SOMEWHERE OVER THE WEST
“I really don’t know one plane from the other. To me they are all just marginal costs with wings.”
-Alfred Kahn, airline economist (1917-2010)
Commercial air travel has changed a lot over the years. Since the US airline industry was deregulated in 1978, fares have dropped and lots more people have been flying. Airlines have merged and morphed and vanished. The rise of hub-and-spoke airline systems means that a major delay at one important airport can ripple across the country for days.
What hasn’t changed is the incredible vastness and variety of the country you see out the window. On a recent round trip from southern Colorado to Portland, Oregon (via Phoenix), I saw the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river valley, tract housing as far as the eye could see, and irrigation circles laid out like giant board games in the desert. I saw dormant volcanoes in Oregon and a bird’s eye view of the oil fields of the San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico.
Commercial flight is the only way most of us will ever get to see those wide, wide views. Every time I fly, those views remind me of all the thousands of places in the US that I haven’t been to yet. And that takes the sting out of the scores of little annoyances along the way.
Because wow, America.
Read about the history of commercial flight in the US at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s America By Air exhibit.
Read about Alfred Kahn, who headed up the Civil Aeronautics Board that oversaw airline deregulation, in his obituary from The Economist (January 20, 2011).
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Amadee Ricketts is an At-Large Guide to the West. She’s worked as a cemetary groundskeeper, a shoeshine valet, and a bill collector. More recently, she’s been a children’s librarian in five states. She takes a lot of pictures and lives near Durango, CO. You can see her photos at textless.tumblr.com.