What is a commercial flight like these days?
There is a lot of uncertainty concerning the specifics of air travel, these days. I had a flight from Vancouver to Toronto with Air Canada, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, there were the advisories on various websites, but there is always the official line (like very strict dimensions on your carry-on baggage) and what’s done in practice (no one is going to measure your carry-on unless you are being a giant dick).
So what was my 4+ hour flight going to be like, this time? It wasn’t clear if there would be food on the plane, or if we were allowed to eat, or what. If they are being so strict about masks and social distancing, how are we meant to eat or drink? Maybe we wouldn’t be allowed to. Or maybe there would be special masks with straws that we could use. Who knows. I wasn’t expecting any complimentary snacks or drinks, because the whole situation seemed like a great opportunity to stop giving us free stuff while having a great excuse.
But they did give us free snacks, and drinks. Not only did the flight attendant come around with complimentary drinks (tomato juice, oddly, was not available), but we also got these strange little care packages in a ziplock bag.
1 message from Air Canada’s Chief Medical Officer
1 disposable mask
1 20mL bottle hand sanitizer gel
2 benzalkonium chloride wipes
1 pair biodegradable earbuds
1 bottle of water (243mL)
1 package Krispy Kernels peanut-free pretzels (14g)
1 package Biscoff cookies (25g)
It may be worth noting that, according to the package, Biscoff is Europe’s favourite cookie with coffee which really makes me want to know what Europe’s favourite cookie without coffee might be… More enticing, though, is the question of how many different categories of ‘favourite cookie’ might exist in Europe, and where the competition is held, and if it is television. I was a little surprised that the ear buds are biodegradable, and I wonder what exactly they’re made of, how they were tested, and how long it takes them to degrade.
But then I started thinking about the pretzels, because they were very pointedly ‘peanut free’. Maybe nobody under the age of 30 would blink at this, because they may not remember that the little package of peanuts was the iconic airplane snack. When exactly did that change? There must have been a very intense and heated round of meetings that took free peanuts away from the airline passenger. How vehemently did peanuts fight to stay on the menu? And how hard did pretzels fight to be the replacement? And who else was in contention? Did they beat out potato chips, corn nuts, and hickory sticks? Or did the airlines seek out pretzels because they were the least crumbly of the savoury snacks? I would kill to have access to those meetings and the memos that surely fired back and forth. I wonder what kinds of threats and bribes the peanut people fielded.
How many bits did Seinfeld have about airline peanuts? Was the line “These pretzels are making me thirsty” some kind of foreshadowing of what was to come? Was this entire transition engineered by Jerry Seinfeld?
But this reminds me of an anachronism that I always forget about but notice when I’m on the plane: the ‘no smoking’ sign. that’s right. That sign is very prominently featured on every plane, and reminds me that there was a time, long ago, where people apparently smoked on the plane. What was it like, when smokers were suddenly told they couldn’t smoke for several hours on a long flight? It must have been a big deal, because they still have that sign up in the plane. Maybe in-flight service was brought in as some kind of compensation, and just never went away. How weird would it be to go back in time and fly on a plane with cigarettes and peanuts, and a movie that everyone watched at the same time, together? Did they show funny movies? Did people laugh more at comedies on an airplane, because the crowded bored plane functioned as a real-live laugh track?
But I digress.
It should also be noted that water filling stations were scandalously absent after security at the Vancouver Airport (YVR) but seemed to be present in Toronto (YYZ).
During the flight, masks were not required while eating or drinking, and I didn’t feel like the flight attendants were being food police and making sure that everyone had food in their mouths at all times. I watched almost a whole season of South Park while I worked through the various snacks available to me (not knowing what to expect, I’d brought chocolate marshmallow squares, rice crispy squares, licorice, and peanut butter honey sandwiches). These days, you’re allowed to have lighters and matches on the plane, and knives of a certain length. You can have water, but you can’t bring it through security. If peanut butter isn’t allowed, nobody told me.
One time I brought a whole jar of pickles on the flight, but obviously I had to drain all the juice in a water-fountain before security. Because you can’t bring pickle juice through security, but you can bring pickels.
When that happened, the girl sitting next to me seemed envious of the pickles and made a comment. I was tempted to offer her one, but I hesitated. There is something weird about offering a pickle to a stranger on an airplane… but maybe I shouldn’t! Why should I feel weird about that? Looking back, our society’s dysfunctional expectations deprived that girl of a pickle, all those years ago? And now I just realized what kind of world I want to live in: I want to live in a world where strangers offer each other pickles — whether it be in addition to, or instead of, shaking hands or saying hello. If that’s what happened, everyone would have enough electrolytes, no one would be thirsty, and everything would be good.