Soaring to new heights of fun - Bob Paslay

A friend of mine said to me recently that for somebody who hates to fly, "you sure seem to do a lot of it."

I can't say that he is wrong because when I was growing up about every two years we would actually make it over to the neighboring county 30 miles away, and it is only in later life that I began traveling a lot.

Coupled with my absolute fascination with aviation, my desire to go fun places keeps me flying. I have no idea how something as big as a jet gets off the ground and how it stays up there. I simply sit back and put my faith in technology and my usual good luck and then just let it happen. I never fail to thank the flight crew as I get off the plane.

I was thinking of how many millions of Americans never fly. I feel sorry for you. There is nothing more exhilarating (or in my case frightening) than sitting in a 767 on the runway at the airport in New Orleans. This beautiful beast revs up its engines and then goes hurling down the runway. In a matter of what seems like seconds you are not on the ground but in the clouds, soaring ever higher.

The flying time is 56 minutes. Imagine you are in the land of Cajun cooking, craziness and beads and less than an hour later you are in the land of peaches and tall buildings. When I flew to Dublin in December (I told you I am flying a lot), the pilot said that you can almost never see Greenland because of the cloud cover but on this special day it was clear. What a spectacular sight of ice and jagged rock coastline. It was like a giant National Geographic photo.

I hope something turns around to keep all the airlines flying because I have a list of places I want to go and I need the big birds to keep going there. I applaud Delta for making some changes like loosening the rules and reducing their airfares. Let me give you an example of my most recent trip. I booked it on the Internet and was checking fares out and meant to leave on a Friday but ended up booking on a Thursday. Weeks later as I was getting everything ready to go, I printed out a copy of the itinerary and discovered the era. Delta said if it had been within 24 hours of booking they could change it. But now to move the trip to the Friday from Thursday, it would cost a $100 change fee and the difference in the fare now, another $450. That meant to change a $180 ticket one day it was going to cost me another $550. I said, what if I take the Greyhound down there for about $50 or $60 and then just use the return part of the ticket. No, they said, if you don't take the outgoing flight you can't fly back.

Who makes up all these stupid rules? If you buy a seat and choose to use only half of it you should be allowed to do it. If you book the wrong day and are willing to hang at the airport on the right day and hope they have a vacant seat, what does the airline care? With lots of help and consideration, I was able to go on the day I booked and didn't have to eat the ticket, lose the fun of going or pay the airlines robber baron prices.

The deal is that companies have to be consumer friendly, especially with cut-rate airlines taking their business. People who love to fly and aren't afraid of anything don't mind getting on a peanut size plane or one in which it looks like it might not even make it off the ground. And these people are willing to climb on anything as long as the price is right.

There is grousing that Delta's latest move will eventually drive all airlines into financial trouble because they will have to lower their rates and this price war will hurt all the beleaguered airlines. My theory is that Delta may be trying to drive the cheap airlines out of business. Or they may be simply trying to break people's habits and get the business fliers and others to think again about Delta.

I think the answer is to get people who have never flown or would fly if they could afford it into those empty seats. Every time I fly and see a couple of dozen empty seats I think what a waste. Somebody could be coming up to Atlanta and enjoying it up here.

Think back when you were young and adventuresome. You didn't mind hanging at the airport if you could get a super deal on a flight. You would sort out some place to stay when you got there.

I think Delta should go even further. They should let people just jump onto planes at the last minute and fill these seats up and work out a cheap enough price. I think they should bring back bartering. Say, a Delta pilot lives in Atlanta and needs someone to rewire his house. They should post a free trip to Fort Lauderdale in exchange for some wiring work. Then they should let the employee pay something for the ticket and win the services of the electrician. Or they could even let college students fly free if there were empty seats and in exchange, the students could pay $25 a month until the tickets are paid off. Or companies and schools should be encouraged to subsidize tickets so people who never flew before could experience the fun of it. Think of a little kid in Atlanta who suddenly gets to fly to some cool city for the day. It might make him or her see the endless possibilities of the world and strive to succeed so they can see more of the world. I know you are thinking that these are goofy ideas. But I think creativity is needed when you want to keep people flying.

I urge all of you to jump on a plane and soar like a bird.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor at the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .