Saturday, September 6, 2014

It Could Be Worse

As frequent flyers know, airline travel is getting more and more uncomfortable these days.

Not to mention contentious.
Three flights in nine days have been diverted after altercations between passengers over legroom and reclining seats.
I have a modest suggestion. Limit the amount a seat can recline to a few inches. That will give people some relief from sitting upright, while at the same time not being overly intrusive on those seated behind them.

But that's not the point of this post. I'd like to put the 'difficulties' of modern air travel - air conditioning, movies and WiFi, cold drinks, even the less than appetizing meals - in perspective. Next time you encounter a few bumps in the road on your trip, imagine what traveling was like about 150 years ago.
After leaving San Antonio, there was not a single house or settlement between Fort Clark (present-day Del Rio) and San Elizario (near El Paso) until 1856. At least two weeks were required to cross this 550-mile expanse, and meeting an occasional California-bound wagon train provided the only contact with civilization.

A typical mail train consisted of one or two heavy wagons and a coach for passengers, with six or more men armed with rifles and repeating pistols as escorts.

A California newspaper recommended these supplies for the trip: “one Sharps rifle and a hundred cartridges; a Colt’s Navy revolver and two pounds of balls; a knife and sheath; a pair of thick boots and woolen pants; a half-dozen pair of thick woolen socks; six undershirts; three woolen over-shirts; a wide-awake hat; a cheap sack coat; a soldier’s overcoat; one pair of blankets summer and two in winter; a piece of India rubber cloth for blankets; a pair of gauntlets; a small bag of needle and pins, a sponge, hair brush, comb, soap, etc., in an oil-silk bag; two pairs of thick drawers, and three or four towels.” These supplies counted toward the 40 pounds of baggage included in the ticket price; however, because passengers were expected to help fend off the hostile American Indians who often harassed the trains, the weight limit exempted firearms.
Two pairs of drawers for a two week trip. How'd you like to sit in an enclosed coach with those folks? But at least you could take your firearms without a hassle.
Conditions were not much improved in 1859 when George F. Pierce, a minister traveling to San Diego from Georgia, described on May 20 the ritual of mealtimes away from a station or other shelter (“Life and Times of George F. Pierce,” Hancock Publishing Company, 1888): “On stopping, all the employees of the stage-line spread themselves in quest of fuel. A few dry sticks were soon gathered, the fire kindled, the kettle put on, and water heated; an old bag is brought from its resting place in the stage boot. Its open mouth laid upon the ground, the other end is seized and suddenly lifted, and out comes tin-cups and plates, iron-spoons, knives and forks, helter-skelter; another bag rolls slowly out, containing the bread; presently another cloth is unrolled, and a piece of beef appears. Now a box is brought forth, the lid is raised, and we behold coffee, tea, sugar, salt, pepper, and pickles—a goodly supply.”

Then “the ground coffee is put in, water poured on, and all well shaken—the coals are ready and the pot boils. By this time the frying-pan is hot, the lard melted, the meat sliced, and soon our senses are regaled by the hissing urn and the simmering flesh. ... the table-cloth of many colors, all inclined to dark, as innocent of water as the loom that made it, is spread upon the ground. Plates, tin-cups, knives and forks are arranged in order, and Ramon announces: ‘Supper ready, gentlemen.’ All hands gather about ‘the cloth,’ oblivious of dirt, careless of dainties, and the necessaries of life disappear very rapidly. The fragments are left for the prairie wolf and the birds of the air; the cloth is shaken … the unwashed instruments are boxed and bagged, and we are ready to travel.”
Still unhappy with airline food?
About half past 10 in the evening they camped on a hill, providing the “watch” with a view for miles around. The stage “was soon converted into a bed-chamber for Mrs. Pierce and (daughter) Ann. By a judicious arrangement of trunks and cushions a bed was made—the curtains were buttoned down—the wife and child laid down; I wrapped my travelling blanket around me and slept soundly. The gentlemen all spread their cloaks, shawls, and blankets on the ground, aye, even the dirty road—for fear of ‘the snakes in the grass’—and, as they reported in the morning, rested well.”

This routine was repeated every day for at least two weeks on the route from San Antonio to El Paso.
I realize spending several hours crammed into the middle seat between two overweight goons isn't a lot of fun, but just keep reminding yourself:
"It could be worse. It could be worse. It could be worse..."


Old NFO said...

And it WILL get worse... sigh... The recline on most seats is about 5 inches... The REAL problem is they've moved the seats so close together that even those 5 inches impact the seat behind you. And we have MORE room than most Asian airlines!!!

Bag Blog said...

Being a very short person, I always have plenty of leg room. But on our last flight to South America, the guys in front of us reclined all the way back making it difficult for us to even see our tray, much less eat our food. The guys never went to sleep - just reclined. It was the first time I had ever been really irritated over reclining sesats.

Thirty years ago I made the drive across Texas from the Red River to the Rio Grande in McAllen with two babies - following my husband who was pulling a U-haul trailer. The trip from San Antonio on south was much as described above :) It was a single highway and lots of winter Texans in big RVs. Then we had a flat south of Falfurrias. I thought we were in occupied Mexico.

CenTexTim said...

NFO - Yeah, and then they charge you more for what used to be regular-spaced seats. It's almost as bad as taking the bus...

BB - South Texas hasn't changed much since then.

Anonymous said...

This whole problem began when they allowed peasants to buy airline tickets, thus turning what was an elite form of travel into a Greyhound service.

Keep the coach prices high (NY Kennedy International to Miami international at $4,500 round trip for example) and flying will once again become civilized!

CenTexTim said...

Toejam - I know an old stewardess (not 'flight attendant') who recalls back when the airfares were first slashed. She and her fellow stews refered to the 'new' breed of airline passengers as "bus people."