Hawaiian Summer Camp

Guest Post: First Time Flying

(For this week’s Weekly Travel Inspiration, I decided to do something a little different and asked my boyfriend E to write a guest post about our flight to Hawai’i. I hope you enjoy it; I think he has a pretty amusing take on the experience.)

When I mentioned to my folks that my trip to Hawai’i was going to be my first time on a commercial airliner, even they were shocked. The only planes I’ve ever been on were small 2- or 4-person Cessnas, and those only brought me on quick loops around the airport. This fact always seemed to shock people, and has made me particularly good at games like Never-Have-I-Ever, but I was surprised that even my own parents had assumed I’d been on a big plane. This assumption of universal experience seems to be particularly biased against people in socioeconomic groups that can’t necessarily afford the ridiculously high cost of travel, but that’s not what I’m going to write about. I’m going to write about, at the tender age of twenty-three, my very first time above, I dunno, 5,000 feet.

Why the lack of flying, you ask? Perhaps some exciting phobia of flying or unfortunate medical condition that precludes high altitudes? Nothing quite so interesting, I’m afraid. I’ve lived on the East Coast of the United States all my life and have never had the money or the incentive to fly beyond it. I’ve gotten good at long drives, and that skill has served my purpose in the past. However, having just graduated college, having worked through the fall, and having a girlfriend with wanderlust, I finally HAD the money and incentive to change this trend.

If you’ve been following An Opportune Moment for the past few weeks, you’ll know that Emma is in Hawai’i right now. I’m her boyfriend, E, and I came with her to the farm at which my elder siblings have been WWOOFing for several months. We flew from Boston to San Diego, with a layover in Dallas-Fort Worth, and then from San Diego to Kahului, Hawai’i. So, I’ll be talking about this entire first-time travel experience, not just the flight from Massachusetts to Texas, which, while interesting, was not fully representative of my first prolonged flight experience.

Basically, all of my experience with airliners comes from movies. In the kind of media I consume, I’d say something goes seriously wrong with the flight about 50% of the time. I understand that the actual occurrence of emergencies is somewhat less (I often hear that it’s safer to get into an airplane than into a car). Even so, I’ve gotten used to seeing people getting airsick, dealing with crippling fears of flying, or, otherwise, grappling with some sort of alien presence.

I am simultaneously relieved and somewhat disappointed to say that I did not experience any of these things on any of my flights. Turbulence was one occurrence, though, which I did have the opportunity to experience. This is how I felt when the captain said that we were going through some choppy airspace (sounds violent!) and we’d be experiencing some turbulence (oh, boy!):

I was kinda excited.
This is my anticipatory face.

Here’s how I felt when the Buckle Seat Belt sign went off half an hour later.

I was a little disappointed.
This is my disappointed/confused face.

I’m a guy who likes roller coasters, those big drop machines at theme parks, and going over bumps too fast in cars. I like that “my-stomach-is-not-being-pulled-downward-as-quickly-as-the-rest-of-me” feeling. Turbulence did not supply this, even though Emma said that the turbulence on one of the flights was particularly bad and she was purposefully not pointing this out to me because she thought that I might be worried. Worried that I wasn’t going to have enough fun, more like! Ha.

Ahem. Moving on.

Jerry Seinfeld and various other stand-up comedians prepared me for the debatable quality of airline food. What they didn’t tell me is that you can bring your own food on the plane, which I did, and the only airline food that I did get was free:

They were pretty good.
Free means good!

Yep. Complimentary mai tais on the way from California to Hawai’i. They weren’t bad, either (though, let’s be honest, I don’t really have a frame of reference because it was also my first mai tai).

“Back to the Future: Part II” begins with a credit intro that is basically soaring through clouds to epic music. While I wasn’t imagining quite this cinematic an experience, I was looking forward to some beautiful cloudscapes. My first two flights, all the way through to San Diego, were at night, so I didn’t see too many amazing water vapor conglomerations, but I still had the window seat and got to watch all the little lights change far below. So, I couldn’t wait for the San Diego-to-Kahului flight because we’d be seeing the sunrise and I’d have a great (window seat) view of the clouds for the duration of the five-hour flight. Of course, you’ll notice a peculiarity in the design of 737s:

Imagine this says "Alaska Air" on the side. Photo by: gynti_46
Imagine this says “Alaska Air” on the side.
Photo by: gynti_46

See that space, ten windows back, where there’s a gap between windows? Yeah, it kinda seems like they forgot to put a window there, huh? Seems like they shouldn’t really list that as a window seat, if you ask me.


I saw lots of great cloudscapes:

(read: I did not see lots of great cloudscapes)

I’m exaggerating a little. I could kinda see out of the next window up, which was partially obscured by the chair in front of me. You can see it here:

Looks nice, right? Well, get your tissues ready …

And this would have been fine if the polite, observant passenger sitting in the seat in front of me had not, thirty minutes into the flight, decided that he wanted to take a nap, reclined his seat, and pulled the blind on my one and only window to the beautiful cloudscapes passing by far below.

Sorry, but I never said this was a happy story. Take some time to dry your eyes as needed.

With about thirty minutes left in the flight, Mr. I’m-Going-To-Nap-And-Watch-Downton-Abbey-And-Therefore-Need-To-Block-Out-All-Light-From-The-Outside-World went to the bathroom, and I surreptitiously pulled back the blind and was able to craningly watch the approaching islands with only a minor crick in my neck and a few shaky phone videos to show for it.

And then we arrived in Maui, the air was warm and the weather was fair, our luggage did not get lost (another thing I was almost sure was going to happen), and I set foot onto my first landmass outside continental North America.

Takeaways? Well, let’s see. Flying was nowhere near as exciting as I’d hoped it would be. Mostly, it was kinda boring. It was, however, very confusing and raised a lot of questions for me. For instance:

  • Does TSA know when it’s your first time flying and always search your bag before your very first flight?
  • Could I really have been storing an explosive in my poor toothpaste that I had to throw away? I just wanted to have clean teeth for the duration of my long voyage.
  • What is the difference between a boarding pass and a ticket?
  • If there is no difference, why don’t they just call it a ticket?
  • Why are movie tickets printed on higher quality paper than these stupid, easy-to-misplace ‘boarding passes’?
  • Am I really going to be able to ‘assist’ the other passengers after I pull the emergency exit door off, or am I just going to help in the best way I know how, and get out of the way?
  • Why are 737s designed with a seat that hates the person who’s sitting in it?

Many of these I’m still pondering. I did learn, though, that travel is exhausting. This is me in the San Diego airport between the hours of midnight and 7:00 AM:

Yep, Emma took a picture of me while I was sleeping, and, yep, I’m putting it on the internet.

And I also learned that flying isn’t the point. Unlike many other aspects of life (video games, sex, life itself), flights ARE just about the ending. I wasn’t getting on a plane for the sake of taking my first big plane ride. I was getting on a plane to get off the plane in a place where I’ve never been before. And that’s what I’m busy enjoying.

Obligatory smiling on the beach photo!

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


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