Eyes turned skyward

A US Airways jet approaches DCA in FAA-choreographed precision. Taken from the Arlington Memorial Bridge, April 2013

A US Airways jet approaches DCA in FAA-choreographed precision.
Taken from the Arlington Memorial Bridge, April 2013

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve written here before about having grown up in an airline family, surrounded by relatives and friends who were pilots, and hearing endless talk of flight from my earliest memory.  In those days, few of my friends had flown (except for the many who, like me, grew up with airline employees in their families, of which there were plenty in Atlanta).  But I can remember flying before the days of jet engines, when even the major airlines flew propeller planes.  In just my lifetime, aviation has changed tremendously, and not all of the changes have been for the better.

I don’t know how Leonardo da Vinci nailed it so well without having tasted flight himself, but he’s right.  My experiences growing up with airplanes, and later my years working for US Airways, have meant that I pretty much walk with my eyes turned skyward, figuratively if not literally.

If you had told me when I was a child that there would come a day when flying was almost as common as riding a bus, and people would talk of it with contempt and even disgust,  I would never have believed you.  When airline deregulation passed, my father predicted just such a scenario, but even then I could not imagine it.  And still, when I’m flying on a sunny day and happen to be near enough to a window to glimpse the brightly-lit clouds below, all the magic comes back.  I just don’t understand how we came to take such a phenomenal experience for granted.

On a recent trip into DC, I decided to get off at the Arlington Cemetery metro stop and walk into the city across the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  There were several sights I planned to take in, but my timing was such that when I crossed the bridge it was a very busy time for air traffic, and I ended up spending much of my time there with eyes literally turned skyward.  I watched in fascination, snapping away with my camera as plane after plane shot staggered approaches into Reagan National Airport, just seconds apart.  The risk and precision of it amazed me, although it was nothing I had not heard of hundreds of times before.

A few weeks later my brother, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, accompanied us into DC for Matt’s arm surgery.  As we came into the city, he remarked that he couldn’t cross those bridges over the Potomac without feeling an anxiety-related adrenaline rush conditioned by years of shooting harrowing approaches to the short runways of DCA.  Again I thought of how much we take for granted about flying, and how ungrateful we usually are for the relative safety and convenience of modern air travel.

I stay so busy that I don’t have much time to miss my years at USAir and the wonderful flying privileges I grew up with and later enjoyed as an airline employee.  But just as Leonardo said, there I have been, and there some part of me  will always long to return.

Do you like to fly?  Or has the negative press related to delays and fare increases, scary (though relatively rare) fatalities, and hassles of security searches ruined it for you?  Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned drawbacks, can you at least enjoy the occasional glimpse out the window that shows you a different view of our world, one Leonardo would have given so much to experience even one time?

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Susan

    You’re right, things have changed so much! I took my first flight when I was 23. My children have been on flights since they were babies. My youngest two have been traveling for their jobs lately and I was thinking that knowing how to do air travel is one of the “soft skills” that it’s helpful for young people to have when they’re beginning their careers. People do like to complain but I’m still awestruck and grateful that we are able to travel this way, even though that has been severely curtailed during our pandemic (and the impact on the airlines is something sad we could write about extensively but I think that would just depress us).

    Btw, purely by coincidence, we flew on U.S. Airways on its last day when it merged, October 16th, 2015 (I looked back through facebook because I remember doing a post about it). I didn’t even realize it until we saw a sign being changed at Reagan airport.

    • Susan, I was part of Piedmont Airlines and was working there when it “merged” with USAir in 1989. I put “merged” in quotes because they passed it off as a merger to get the shareholders to agree, but then USAir quickly dominated us and kept their name while we lost ours, as well as our wonderful customer service ethic. One thing they told us early on: “You people spend entirely too much time with the passengers. You’ve got to move them on quickly and get to the next person.” They literally told us that. They also said to me (co-workers, not bosses) words that had the net meaning of “Quit caring so much, you are making the rest of us look bad.” 😦 So much for the southern hospitality that made Piedmont a true cash cow and made us an acquisition target. Needless to say, after USAir took over, we never made that kind of profit again. No surprise there. I agree with you that knowing how to gracefully endure air travel is indeed a “soft skill” in today’s world. On a more positive note, my sister flew up to see me last month and she said it was wonderful. She had the whole row to herself and no crowds or lines anywhere. And when I picked her up at DCA, I had never gotten in and out of there so easily. It was practically deserted! Bad for the airlines, but good for us. I’m holding onto my airline and aerospace stocks, though. I still believe! And in any case, I’ll go down with that (air)ship!

  2. Susan

    I’ve seen people posting about riding those uncrowded flights! I think that was a brief window but it must have been a treat! I think there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel and the industry will come back when people feel safe.

    Such a sad story, though, about the decline of customer service. I can totally see you being the most gracious and caring employee, making customers feel good about flying; what a tragedy for that attitude and expectation to have been totally discarded.

    • Susan, I surely hope the travel industry will come back! My life has been so entwined with it, as both provider and consumer, that I have really been hurting for all the companies who have made life easier and more exciting for all of us. I feel sad every time I hear of layoffs.

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