Things should get better, but …

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

As we get older, we tend to look back and compare how things used to be to how things are now.

It’s frustrating. I wish I could wrap my arms around something that is undeniably better now than it used to be, but I have trouble determining what that “better thing” might be.

A week ago, we flew from Cincinnati to Las Vegas, with a layover in Chicago. On the short flight (less than an hour) to Chicago, I didn’t expect a lot of service from the airline.

I wasn’t disappointed. We didn’t receive anything but a super-small plastic cup of ice with water or soda. I would be amazed if it was more than three ounces. Take out the ice and it would have been barely more than a sip.

They did pass out snacks. They were the smallest bag of treats I’ve ever seen. I swear, someone at the airline must get paid to split the peanuts.

My bag held about 14 peanuts, but they were all halves. If the two halves had stayed together, I would have been given a little bag with seven peanuts. I imagine that someone — in a small, dark, windowless room at the airport — is on peanut duty to make it look like we’re getting more.

Years ago, we used to be able to watch a movie while we flew along at 35,000 feet. The tiny screen was either hanging right above your head or was hanging about six rows in front of you. But with the little blue earphones that came in the little clear bag, at least you could count on a few hours of distraction while being stuck in a plane.

Last week, if I had wanted to watch something for a few hours, I would have had to bring my own electronic device (laptop, iPad or iPhone) and pay for inflight WiFi. For something to do, I found myself reduced to reading the safety-instruction card.

I know what my flotation device looks like and where it is located. I am also now a pro on how a seat belt and buckle works. That was boring.

I tried to sleep, but it was difficult. Reclining your seat back usually upsets the neighbor behind you. They may not do anything, but you always hear them grumble.

I found that if I lowered my seat-back table, I could use the little cup holder indentation on that little table to anchor my elbow. Then I could rest my head on the palm my hand and achieve a small degree of comfort – an extremely small degree of comfort.

About the only thing that seems better now is that you can’t smoke onboard. I remember the ridiculous days of smokers being herded into the back of the plane and nonsmokers being seated in the front – as if the smoke and smell couldn’t just drift forward by itself.

With all the amazing technology (or magic) that keeps an airliner hanging over six miles in the air and flying at speeds that exceed 500 mph, it is startling that they can’t fix the speaker the captain uses to tell us important information.

I am just going to assume the information is important because the captain comes on the intercom and says, “This is the flight deck garble garble garble garble, blah blah blah garble blah blah. Thank you.” I have yet to understand a full announcement from the flight deck, but since the pilot is taking time away from flying our plane to talk with us, the announcements must be important.

All of this has been observed from my most recent experience flying across country. It’s a far cry from 40 years ago when flight attendants scurried around serving a full meal, followed by drinks, followed by a warm towel to freshen up before we landed.

The food wasn’t great, but it occupied time. We could also watch a fairly new movie while trying to cut meat with a little plastic fork, while keeping your elbows pressed tightly against your sides. It wasn’t just mass processed meat. It was practically a three-course meal. At least they tried.

I’m now looking forward to the future when, instead of walking down a jetway to board an airplane, we will walk through a teleportation tunnel where the marvel of quantum entanglement will transfer the photons, neutrinos, electrons and molecules of our bodies from one location to any other location in the world.

Science fiction? Sure, but over 80 years ago it was the subject of a scientific paper written by Albert Einstein and other world-renowned physicists. Somewhere in a university or physics lab, brilliant people are still trying to figure it out. When they do, I’ll be on board.

It just might be that “better-thing” I can wrap my arms around.

Regardless, it will certainly beat a three-hour layover in Chicago.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and a resident of the city for more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist