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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: After Airlines

April Lidinsky's mom, Jo Ella Hunter, serving champagne on a Continental Airline flight in the early 1960s.
April's mom, Jo Ella Hunter, serving champagne on a Continental Airline flight in the early 1960s.

Jet fuel propelled my parents’ love story. So, it’s hard for me to break up with airline travel. But I’m trying.

Continental Airlines was my parents’ match-maker. My mom escaped her little California town by training to be an “air hostess.” For the women who served on board, those glamor days of air travel meant waist-cinching uniforms, routine weigh-ins, and an expectation that all women would be as interchangeably pretty (and mostly white) as Radio City Rockettes, with matching makeup and a pillbox hat tipped just so on each Aqua Netted head. In the early 60s, Continental had a hub in Denver, where my mom noticed my dad in the A-frame ski lodge of the Arapaho Basin ski area. She said he was the cutest and funniest guy in theSchussbaumers Ski Club. He says people remember what they remember. And that’s how the skiing pipe-fitter and jet-setting Californian met cute and started my family in the foothills of the Rockies.

My mom’s dashing and Brylcreemed father, whom we called “Bobba,” spent his Navy retirement flying to Torquay, on the English “Riviera,” until health troubles grounded him in his 80s. After that, he regularly caught the RTD bus to the Denver airport just to people-watch and enjoy the frisson of other people’s travels.

This family history thrums each time I book an airline ticket, whether for a conference or a visit with beloveds from Coos Bay to Washington, DC. Despite the hassles of up-charged seats and downsized carry-on space, I still — in my 57th year — I still angle for a window seat, where I can glue myself to the plexiglass for the miracle of take-off. And, oh, the chance to follow the southern curve of Lake Michigan, bird-like, on the way to O’Hare! I trace the beaches where our daughters buried each other up to their chins in sand and learned caution in choppy waves. As we approach Chicago, I look for the meringue kiss of theBaháʼí Temple, and pick out the retirement high-rise where a friend’s mother used to follow the Cubs and wise-crack with her little dog Daisy. The perspective that airplanes offer us is, for me, magic.

But, of course, I know “magic” fueled by machines has a huge carbon footprint, and for years now — long before 2023broke records as the hottest year ever — I packed the guilt of my carbon impact along with my carry-on snacks and in-flight reading. Experts likePeter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab, urge people to sign a pledge to fly less. On his website,No Fly Climate Sci, Kalmus targets aviation as a key culprit in fossil-fueled planet-heating. “Hour for hour,” aviation is one of the fastest ways to burn fuel and heat the planet, according to a2022 study. Consider this local fact: On Notre Dame home games, according to the St. Joseph County Airport Authority, an average of 81 private planes fly into South Bend. That excess is killing our planet.

With so much bad news, we can find “urgency and agency” in science writers like Michael Mann, who argues in his new book,Our Fragile Moment, that the U.S., as a leading carbon emitter, must act now, while the window of opportunity is still open.Hannah Richie, a senior researcher in Oxford’s Program on Global Development, poses the question more personally: “How can I … contribute to accelerating the good outpacing the bad?”

To that end, I’m falling back in love with road trips in our little energy-efficient car. It’s easy to list delights we’d miss if we jetted over chunks of the landscape .. starting with the kaleidoscopic flower show in Pittsburgh’s Botanic Gardens and an ethereal hand-held butter tart that crumbled on the way to my lips from a homey tea shop in Ontario.

A sky without contrails.
A sky without contrails.

And for hopeful future-casting, try the bracing novel,Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. His speculative fiction about the climate crisis, set just a few decades into the future, has data-based solutions that many scientists endorse. Sci-fi style, Robinson casts this decade as “the Trembling Twenties,” years when climate activists end the airline industry — I won’t tell you how. But the book envisions near-future modes of travel that are science-based, and while slower than current airplanes, they’re fueled by creativity and beauty. Picture solar-powered clipper ships and daily practices that don’t just damage the Earth less, they bring us closer to nature, and offer more wisdom, and more delight. Let’s book that ticket.

Music: Rock4 - Insomnia (Faithless cover, acappella)

April Lidinsky is a writer, activist, mother, foodie, black-belt, organic gardener, and optimist. She is a Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at IU South Bend and is a reproductive justice advocate.