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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Up In the Air

I just returned from a vacation that required quite a few hours of air travel. Remember when flying seemed fun and glamorous, when you envied the so-called "jet set," when the moment of take-off seemed as if you were leaving the whole world behind?

Now, as the gentleman behind me put it, going through security is so stressful that if they ever capture Bin Laden, they ought to stand him up in airports and allow boarding passengers to give him a hearty punch in the gut. On the other hand, on this trip, the airports seemed eerily deserted - yet why do the planes feel so crowded? Those traveling appeared to be the last few businesspersons on Earth with expense accounts, people of visible wealth and senior citizens who had planned well for retirement. And, like me - people who'd scraped together a few extra dollars for airfare who could then mooch off of friends at the destination of choice. With wi-fi and cell phones everywhere, there's no true escape from your real world, either. I welcome the announcement about turning off cell phones, as it means no calls or emails for me and I don't have to listen to 25 other conversations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent movie "Up In the Air," and not just because it allowed me to look at George Clooney's beautifully-aged mug on a screen the size of a house. In its reflection on what it means to be up in the air, whether through the physical act of flying on an airplane or the metaphorical state of being nowhere in particular in life, career, relationships, the movie resonated with me in a profound way. Some of the most difficult scenes in the film present people who are being let go from their jobs. The director wisely cast some "real" people who had recently been laid off and let them improvise. If you can watch these vignettes and not be moved, you are made of stoic stuff indeed. The airport scenes should have you chuckling, however, if you've spent anytime in a post-9/11 airport. Just yesterday, I saw a woman grow quite upset that, despite the repeated warnings about "liquids, gels and aerosols" we heard waiting in line, she had to throw away her bottled water and enormous can of hairspray. Another woman grew huffy with the security guard repeatedly calling after her, until she realized she'd left her keys and cell phone in the plastic bin! So much for the sophistication of the "jet set..."

Still, I had to remind myself: at the present time, it's a luxury just to be able to take vacation time and fly somewhere. The fares are higher than ever and those extra fees mean less to spend on vacation activities. Every morning on my way to the Library, I drive past the local headquarters of United Airlines. For years I have tried to give my business to United, figuring it directly impacts the local economy. Soon, from what the newspapers say, I will pass an empty building on my commute, when United moves into the Willis Tower in Chicago. That will leave a lot of local businesses up in the air, as they lose the customer base of United employees. When I read last year that Des Plaines and Elk Grove Village had some of the highest unemployment numbers in the state, I tried to figure out why. Knowing how these two communities are so closely tied to the airport, I wondered if the slowdown at the airline counters meant fewer baggage handlers, chefs, concession workers, security staff, and so on, trickling down to the unhappy statistical news for Des Plaines. And leaving more people up in the air.

Got something you'd like to share about air travel, the United move, unemployment in Des Plaines, or the movie "Up In the Air?" Have a suggestion about how to make air travel safer or more comfortable, or just want to express your frustration over the current state of affairs? Write your comments here, please.


  1. The facility on Touhy is a Reservations Center, they are moving their operations center which is now between Algonquin and Dempster to the Willis Tower. To my understanding the Touhy facility won't be affected, at least not yet

  2. Sorry - I should have been clearer. It is the facility on Dempster that I pass every morning and that is the one that will be moved. I'm glad that the Touhy location will stay put at least for now and I hope at least most of the current staff will make the move into the city, although I'm sure that's an inconvenience for many.


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