In the old Berry Terminal (now closed), surrounded by dreary decor done up in the burnt sienna so popular in the late 70s, my mother and I were saying goodbyes before I headed over to Europe for what would be my second semester of study abroad. We likely wouldn't see each other again for six months as I planned to stay away into the summer on an internship.
My familyyour average American travelers who take a cruise here, a road trip to a national park there, maybe one year it'd be a few days in Floridathey weren't exactly looking forward to my prolonged absence, which, as they'd learned during my first semester, would be punctuated by occasional calls with phone cards on payphones thousands of miles from where I should have been (studying in the corner of a Rome library). Now perhaps it's clear why my mom began crying while seeing me off at DTW, and I cried a little myself because of her reaction.
And then I turned around and checked in with the British Airways agent, who noted my distant return flight date and mentioned that he sympathized with my situation. I slid the boarding pass across the desk, pocketed it, and headed upstairs to security and the departure gates. It wasn't until I located my seat onboardan aisle seat ahead of the last cabinthat I even realized what had transpired. The seat had a footrest! And a personal seat back TV! This was a massive step up from the overpriced $1,600 Alitalia tickets of first semester, tickets for which I paid in bills after cashing in savings bonds, at a travel agency, some two hours outside Chicago by CTA and Pace Bus (never again!). By comparison, these BA flights were an internet deal of only around $500, for non-stops between Detroit and London.
It was this flight and experience that made me aware of travel classes and levels of service, and after which I signed up for every airline loyalty program in the US and Europe. Even my AOL Buddy List categorization mirrored BA's classes; only my closest and coolest friends enjoyed screenname pride of place in "Club World" and "First."
This winter marks ten years since that flight, and though ten years of travel may not seem like much to some, and a jump from Economy to Premium Economy hardly worth noting, it has meant literally the world to me. It is responsible for triggering my frequent flyer mile collection, which itself begot future upgrades and, in recent years, meant my reaching dream destinations like Bali, Jakarta, Easter Island, Lima, and Osaka.
The point here is the value of a first-time experience and how integral such a simple gesture can be in shaping interests and passions, and indeed a physical path of travel. And, hey, sometimes even commercial air travel can show a little heart.
[Photo: Jaunted on Instagram]