PERSONAL ESSAY

What Will Flight Feel Like Now?

Thoughts on my first plane trip since “Before”

Julio Vincent Gambuto
5 min readApr 19, 2021

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Delta Airlines Ad, 1950s | Photo Credit

I had never been on a plane until college. My friends are always surprised to learn that. (I had also never been to a concert nor had I eaten sushi, but those are stories for another time.) As a kid, we only really ever went on vacation to Florida, and we drove. Nothing says “family fun” like 24 hours in a Pontiac packed with three kids, 12 suitcases, bag lunches, and a cooler full of Capri Sun. Those trips were special, but they were long. The first time I did the trip by plane, a quick two hours, I fell in love — with the romantically busy airport, the paper boarding pass and ticket folder in my hand, and the very idea that I could get on an aircraft in New York City and get off a world away.

In my 20s, plane travel became an escape. I traveled to Europe and to California, across the U.S., and around the world. A passport was a major milestone in my life. That little blue book meant I was finally an adult. I started my airplane adventures in the late 90s, when flights on JetBlue were $99 (ha!), seats were slightly wider, and accumulated miles actually meant something. Then, a full, hot meal and fully checked bags were integral parts of the experience, not up-charge add-ons. Those surely weren’t the glamorous flights of the 1950s — cigarettes and champagne — but looking back, they seem luxurious now.

Delta Airlines Ad, 1950s | Photo Credit

Of course, it all changed after 9/11. When planes raze the standing symbols of the capitalist West, they get — well, got — an immediate bad rap. Not only did prices go up, but so did military-grade metal detectors and massive suitcase scanners. Before 9/11, you wouldn’t dream of taking your shoes off at an airport. It was odd and unsanitary. After, it is mod social custom to almost fully undress and re-dress, as if we’re all backstage in a play called, “Please Remove Your Belt, Shoes, and Dignity.” Before that major turning point in our nation’s history, you could meet someone at the gate to welcome them. After, you are a threat from the second you drive onto airport grounds. Funny enough, 9/11 or no 9/11, you can still take any…

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Julio Vincent Gambuto

Author of “Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!” from Avid Reader Press at Simon & Schuster // Speaking at SXSW in March // juliovincent.com