OLD BLUE SKIES AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

NEWS ITEM: American Airlines now will charge $15 to check your first bag. Last week other airlines announced they would do the same.

My sweet, old grandfather came down from heaven recently, just in time to join me at the airport. He’d been gone for years, so a plane trip had him excited.

“Why aren’t you wearing a suit and tie?” he asked. “This is an airplane, not a bus.”

Planes aren’t a big deal anymore, Gramps.

“Pooh. You fly in the sky, it’s a big deal.”

We pulled up to the curb.

“What, no one to take our luggage?”

No, Gramps. You kind of do it yourself.

We found a check-in machine.

“Oh, God, you forgot the tickets?”

No, Gramps. You kind of do it yourself.

We printed our boarding passes. Grandpa did not believe these flimsy things could get you on a plane. We lugged our bags to a scale, and I reached in my pockets.

“What are you doing?” Gramps asked.

We have to pay to check bags.

“Ha! Don’t be silly. That’s why the plane is so big. It has a huge area called ‘cargo.’ “

I know, Gramps. But they’re charging now.

“Charging? Pooh. I won’t pay.”

He puffed his chest out. I sighed and paid $15 for his bag, $15 for mine and another $25 for a second bag. We hadn’t gotten on the plane yet, and we were down $55.

We approached security. Eat, drink and be merry?

“Driver’s license?” Gramps complained to the TSA agent. “Why do you need my driver’s license? I’m flying, not driving.”

“How do we know it’s you?” he was asked.

“Because that’s my name, dummy.”

They took Grandpa to extra security.

He had to take off his shoes, belt, jacket, sweater, tie and hat. His small carry-on went through the X-ray machine and was immediately seized by two TSA guards.

“What’s this?” they demanded.

“My flask,” Grandpa said. “I like a little schnapps now and then.”

“It has to go,” they said.

“Unhand that, or I’ll break your arm.”

They took Grandpa to extra-extra security.

A half-hour later, after he’d been probed, X-rayed and wanded, we walked to the gate. His favorite flask was gone, as was his tube of toothpaste.

We better grab a sandwich, I said. It’s a long flight.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “They’ll have a wonderful meal for us. Airplanes serve nice food.”

You kind of do it yourself now, Gramps.

“You’re joking. No food?”

We boarded the plane. Where’s the dress code?

“Who’s that guy?” Grandpa asked.

He’s the flight attendant.

“Come on, he’s a man!” Grandpa said, laughing. “And don’t you mean ‘stewardess’?”

You call them flight attendants now.

“No more pretty young ladies?”

Sorry, I said.

“Why is he just sulking there?”

He’s probably had his pay cut four times in the last five years. He’s tired of working for nothing and being told he’s lucky he has a job.

“So he won’t be bringing us champagne?”

We’re in coach.

“They serve drinks in coach.”

Only if you pay for them.

“Pooh. You don’t need money on a plane.”

Actually, Gramps, you do. You need it to buy a snack. You need it to buy headphones for a movie. You need it for booze.

“That’s why I brought a flask!”

Sorry, I said.

We found our seats. Grandpa took out his transistor radio. “The baseball game,” he said.

“Sir, shut that off,” a flight attendant told him. “You’re endangering the plane.”

“Pooh. It’s a radio, not a bomb.”

Grandpa went to extra-extra-extra security.

By the time he returned, he looked beat and exhausted. What was once a thrill was now a chore. As the plane lifted off, he looked at people in sweat suits and tank tops, people putting their bare feet up, people paying $5 for carrot sticks and pretzels, and resentful flight attendants going through the motions.

“That’s it,” he said. “I’m getting out.”

And as we reached the clouds, he did.

If only we all had that option.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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