey pal, wanna buy a watch?” A few years later my sister would plop a fedora on her head, stick a fake cigar in her mouth and use my coat to go as Humphrey Bogart for Hallowe’en. So I guess you get the picture.
The days of dolling oneself up for flights however, have long since passed. I now must admit that comfort, rather than costuming, has become of paramount importance. I try to achieve this pajama level ease through the magic of the leggings/dress combo. I have no idea what I am going to do when this eventually becomes an unacceptable fashion choice. As it stands, I am certainly long past the age of being able to make pigtails and trench coats look anything but mildly creepy. And let’s not even mention the bell bottoms.
Since the 70’s, I have practically dedicated my life to trying to recapture my first experience of elegant plane travel. Through the years I have developed military level precision when it comes to my flight experience. Passport, tickets, money was the mantra repeated to me from childhood, with the proviso that those three things would allow you to reach your destination and purchase anything else forgotten in the rush to make your flight. For most of my adult life this mantra has stood me in good stead.
Until I met Scottish partner. His level of preparation for international flights would put the keenest boy scout to shame, and elegance is not exactly top of mind. “Tickets, passport, money” was really never going to cut it in his book. There are boarding passes to be printed, frequent flyer cards to apply for, and bags that must go through a pre-pack ritual which, after 4 years together, I am only beginning to understand.
He likes to be the first person on the plane, I am happy to wait until the last person is on before I make my way. I have no problem spending an exorbitant 12 Euros on a glass of wine in a random airport bar. He likes to keep a sober head and an eagle eye on the possible gate, which he will dash for, leaving me behind with my half-drunk glass of 12 Euro wine, the second “our” gate appears. It’s hard to be refined when you are belting back your merlot like a shot of Jagermeister while searching frantically for your boarding pass in a handbag that has one too many pockets. In my mind I generally start the journey with perfect lipstick and a pristinely packed carry on,but the journey inevitably ends with a lost customs declaration form, a wine stained passport, and deep vein thrombosis from trying to jam my knee into the seat pocket in front of me while attempting to find an acceptable sleeping position.
In short, elegance, once the cornerstone of my 1970's air travel experience, is now out the window. Gone are the days of calm refinement, first time flyers clapping when the airplane lands, and something resembling a proper metal knife to cut your reheated chicken or fish with. Instead, I wear the closest thing to a onesie that a 40 year old woman can get away with in public and try not to cause my relationship irreparable damage in the departure lounge.
Funny then, after all these years, that I still get that same thrill from getting on a plane. There will always be magic in the closing of the doors on one side of the world, and the opening of them in another. The liftoff, the touchdown and the anticipation in between. Whether I’m watching Scottish partner eye the departure gates like a collie waiting for his master outside the front doors of Tesco or handing over an entire paycheck for a glass of wine in a regional Norwegian airport, there is nothing that makes me happier. Except maybe an upgrade. Ah, First Class. It’s definitely elegant up there.