It’s easy to take the miracle of flight for granted when living in the United States. We’re such a big country that more modest means of transportation like trains and cars can’t get us from one end to the other in a timely fashion, so air travel ends up becoming rather embedded in our culture. Yet even here, countless folks never get on a plane – either from lack of resources or desire – and to those folks, airports must be insanely daunting temples of transportation.

I went through a large part of my adolescent life without flying – we flew to a funeral in the Midwest once, when I was around 6th grade, but after that the next reason I had to fly was to return to college from winter break. Even then, the flight wasn’t absolutely necessary – train travel from Philly to Pittsburgh was practical, but the price differential was so low at the time it made sense to fly and get the time back. Those were different days.

My parents got me luggage as a graduation gift that I still use today – luggage that’s been with me around the world, faithful friend on many more a journey than I could have anticipated. As it turns out, traveling frequently for business can feel glamorous for a time – but quickly becomes rather lonely. Sightseeing is fine, but somehow things seem more real when you have someone to share experiences with.

I got to experience many things, but was also glad when life calmed down and I wasn’t travelling multiple times a month – or away for trips so long that my hotel bills could have paid off small college loans. Business travel is a welcome, but infrequent, occasion. Which is just as well, since as it turns out acting and travel are not very compatible pastimes.

Last week, I visited Los Angeles for a little under a week. (Hence the lapse in blogging – not for lack of things to say!) This trip was entirely for pleasure – just to see a good friend and spend some time hanging out. It’s a very empowering feeling to be able to travel entirely under my own auspices. Particularly as a woman – I think of the fact that there are still so many women who never get to see that level of freedom and independence.
And yet, on the other side of all of that wonder, there’s the mundanity of travel. Once you’ve flown a bit, you take familiarity with things like airports and security for granted. I have my routine – favorite off-airport parking, favorite security lines, spot for pre-flight takeout food. The optimal orientation for your 3-ounce liquids to maximize travel capacity. (Being a girl is hard.)

The latest inconvenience is, of course, the overhead bin situation. Airlines are charging for checked bags, so everyone tries to carry on everything they own, sometimes to comical effect. (no, sir, your steamer trunk is not a valid carryon.) Every flight I’ve been on this year has trilled about being “very, very full” over the gate loudspeaker (and what is the difference between “full” and “very full” anyway? I didn’t realize there was a spectrum.) Inevitably, there won’t be enough room for everyone’s bag.

But this has led to new tricks! The last few times I’ve flown, Alaska has made an announcement at the gate, seeking people who are willing to gate-check their bags. You still have to deal with baggage claim, but there’s no charge for the bag and you basically see it get onto the plane. PLUS they’re letting folks who gate-check board with the MVPs. I love pre-boarding, especially since I’m still a bit protective of my knee and the cattle call boarding feels like a big risk. And frankly, I like not wrestling my bag in and out of bins.

It’s also rather amazing how planes seem to evolve to be LESS comfortable and LESS human-centered as time goes on. Smaller seats and aisles to the point where tall people and overweight people live in fear of flying? To say nothing of how challenging sitting like that can be when you have joint problems (speaking from experience)!

Even with all the inconveniences, I still secretly love flying – the lead-up could be better, but being in an airport, knowing that on a whim you could change your plans and get on a plane to Europe or something – it’s an energizing feeling. Instructive, too, when you find yourself wishing you were on a different plane – why aren’t you on that plane instead? Sometimes there are very valid reasons – but sometimes we’re just getting in our own way. Airports make me take stock of my journey – and the view of houses with little pools from thousand miles above reminds me of my time at Maxis and how surprising the journey has been thus far.