Today, we live in a world of InterContinental travel where masses of travelers are pressed against each other entering and exiting airplanes like commuters in a rush hour subway station. Our airports look and act like shopping malls. Security precautions are approaching that of a prison’s high alert status. This is all routine by now, but it’s interesting to note that 100 years ago this month, the first commercial airlines took flight.
On March 22, 1914 Thomas Wesley Benoist‘s St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line took it’s inaugural trip. This 23-minute flight, at a height of 5 feet above the water in Tampa Bay was accomplished in an open-air plane while offering a considerably faster commute that the ferry (2 hours), the car (20 Hours) or the train ( 4 to 12 hours) would have taken. We can scarcely imagine a world without airlines, where space is compressed, globalization advanced and our night skies pierced by the trail of moving airplane lights.
My first flight ever was a short one, taken from New York City to Buffalo, NY with an uncle. I scarcely remember it, except the strangely contrived ritual of visiting the pilot in the cockpit and the more interesting ‘gift of the flight pin’ by the Co-Captain. Many years and miles of travel since then I have witnessed the shifts in airplane food and service, the disappearance of the ‘smoking sections’ in the airplane and, my nominee for the ‘Best Airplane Innovation’ Award, the personal video screens that entertain me non-stop for a 16 hour trip to Asia and let me ‘pause’ while I wait on line for a usually filthy bathroom to get rid of the buckets of water I am now asked to drink while in flight.
In an ironic ending on June 14, 1917, Thomas Wesley Benoist died when he struck his head against a telephone pole while stepping off a streetcar in front of the Roberts Motor Company in Sandusky. The man who sent the world up in the air was killed emerging from a simple form of ground transportation by an early harbinger of globalization.
- Marc Levitt, Host & Co-Executive Producer