A tribute to the un-sung heroes of spring break
My daughter shouted, “Mommy there’s a pilot!”The uniformed pilot turned, excitement glistened in his eyes, and he tipped his cap.You could see it in his faceit had been a while since a child had met him from across the busy airport traffic with such expectation, anticipation and admiration.More often than not, when I ask my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, she tells me she wants to be a pilot.As many of us prepare to depart from our busy valley for the upcoming spring break, it is a great time to reflect upon how we mom types traveled once, eons ago.Do you remember flying with your grandparents or parents to a great destination for vacation? In my memory, it was Sanibel Island in Florida.Among visions of porpoises and sunburns, sea shelling and stingrays, I also vividly recall meeting the pilot in the front of the aircraft. Because we were kids and traveling alone, extra care was given to us (and, I now realize, extra privileges). We were often invited to go up and visit the captain of the jet. It was, as this generation would declare, “awesome!”I still have a pin-on set of wings from Continental Airlines. Meeting the pilot the hero that flew the plane is a stand-alone moment in my memory of people whom I’d like to emulate. A role model was subliminally planted in mind, guiding my aspirations of who I’d become one day. Back then, kids were able to see the pilot’s world, and be caught in awe.Truly, I returned from such trips with greater drive, desire, and focus on what career might be of interest to me one day.Today, as I flew with my kids on a short trip to California I felt real sorrow for the pilot who tipped his cap at my daughter. It was evident from his look of “are you talking to me, little girl?” that no child had called out to him as a hero, a pilot, in some time. I was proud of my daughter. She knew that to be a pilot was a great accomplishment.One effect of the “terrorist siege” in modern history is that our kids do not know what a cockpit looks like. Too dangerous. They do not know the sweet memory of being invited up to meet the captain of our plane when the adventure of flying happens for the first time. The innocence of such a meeting is from a bygone era.We cannot change the events that have caused our world to be so defensive, so painfully protected. But we do still have a duty to tell our kids about those seemingly now invisible heroes who pilot our jumbo-jets to great spring break destinations.And then there are more “unsung” helpers of the fledgling airline industry to tell your kids about. I saw many familiar names and faces working while we were flying out of our airport in Eagle.How comforting it was to be greeted at the American Airlines desk with the question of, “Don’t I know you?” from my gate agent. After some tweaking of my dusty mother’s mind, I recalled that I had taught this agent’s daughter in third grade. Her mom then told me that my former student was also now working at the airport, in the gift shop.Upon our return flight, the gal who greeted us at the bottom of the stairs as we deplaned gave me a big “welcome home” hug. She also works at a shop in town. Gosh, it’s a small world.I love the direct flight from Eagle. Sappy as it sounds, it’s a place where everybody knows your nameand the prices can be right. Even better than Denver. Go on-line and do your homework, moms.For my kids’ trip to visit family, it was a time to take a breath from the depths of winter in the valley. But for me, it became a lot more.Unexpectedly, I learned that I had implanted a seed of respect in my children. When my kids do get a rare opportunity to go on a vacation, they know how to act and whom to thank. They know whom to respect and have eyes to see what job they may aspire to have someday.Of course, our travels were contemporary in the sense that I was chosen as a “selectee,” which meant that I was randomly scrutinized for extra screening and pat-downs. My kids just watched with saucer-wide eyes and took it all in, while I explained that the policies are intended to keep us safe. Kids crave to understand what is happening around them.In its purest sense, a vacation is about so much more than the destination. The “getting there moments” are great opportunities to learn.Pack up a sense of humor as you prepare for spring break, too. As much as my daughter was taken by seeing a pilot, she was also smitten by the generic white vomit bag in the pocket of the seat before her. But I’ll save that tidbit for another column.Happy travels, moms! VTElizabeth Chicoine writes about matters of the family for the Vail Trail. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com.