Friday, 20 June 2014

When Travel Was Fun: The Aviodrome

If you haven't been to the Aviodrome in Lelystad and you like planes and all that then it is well worth a visit for sure. We've been a few times now and my sons have so much fun every time, with lots of new things added since we were last there. You can also make rondvluchten and get to see the Netherlands from a different angle (which I did for my 30th birthday).

But I digress.... what struck me the last time we visited was the fact that air travel once seemed exciting and fun. And that is certainly not how I have experienced my last few budget flights whilst being hoarded around in cattle class.

In fact, last time I flew the short trip from England to the Netherlands I, along with many of my fellow passengers, were using words not fit for a child's ears as we were shoved from one queue to the next waiting for a plane to appear long past it's fly by time. When it finally made an appearance passengers were then harassed to play a kind of reverse pass the parcel game where we all had to hide bags within bags because the flight was full. We were all given extra brownie points (actually meaning less scowls and less abrupt communication from staff) if we could make our baggage disappear completely. Standing at a boarding gate with hundreds of sweaty, angry, late passengers is seriously more fun that you could ever hope to have at 9pm on a Wednesday night. But this is flying 'now' and the Aviodrome shares the flying 'then' with visitors. A world of difference.

The Aviodrome offers visitors a historical look at flying, and the growth of KLM, the Dutch national air carrier. Admittedly some of the the earlier flights did make me question safety here and there, but the nostalgia behind the idea of flying as you walk around the museum pieces is phenomenal. I could feel the buzz that those early air travellers must have felt (and perhaps a little of the fear).

Flying has become so every day for us, especially for expats. It's all part of the process to get from A to B. Most of the time it's to get us from one familiar destination to another - host country to passport country. Sometimes, for a change, it's to go on holiday, but for me flying is a necessary evil to get somewhere. To be honest, I'd rather take the car - no worrying about baggage, entertaining bored kids when the flight is delayed or having strange people clamber over you every ten minutes to use the toilet.

But imagine how it must have felt when it was all so new and unknown: the packing, the boarding, the flying and then finally the destination. The question, "Will I make it home again?" raging in your mind. I'm kidding. Just a little.

There's a sign hanging in the Aviodrome, a kind of customer announcement if you like, letting passengers know they should dress warmly for their winter flight, and that extra blankets were available. And looking at the windows on those early planes, I am sure those extra blankets were frequently used.

Despite the fact that air travel for the general public was in an early phase, and comfort probably wasn't optimal, there was at least an element of excitement hanging in the air when passengers got onto a plane. It wasn't a huge commercial exercise, it wasn't about reducing leg room to fit more bums on seats and making passengers pay extra if they actually wanted to breath on the plane too.

In any case, my point is this: next time you are in a budget airline pre-pre-pre-boarding queue, attempting to squeeze your handbag, your child's comfort blanket, cuddly toy, and a nappy bag into a weekend bag so that the stern lady behind the budget airline desk (let's say she's wearing orange, just to help you with an image) doesn't shout at you when you reach her, and make you repack everything in front of the other 300 passengers waiting in line, remember it wasn't always like this. Aviation wasn't always about a 'cram as many people on as we physically can' mentality. Flying was once only about excitement, discovery, adventure and travel. Remember too that flying wasn't just about the destination - it was also about the journey.

And if you haven't been to the Avidrome then put it on your bucket list - it's worth a trip!

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