I do not consider myself a frequent flier but the opportunity arose to travel to Cyprus recently and I could not believe how travel has changed.
I was fortunate to fly Qatar airlines on one of their modern planes and was impressed with how far airline travel had come firstly with the entertainment that you now get with every seat having its own screen and a variety of entertainment packages that could keep one busy for hours which no doubt is the object of flight as we know it today.
I can’t help but to cast my mind back to the 1970’s when I was child flying SAA over to the United Kingdom to visit my grandparents on a flight that had no entertainment. Back then many African countries would not allow our planes air space due to the apartheid regime we were living under so SAA always flew the longest routes.
One such trip I recall landing on an island off West Africa where the plane was directed to a screened off area of the Airport and under heavy guard. As a child I recall the brown hessian sack screen and the armed soldiers around the plane not allowing us to exit the plane – it was quite intimidating.
A quick refuel and we were escorted to the runway to continue the journey. On another occasion we landed in Kenya under full military guard and that time there were tanks parked around the plane.
To entertain ourselves we took our small brown cardboard school cases full of toy cars (Superfast cars) and we were allowed to play with them on the plane floor. I think my mother read her book but there was no other entertainment to help take your mind off the boredom of the journey.
Customs and passport control were always long and tedious and my mother still recalls how stressful it was trying to keep my brother and me under control and to get through the check point.
Well, that has all changed with progress in the aviation industry and I was engrossed for hours with the vast array of entertainment that was available at the touch of a button.
On an international flight you are one of a vast number of people from all walks of life so catering for different preferences is probably difficult, but I was I even able to watch a surfing documentary on the flight. They have such a vast array of movies, series, sports, comedy and music to keep one busy for the entire trip.
What impressed me the most was how you can monitor your flight progress on the screen to see were you are – a marvel I suppose of satellite navigation.
I was also thrilled to see how efficient airport customs and passport control has become in some countries.
You walk up to a computerised stand and place your passport on a scanner which scans it. Then there is a camera that photographs you and gives you a print out which you hand to an official at the passport counter. And that’s it – you are done and through. Wow – no queues and a thousand questions!
Then there are today’s modern airports that never stop moving people, planes and cargo 24 hours a day. I was blown away with the size of the operation and how they get everything where it is supposed to go.
So, yes, a lot has changed and I must say that it is a lot less stressful to travel these days.
My grandparents did not trust airplanes, preferring to sail on a ship when they came out to visit. I think they must have had a lot of leave as the ship took three weeks to sail from South Hampton in the UK to Durban. Then they stayed for three weeks and sailed back again.
When I asked my grandfather why he preferred sailing, he used to tell me that if the ship were to sink, you could at least swim. But if you were in a plane and it fell out of the sky, you weren’t given wings to help you fly…and that’s why they sailed.