by John Hale
Something that had seemed so routine suddenly seemed so exhilarating; a previously known but now unknown, or at least reinvented, experience lay before me. September 30 was my first flight since February 24! I didn’t quite know what to expect with so many new protocols, rules and precautions in place.
My job has required me to travel at least monthly for the last 20 years and it has been at least that many years since I have been off an airplane for 7 months! And, I have to admit, I was somewhat leery of what that new old experience would look like.
It wasn’t always a walk in the park on the easiest of flights without all of the new protocols. I am happy to report that after a short hop from Detroit to Washington DC, it was the easiest, smoothest, and most enjoyable flight experience that I have had since the days following 9/11, when still fewer folks ventured onto airplanes.
From the arrival at the airport, through TSA screening, a visit to the Delta SkyClub to boarding and actually flying, Delta made flying easy, faster and, overall, more enjoyable! More enjoyable? Yes, and I write this for two reasons 1) the volume of travelers is 30% of a few short months ago and 2) I didn’t take the opportunity to be traveling for granted.
I flew with my daughter for dual reasons: a business trip to scope out Washington DC to launch Corporate Travel’s Family Field Trip program and a college visit for Elizabeth to the Catholic University of America. Since being the littlest of tykes, Elizabeth has been my constant companion through many of the world’s airports and cities. We always manage to make the potential hassle of travel fun, but we found this trip to be particularly so. I think, in part, because we realized just how blessed we were to be able to travel .
We live in an age with so many privileges that it is easier to take each one for granted (and even complain about said privileges) than to step back and realize that in the 6 million years of human history, it is only the last few years that traveling across the world has been made possible for regular folks like us! Think of it, until our lifetimes, or those of our parents and grandparents, to see what we see in a few short hours required you to be a Pytheas, Magellan, or Lewis & Clark to see beyond our own narrow horizons.
Still, it is our human condition to be given a gift only to complain about it later and so for me, traveling to Washington DC and flying there, was that opportunity to pause and reflect on this great gift of even the possibility to travel the world over!
We arrived in Washington DC to see the streets, once backed up with so much traffic, totally clear with not a single back up. It was as if we were motoring into the nation’s capital on Christmas Day! The city was transformed into an easily navigable city. In just a few short hours, we drove around to each monument and had time to pause and contemplate each one! Upon arrival in the city, we easily found a parking spot and went on a walking tour to visit most of the sites. With our guide in tow, we experienced each monument without crowds. The full impact of each monument and person or event associated with the monument and the sacrifices made could be made more real and experienced more deeply without the distraction of thousands of non-plussed kids and adults mixing about unimpressed with our nation’s history and associated enormous sacrifices.
Without the crowds and myriad distractions and frustrations of trying to move about, in just a few short hours, we experienced more of Washington DC than I have on my 50 previous trips. There Elizabeth and I stood in front of the capital, brilliant white as legislators negotiated on that very day the course of history. No matter our political affiliation, it was amazing to step back and think that I could be living, er being persecuted, under Nero or deprived of my religious liberty under King George, or crushed under the Nazi regime. And yet, with all of its foibles, risks, and downright errored ways, here we stood with people I actually elected representing me in that vast house of legislators as a part of a government conceived more than 200 years ago.
As we did a lap around the mall, even though we were unable to visit some of the museums due to COVID closures, the open museums were so much more enjoyable. In fact, the entire experience was so much more enjoyable. We could breath in the place we were visiting, think more deeply of it and what it represents. Talking with one of only a few tourists we encountered, they had the same feelings. They were enjoying this city and able to experience it on a different level. Not taking for granted the fact that we were here just to check places off the list for later bragging rights or for the requisite selfie, which, of course, we did, but for the more real reason we travel – to understand a place, a people, a nation, which helps us understand ourselves better and our place in the world. Not to take it for granted but to inspire us to go on. Not to be overwhelmed by the problems in our nation or in our lives but to be inspired by those who came before us to try and make it better. In short, the lack of crowds allowed us to really experience travel and all the reasons we do or should travel.
From start to finish, my first flight and trip to DC were 5 stars and our guide in DC said it best “THIS is the time to come!”