Don’t misunderstand me, I am awed by modern technology and how far we have some since our parents were our age, even more so still since their parents time. The feats we have accomplished, in so many realms, are truly marvelous. Travel is, of course, one field where I believe that our ancestors would be truly speechless if they were to see the accomplishments we have made.
From personal cars- whose technology is improving every year- to high-speed trains- with which I have much experience living in Europe- we are striving to be better, faster, more comfortable, and cleaner every day. And of course, there is that great travel achievement which still sometimes amazes me, even having grown up with it as an everyday occurrence: putting giant, hundreds of pounds, metal contraptions, filled with people and cargo, to travel across the world at hundreds of miles per hour.
Only a few generations ago, the only way for me to travel from one continent to another would have been by boat. A journey so long and tedious that any thought of a short trip to visit family for a few days would likely have been preposterous. A mere fantasy. Even as late as the 1950s, when commercial flying started to replace boat travel for transatlantic travel, the trip would have still taken several days by sea.
Similarly, consider also that communication with family and friends back home would have been severely limited. Handwritten letters, perhaps telegraph and, in the later part of the 20th century, long distance phone calls. No facebook and Instagram for instantaneous updates, no skyping and facetime for video chats, no cell phones or texting for easy communication wherever you go. Not even an e-mail, which today is becoming antiquated compared to all our other modes of communication.
My point is, a year like I am doing, living and working abroad, would have had much more inherent permanency to it- if such an experience was even possible. And here I am today, able to spend less than half a day’s time to travel and visit family an ocean away for a week. And able to invite them to come visit me with equal ease (please come visit everyone, I’ve got lots of space and would love to welcome you!). I feel very lucky- and thankful- that this is so easily possible.
Despite how far we have come, I also hope that we have not yet reached the limits of our advancement in terms of travel. While much quicker and more comfortable than previous modes of transportation, even flying is not the ideal form. I do not know many people who particularly enjoy the stress of navigating an airport, the rush of making a tight connection, or the boredom of sitting for hours with complete strangers in a giant metal contraption thousands of miles above land.
I am very glad that I made the trip back to the States to see my family. It was very much worth the discomfort and stress of the trip. (I even had to leave my apartment the night before and sleep in the airport to make sure I wouldn’t miss my early morning flight). I still hope though that someday, preferably while I am still here to take advantage of it, we will make even more travel advancements. And I have no doubt that we will.
(A quick note:) The funny thing about this post was that it was written in several parts (thus my excuse for any lack of cohesiveness, as I’m also not bothering to re-read it). This first part was started on my plane to the states. This second part was written, of course, on the journey back to France (and later finished back in Aix). While I do still hope to see advancements in the future, it was nice to see that plane travel can be much more enjoyable at times if you just have the money for it (like most things in life I suppose).
After a wonderful week together, my mother and I traveled together back to the JFK airport. As her plane wasn’t leaving until a couple hours after mine she kept me company as I checked in and saw me through security. As I was checking into my flight we both noticed the flyer for a first class upgrade. Jokingly, I asked the woman at the desk how much the upgrade cost. “I think I’ll survive,” I answered upon hearing the price.
A couple hours later I handed over my ticket to board the plane back to Europe. When they scanned my ticket, however, I was told that there had been a seat change and to go to the desk for my new ticket. I was slightly confused, but not overly so having requested a seat change a couple days before and thinking it must have finally gone through. Imagine how surprised I was when, upon handing me my new ticket, they said I had actually been upgraded to first class!
I had been upgraded once before, on a domestic flight. It was nice, more space, much more comfortable. But this was nothing in comparison to a first class international flight. Even after sitting down I still found it hard to believe. I was immediately greeted by a flight attendant with a variety of bubbly and alcoholic drinks. Still in shock I took my glass of champagne and started noshing on the delicate appetizers set on one of my two side-tables. All before we had even shut the cabin doors!
My flight continued with a delicious meal (a duck appetizer, blue cheese gnocchi, assorted cheese plate, and finally a fruit tart and assorted Belgian chocolates) and a wide selection of French and American wines. All presented atop a pristine white table cloth of course. You can’t be expected to eat straight off the pull-out table, not in first class!
In addition to the typical blanket and pillow gifts for overnight transatlantic flights, we were also given a small toiletry bag with warm socks, lotion, chapstick, toothbrush, and toothpaste.
A wide variety of TV shows, movies, and even games, were available on my screen, and of course, the most important first-class international luxury: a seat that folds out into a proper, completely flat bed (the seat also had a massage option).
Morning came and and with it another delicious meal. Due to the early hour (I think it was about 3am back in New York by then) I have trouble remembering this one. It was your typical french breakfast though : croissants, baguette, butter, jam, juice and tea/coffee. Just as we started out decent they also brought us each a small box of belgian butter waffles.
I have to say, I was almost sad to see the seatbelt sign go back on and the captain’s announcement that our flight was about to end. The return journey to France was about two hours shorter and, due to the timing of my flight, did not cover ideal sleeping hours. For once I would not have at all minded a few extra hours on the plan to take advantage of my wonderful in-flight bed. Instead I found a bench in the Brussels airport (over two hours before my plane to Marseille) and ended my journey much as it had started: curled up on an airport bench.
My first class experience was certainly quite an unexpected treat. Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to enjoy it once more. Until then however, I will have to put up with cramped coach seating. I will also look with hope to the possibility in the near future that we will be able to find a nice middle ground. While nice and something I would love to be able repeat (who doesn’t enjoy being doted on for several hours), some of the extravagances of first class seem a little, well unnecessarily extravagant (truly, how much food do they think we need?!?). Perhaps we can find a nice middle ground?
Or perhaps someone will figure out instantaneous transportation already. Wouldn’t that be a treat?
Note: Sorry this post took so long. Kept putting off finishing it. Hopefully I will soon have another post about my time actually in New York, though, as it was a wonderful week I spent there.