W henever I meet with fellow frequent fliers, I notice how much they are like children no matter their ages: filled with wonder; curious to explore; compiling a personal list of accomplishments which they not already have completed but also have yet to achieve.
Like many businesses and industries, the frequent flier “game” — for lack of a better word, much as I dislike using it — of collecting miles and points while earning the highest level of elite status possible has arguably matured; and some might say it is well past its prime. Generally, frequent travel loyalty programs are more restrictive and complex than ever in the past 25 years; and yet the benefits have either been “enhanced” or have disappeared altogether.
Enhanced. If I never heard that word again before I depart for that “last great flight”, it would not bother me in the least…
…but with that complexity of such things as frequent flier loyalty programs, airport security checkpoints and elite level status, sometimes you have to ask yourself: have you forgotten the simple wonders of travel?
Do We Take Travel, Miles and Points Too Seriously?
It takes time to book that perfect award trip — or as close to perfect as possible. How can we score the frequent flier’s elusive equivalent of a home run in baseball: a “mileage run”, combined with a “mattress run”, the rental car that costs practically nothing using certificates earned during a recent promotion, and free or deeply discounted transportation and parking to and from the airports? How can we squeeze in a change of aircraft with a length of time so long that it is an unofficial stopover on that award ticket? How do we time the trip to coincide perfectly with that annual event that we have been wanting to attend for years?
Now we also have to be concerned with stand-by rules, decreases in our baggage allowances — and unannounced policy changes which seem to occur almost every other day, yet again sideswiping our plans on which we have painstakingly worked so hard…
…and the rules and policies of frequent travel loyalty programs — with all of their exceptions, caveats and fine print — can now compete with a dictionary in terms of the size of the publication…
…that is — if those rules and policies to which you probably agree without reading all of them were actually printed. Who has time to read all of that mumbo-jumbo over which you need a law degree to understand? We just want to travel and enjoy our remaining perks and benefits as soon as humanly possible!
As I first wrote in this article, there may be times where travel is wearing you out — almost to the point at times where it may seem like you lost your passion for travel — but do not be concerned, for it is normal to feel that way at times.
Tell me — when was the last time you actually stopped and took a moment to appreciate the true joys of travel? When was the last time you said “I am leaving this rat race of frequent travel loyalty programs — even if only for a moment or so — just to think about what we can do with travel that cannot be achieved outside of our imaginations?”
From my pre-teen years to not long after earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I lived in a house where I was able to sit on the front porch and watch a parade of aircraft pass overhead for hours at a time. Some days they were landing at the nearby airport; other days, they were departing. I used to just sit there and watch them, looking at the different models of aircraft sporting liveries representing different countries from all over the world. How I wanted to be up there some day.
My dream came true when I was twelve years of age: it was a flight from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico operated by American Airlines.
I will never forget that first whiff of jet fuel upon entering the airport. To this day, the smell of jet fuel still arouses excitement and wanderlust; freedom and the discovery of new places, people and experiences. Sometimes I feel like that twelve-year-old boy again.
I will also never forget those annoying air tubes with the spongy things you stuffed in your ear just so that you can listen to what is on the — well — “in-flight entertainment system”, if you want to call it that. The late Robert W. Morgan was the personality who was playing the music that was topping the charts at that time, explaining some little tidbits of trivial information pertaining to each song as those useless marshmallow wannabes kept falling out of my ears while I was listening. Thank goodness for cheap earbuds, which usually deliver a better quality of audio — and at a cheaper price than those plastic or rubbery air tubes which they have replaced — but I digress, as usual.
Meanwhile, I explored the entire area around me: the tray table, the window shade, the little ash-tray thingy. What is that little dot hole at the bottom of the window? What does this button do? My mind was awash with this barrage of stimuli which I had never experienced before.
It was amazing, being inside of this conveyance which weighed many tons and yet somehow lifted off of the ground almost effortlessly as it took off to mingle with the puffy little cumulus clouds which dotted the azure blue sky. I watched the objects on the ground get smaller and smaller until the landscape resembled a real-life street map. I was seeing familiar places from a whole new perspective; a vantage point from which I have never viewed them before. I could name every street, every body of water, every neighborhood below me…
…and I truly enjoyed and appreciated it.
The True Passion — and the Magic — of Travel Never Went Away
That appreciation and sense of wonder were renewed years later when I was fortunate to have the honor of watching a commercial airplane while it was being assembled; touring the aircraft itself; the airlines which operate the aircraft; seeing those operations in action; and even had my hands behind the left yoke of multi-million-dollar flight simulators a number of times.
I will give you three of a seemingly endless number of examples achievable only by travel:
Celebrate Your Birthday — During the Opposite Season
It may seem amazing that you can celebrate your birthday in a tropical climate if you were born during the winter; but I personally believe that the experience is far more special if you celebrate your birthday during the opposite season.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, and your birthday is in the springtime, why not consider traveling to somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere to experience leaves of different colors as they fall gently from the trees on a brisk autumn day? Imagine playing in a pile of leaves on your birthday!
Experience “Time Travel”
Whether you decide to experience “time travel” on a brief westbound flight from Atlanta to Birmingham or that flight from Auckland to Los Angeles which could seem to take forever to complete, how can you resist showing your itinerary to someone that your flight landed earlier that same day than at the time when it first departed?
Do that often enough and perhaps you will become younger — or, more likely, older.
Experience Different People and Different Cultures
I have known people who have said to me that there are more than enough places to visit in the United States in a lifetime, so there is no need to travel abroad. I have also known people who have said to me that they can watch travel shows on their televisions and electronic devices, and read about distant lands without leaving the safety and comfort of their own homes and needlessly incurring expenses in the process.
I suppose those arguments work for them — but not for me.
I have learned a lot more from traveling than I have learned from any classroom or any textbook or any television program — and who can resist eating Italian food in Italy, stepping foot on Mount Fuji after escaping the crowds in Tokyo, or taking some time to learn a few words of the official language of a country and speaking it to a native? Bună dimineaţa! Ce mai faci? Foarte bine?
There is only so much cultural difference one can experience between the northeastern and southeastern regions of the United States — or within most any country, for that matter.
The next time you find yourself in a frenetic whirlwind of frustration, stress and other by-products fraught upon you as a result of the maturing frequent travel industry, adjust your expectations and maintain your perspective in life. Then, invite that child inside of you to come out — even if only for a few minutes — and take the time to amaze yourself at what is possible…