Sunday, January 13, 2008

Flying High

When I was a boy, getting the chance to go by passenger plane from Mindanao to any point in the Visayas or Luzon and vice versa was the ultimate in traveling luxury. Air fares at that time and until recently were prohibitively high and only the lucky ones with the extra money to spend could afford to plunk it down for a plane seat while the rest of us had to content ourselves with uncomfortable, overnight passage on the slow, smelly and notoriously unreliable inter-island passenger and cargo ships of those days.

The ease with which one can buy a plane ticket nowadays and proceed to the airport, jump on a passenger jet and be, in an hour or so, in Cebu or Manila never ceases to amaze someone like me who was brought up to think that flying was only for the rich and whose first plane ride, way back in the early 1970's, was on a lumbering, turboprop aircraft of dubious vintage flying off a dusty, dirt runway in what is now the city of Bislig in Surigao del Sur. In many ways I was even luckier than most of my less fortunate contemporaries whose experiences with air travel was confined solely to what they saw on foreign movies and eventually television.

The opening up of domestic air routes to competing airline companies and the resulting reduction in the cost of plane fares has wrought a minor revolution in the way many Filipinos in my part of the world now travel. More and more people can now afford to fly since that alternative has become more practical and affordable. Commuting by aircraft for many in Lianga has become a viable choice.

While on the Butuan City to Manila jet service recently, I happened to be seated across a family of three, a tiny girl of four with her young parents, all on their way to pay the child's paternal grandparents a visit in the nation's capital. It was the first plane ride for all of them.

The young parents were understandably nervous, the father was fidgety while the mother kept fiddling with her child's seat belt. But the girl was lost in the wonders of the miracle of flight that was unfolding before her.

Her face was pressed against the glass of the aircraft window, eyes drinking in the panorama of the land and sea peeping through huge gaps between wispy, white, cottony clouds that floated lazily below us. It was clearly the high experience of her short life and for a moment I sat back and empathized with her and remembered how exciting too it all was for me the first time when I, then a naive, small town boy, got to fly and see the world from on high.

But that was a different world world back then and a different time. The world was much, much larger then, traveling long distances was long and arduous, and the lure and romance of flight was for a privileged few.

The world has moved on and circumstances have changed making air travel within the reach of more and more people. For that I am, like so many of us here in our small part of the world to whom flying as a means of regular travel used to be merely a pipe dream, extremely and thankfully glad.

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