Flights of Fancy

There was a time when airline travel was exciting and glamorous, to say nothing of the cologne samples in the bathroom

The first time that I flew in an airplane was in August 1966. I was 10 years old.

That first flight was a cross-continental trip from Baltimore to Los Angeles, the initial leg of a journey that would take my family halfway around the world. We were relocating from central Pennsylvania to Karachi, Pakistan, where we would live for the next two years as my father, an economist, did an overseas stint working for the Ford Foundation.

What I remember most about that first flight was being wowed by the fact that a movie was shown while we traveled high above the clouds. The film was "Arabesque," a generic international spy thriller starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, which I watched with more interest than comprehension.

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It was the first of many flights to come in the next two years as we traveled the globe, visiting Tokyo, Hong Kong, Moscow, Prague, New Delhi, London and other major international destinations.

Here's the salient point that I forgot to mention: I was one of six kids, ages 3 to 13, back in 1966. Yes, my parents flew around the world with six children.

Another important fact: Five out of six of us were ill-behaved, the exception being my eldest sister, who was 13. The rowdy five were 10 (me), 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old.

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How ill-behaved were we? I'll let an expert witness testify.

"Oh, look, here come the little monsters," a flight attendant said sotto voce as the Rozen kids reboarded a plane in Anchorage—or was it Juneau?—following a refueling stop halfway through a trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Tokyo.

"I heard that," my mother said, desperately trying to herd the six of us back to our seats in the first-class cabin.

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Inexplicably, the Ford Foundation paid to send us first class on trans-oceanic flights. This was back in the day when airline travel was still glamorous and people dressed up for plane rides.

Imagine the horror the other passengers in Pan Am's Clipper Class must have felt on that San Francisco to Tokyo flight as six Rozen children paraded into the cabin.

Their fears were indeed justified. While my older sister cringed in adolescent embarrassment and pretended she wasn't part of the family, we five younger kids argued loudly about who would sit where. The airline had assigned us to two full rows (two seats by two seats, separated by an aisle) right in the middle of the cabin and we all wanted window seats.

We didn't stay seated for long. The minute the seat belt sign turned off, I led the race to the bathrooms. This became a pattern once we discovered the treasure chests contained in those cramped cubicles.

Back then, the airlines stocked their restrooms—at least in first class—with little individually wrapped bars of soap and miniature bottles of mouthwash, cologne and aftershave lotion.

The stuff was just there for the taking. And take it we did, in massive quantities. My two brothers, who were the youngest of the kids, never smelled as fragrant in their lives as during those flights when I solicitously doused them in aftershave.

During my family's two years in Pakistan, I attended the Karachi American School. There, my fellow classmates, as the sons and daughters of embassy personnel, international corporate executives, aid workers and other ex-pats, were also seasoned global travelers.

As lunchtime conversation, we'd routinely compare the pros and cons of various airlines. "Have you flown Lufthansa?" a classmate would ask. "It's the best!"

"Have you flown Finn Air?" another 10-year-old would counter. "They give you a chocolate bar before the plane even takes off!"

I, too, played this snobbish game with enthusiasm. "Have you flown Aeroflot?" I'd ask, name-checking the Russian airlines during the Soviet era. "They still use cut-up squares of plain newsprint in their bathrooms as toilet paper. I stole piles of it to use for drawing paper."

No one, though, could top a classmate whose father worked for Pan Am. This boy brought his lunch to school every day in a Pan Am barf bag.

When you're 10, even that seemed glamorous.

A half-century later, I'm still flying. Long gone, though, is that sense of excitement and anticipation, not to mention the cologne samples in the bathroom.

Now, the most that I hope for on a flight is that I score an aisle or window and don't get stuck in the dread middle seat.


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