After four lovely days south of the Mason Dixon, I found myself close to stranded in the Charlotte-Douglas Airport after a cluster of thunderstorms passed through and the FAA grounded all planes from NC to Georgia. Terminal A was in mayhem. Harried United Airlines officials were busy swapping itineraries and handing out vouchers. A skeletal girl of Indian descent listlessly pushed around a wheelchair loaded with plastic bags. There was a lot of sighing, especially at gate A5, where a 5:00 flight to Baltimore had yet to take off and a 7:10 flight to Atlanta (mine) mysteriously failed to materialize on the departures board. Bodies were everywhere—leaning against walls, sitting, standing, yelling, chewing, sleeping. There were stains in the carpet, crumbs on the seats, large-screen TVs babbling from the ceiling. As the plane grew later and later and the announcements grew fewer and more garbled, I started to wonder: When did travel cease to be glamorous and become merely a method of getting from point A to point B?
Maybe it was never really glamorous at all, and this nostalgia is a fake one, borne out of too many re-readings of Atlas Shrugged at an impressionable age—taking Ayn Rand's phallic obsession with trains and transmogrifying it into my own personal phallic obsession with the bygone era of luxury airline travel. Maybe the inherent lack of glamour in my trip has more to do with my choice to fly AirTran and less to do with an overall loss of the ideal. Or maybe, like most things, the idea of glamorous travel was never more than a clever ploy to get the proles on board.
In the end, though, I suppose it doesn't really matter. I don't regret my choice. I did get home, eventually, and enjoyed the conversation of a tired pilot with the bluest eyes I've ever seen. He had a date with a Barcalounger at JFK. Myself, I'd say I had a slightly warmer reception.