Leaving on a Jet Plane

by Catherine Hillman on January 28, 2015

I am writing this blog post while on a plane to Hawaii. All around me I see the glow of small (and not-so-small) screens as people are viewing stored movies, accessing their Kindle libraries, playing games. I have abandoned my playlist in favor of a soothing batch of “nature sounds” tracks on my Android phone’s Ambient Noise app – it helps my nerves during the turbulence we are experiencing. I am tremendously grateful the small children on board are two aisles over and engrossed in their mother’s iPad. We are no longer told to turn off electronics other than setting our phones to “Airplane” mode at takeoff.

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My laptop is open, and I am working a bit, preparing for the three online classes I will be teaching shortly, and updating my work calendar and making notes to be organized when I get back. I am also thinking about my New Years Resolutions, considering what I’ll tackle in 2015. This is a flight ritual for me in this Age of Electronics: I purge my brain of work on the way to my destination so I can relax and not think about it until I get back.

This is not my first trip to the Islands, but it has been nearly 30 years since I was last here. Sitting in the boarding area, we watched a news item showing Pan Am’s recent TBT (Throw Back Thursday) event where they invited passengers to experience what a flight was like in 1970. It was not entirely accurate – there were no smokers aboard – but the “stewardess” uniforms (and slightly patronizing poses with the male captains) were realistic enough. Sure, there were benefits: first class included a large sitting area and sliced roast beef buffet, and apparently all the free booze you could swig. But you had to take that with the second hand smoke, bad hair styles and large collars.

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Flying had changed from the 1970s version to the time I made my first trip to Hawaii, just after I graduated from Cal Poly. Flying has changed significantly since my last trip to Oahu as well, for better or worse. True, we have some inconveniences prior to boarding, but we no longer choke on second-hand smoke, and the flight attendants are no longer judged on their figures or lipstick. (This indicates a true win for men, as they are now hired into these once-women-only jobs.) From booking the flight to boarding, the airlines have put everything at our fingertips, and they assume we will bring our own devices to the journey. Everything around me is set up to accommodate this new reality, and in spite of the TSA pat-downs, my flight is better for having electronic devices on board.

I can’t help but think, as I go over my courses, as I look around me at the glow of screens, that the airline industry has accommodated travelers as times have changed in more ways than we have accommodated our students as they travel through their learning experiences. I have to wonder if we have applied the same level of change and adaptation as Hawaiian Airlines over the past 30 years. True, we’ve definitely moved beyond 1970, and we’re a bit past 1985 in terms of our technology, but are we at 2015 standards? We accommodate the kids who grew up with flip phones, but are we preparing for those youngsters on the iPads? What era do we teach in? (and please let’s not be in the era of second hand smoke!)

It’s fascinating to see how other industries are accommodating the wired traveler, and I think I have decided on my resolution for 2015 for Cal Poly: accommodate the wired student every bit as well as the airlines have accommodated their clientele. I hope you’ll join me.

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