Travel’s ‘new normal?’ It will evolve

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Travel’s ‘new normal?’ It will evolve

Arnie WeissmannThis week marks my 20th year as editor in chief of Travel Weekly, meaning this is somewhere in the neighborhood of my 1,000th weekly co

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Arnie Weissmann

Arnie Weissmann

This week marks my 20th year as editor in chief of Travel Weekly, meaning this is somewhere in the neighborhood of my 1,000th weekly column. I’m writing this one at 33,000 feet, ORD to LGA.

When making my connection at O’Hare, I walked past the Prairie Tap, and that bar reminded me of a column I had written shortly after becoming editor. In that article, I recounted a conversation I had overheard between two Prairie Tap patrons talking about the hassles and uncertainty of post-9/11 travel, believing it to be the new normal.

The truism that history repeats itself is typically uttered following calamity. And in the aftermath of calamity, patterns of pessimistic thought are also likely to be repeated. Indeed, the concerns I heard voiced then have parallels to apprehension expressed by travelers today.

So, indulge me in reposting that column below and revisiting some of the anxieties expressed by travelers almost 20 years ago. As you read it, keep in mind that, despite the fretting over that era’s travel uncertainties, trepidation gave way to two decades of renewed excitement and unprecedented travel industry growth (albeit with a few speed bumps along the way). Although the passage of time didn’t fully eliminate every concern expressed then, we continued, through innovation, adaptation and acclimation, moving forward.

From the Window Seat, Feb. 4, 2002: “Eavesdropping on Phil and Chad”

I’m sitting at the Prairie Tap in O’Hare’s Terminal 3, eating a portobello mushroom sandwich that’s both too salty and underpeppered.

A man sits to my right, heavyset, glasses, his hair also with more salt than pepper. He adjusts his sweater vest with a few pulls and orders a Leinie’s Red. Mike the counterman fills a plastic cup for him.

To his right sits another man, younger, also heavy, his glasses thick, wearing a sweatshirt with the word “Abercrombie” across the chest; what’s left of his hair is covered by a hat emblazoned with the logo “Polo Sport.”

They sit in silence until the younger man’s food arrives.

“Want some fries?” he asks the man in the sweater vest. The older man declines, but it’s an opening for conversation, which begins with the younger man providing updated football scores.

They discuss coach firings and sportscasters’ Super Bowl predictions, but the conversation becomes more lively when the topic moves to travel.

“Where’re you headed to, sir?” the younger man asks.

“New York. And the name’s Phil.”

“I’m Chad. New York? Where’re you staying?”

“The Waldorf.”

“Not bad! You travel in style. What line of work are you in?”

“Legal. I represent a securities firm.”

“This trip business or pleasure?”

“Business. There are no pleasure trips anymore. Even when I’m on vacation, I don’t enjoy traveling.”

Chad says nothing, but the curiosity on his face encourages Phil to continue.

“Security’s driving me crazy. Crazy! I travel 40 weeks a year. I value every hour at home.

“So — Thanksgiving weekend, right? Every news report says I’ve got to get to the airport early. I’m flying out of Midway, and I check in three hours early. I breeze right through security … and end up conversing in a bar for two-and-a-half hours.

“So, I think it’s all hype, right? I’m flying back out of LaGuardia. I get there an hour and a half early. The first-class check-in line takes a half hour, then security’s an hour and a half. I miss my flight.”

Chad nods sympathetically. “You know what I miss, Phil? Meals. Meals on flights. You never know anymore whether you’re going to get fed. I don’t know about you, but I get grumpy when I get hungry. Believe it or not, I miss the old Bistro bag.”

“You ever been pulled for a random security check at the gate?” Phil counters. “I’ve got status with American. I’m Executive Platinum. I get to board early, and I like it — I never check bags and always have carry-ons.

“When you board early, there’s always room above your seat. But twice now I’ve been pulled out of the boarding line for a random security check. By the time they’ve gone through all my things, there’s no longer room overhead, and I’ve got to check a bag at the gate.”

“To be honest, I don’t mind the tougher security,” Phil says hesitantly.

“Of course. But it’s a hassle. You fly internationally?”

“Canada.”

“Just wait until you go overseas. Leaving America, it’s hit or miss — you just never know how long it’s going to take. But coming back on a U.S. carrier — everyone’s freaked out. Just get to the airport way early, that’s all I can say.”

Phil paused and ordered another Leinie’s. “Chad, this may sound funny, but I actually used to like to fly. I actually liked it! I know they’ve got to do all this. But I miss the old days. I really do.” 

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