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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

Flight Plan

This column was published November 25, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.


Last one off the aircraft. First bag off the carousel. First time ever. For each. (It’s the little things). We were out of Manhattan Regional Airport in less than fifteen minutes. Peak efficiency. It worked exactly the way it was drawn up.

Returning home from a Bahamas getaway where we witnessed Nigel Pack rain threes on unsuspecting dudes who in an alternate universe, may well have been his brothers-in-arms.

I remember my first airline flight. Minneapolis to Wichita, summer of 1978, Braniff Airlines. Hang your garment bag in a closet as you enter the plane. Hard copy tickets inserted into a slot of an airline-specific envelope designed for this express purpose. Ashtrays in the armrest. Actual hot lunch served on an actual ceramic plate with actual silver cutlery.

It wasn’t my first time in the air. Growing up in Wichita, the Air Capital of the World, many of my buddies took flying lessons and were only too happy to take me up in their Cessna 152s or Beechcraft Skippers, cut the power while clipping along in the clouds at 140 miles per hour and watch Matson freak out or launch his lunch. The latter, a symptom of the former.

Look out below.

But it was my first time in a commercial airliner, a Boeing 727. It was the first time a young lady (whose uniform color matched the plane’s exterior, bright orange being the Braniff default) would bend down, look me dead in the eye and offer an ice-cold beverage in a real glass.

“Yes, please.”

It was the first time I felt the exhilaration produced by three aft-mounted Pratt and Whitney JT8D series dual compressor turbofan engines, each producing 15,000 pounds of thrust. The young man on the move. Turbocharged.

Flying commercially in 1978, I feel confident I could not have boarded a plane in a foreign country on an island in the Atlantic Ocean at 1 p.m. and have my head hit my pillow in my bed in my home in the middle of the continent eight hours later. With stops in Miami and Chicago. And have my luggage follow unimpeded.

Technology keeps all the lines moving. TSA PreCheck expedites just like it’s supposed to, and electronic facial recognition passports shoot you through customs in nothing flat. Airline apps offer real time updates on incoming flights, gate changes and allow peace of mind as you work through Plan B scenarios with how best to manage your time en route to there from here.

Commercial service here in our town has changed the way my wife and I invest our time. Weekends in Chicago are now routine. If we’re elsewhere bound, the American Airlines Admirals Club takes the drudgery out of connected flight travel.

I’ve become accustomed to and comfortable with changes in air travel much faster than with changes in player eligibility and movement in Division 1 college athletics. Wait a minute. Didn’t that guy used to play for us? Somewhere in his air travel history, while wearing purple, Nigel Pack flew over south Florida, through a strange and nebulous transfer portal and emerged on the other side unscathed, clad in green and orange to terrorize his erstwhile teammates.

This is not to say all my air travel experiences over the years have been smooth, but the hassle-free experiences far outnumber the hassle-centric, and if you look at it from the 100-thousand-foot view, the plane landed. Every time.

Air travel is nowhere near as glamorous as it once was and it is not without its inherent stresses, but it’s still kind of a marvel. The basic premise remains unchanged since the Wright brothers. You climb on board a machine with wings. It flies into the sky and takes you away.

And if you plot a flight plan to dodge that transfer portal in the sky, it can bring you home.

Mike Matson’s column appears every other Saturday in The Mercury. Follow his writings at



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