Flying the Friendly Skies

I’m sitting in the gate area awaiting the boarding announcement. It’s only 7:30 in the morning and the airport already is bustling. It’s impossible to not watch the passersby.

Sitting two seats to my right is a young woman in her twenties. If I were her mother, I’d be mortified by her appearance. Yawning incessantly, she looks as though she just crawled out of bed and dragged herself to the kitchen. She’s wearing way-too-short shorts, a t-shirt, a zip-up hoodie and flip flops. I won’t even comment on her messy hair, but can only hope she brushed her teeth at the very least.

Sometimes I just can’t get over how some people present themselves in public.


My mother used to work for TWA. The accounting department job didn’t pay much, but the free airline tickets were priceless. Throughout my middle and high school years, I logged an impressive number of miles flying to and from Israel thanks to her weekly laboring. I knew I was fortunate to be able to visit my family and friends who lived there. My fond memories from those trips are cherished still.

Since the tickets were free, we only could fly on days and at times when seats were likely to be available. Flying standby, therefore, became its own roll-of-the-dice type of adventure. We never knew if we’d actually get on a particular flight or where we might get bumped off a plane we’d already boarded. (Once I was traveling with my grandparents and three siblings when two of us were asked to deplane. That was fun!)

I vividly recall several  long layovers at the Rome, Paris, and Athens airports. These unexpected excursions turned into a mastery of duty-free shopping, the intensive (and imperative) learning of foreign languages, and an enhanced ability to read people’s facial expressions, body language, and tones of voice. And with all of the hijackings that took place through the seventies, acute senses of awareness and cautiousness were established too.

I mostly remember the special times…the twenty-five dollar upgrades to First Class. That perk was one that I appreciate to this very day. But back then — especially for a kid on an international flight — it was like winning the lottery. It meant great dinners, make-your-own sundaes, and doting (and seemingly glamorous) “stewardesses.”

Oh, yes…one more thing. Air travel during the seventies also meant being properly dressed. The wearing of jeans, leggings, shorts, pajamas, etc. was not acceptable. Without question, travelers knew they had to be appropriately attired to fly Coach, not to mention First Class. And since my mom worked for the company, no kid of hers was going to look or act like a slob on any TWA plane.


Business took me to St. Louis for the day. I enjoyed traveling with no luggage and didn’t mind the “commute” one bit. Despite the hour, I’m remarkably intact; my hair, face, dress and heels still in place.

I am seated in an aisle seat, just behind the Premium Cabin. The crew is trying to be helpful. Passengers are boarding; doing what they do. The flight is full. I smile a bit ruefully to myself. These are not the days of TWA. Times have changed forevermore.

Or have they? Remember the incident a couple of months ago when two teenage girls were denied the right to board a United airlines flight? It was reported that they were wearing leggings, which were deemed inappropriate by the gate agent. A public uproar ensued over what was perceived to be the airline’s “policing” of the attire of young girls. Interestingly, the truth came out a few hours later on Twitter. The teens violated the “travel pass dress code.” They are the daughters of a United employee and there is a “longstanding policy [that] requires those who enjoy the perks of airline employment, which include free travel passes for family and guests, to present themselves in a way that represents the airline well.” This means that “’pass riders’ aren’t allowed to wear clothing that doesn’t look ‘neat and professional’…[which] includes form-fitting lycra or spandex tops, pants and dresses, offensive or derogatory words or graphics on clothing…or anything that is ‘inappropriately revealing.'” And there you go. A statement that one’s appearance is a reflection of one’s values.

My mother taught me well.

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