Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Image of Travel: Facts That Don't Fly

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Image of Travel: Facts That Don't Fly

Article excerpt

When it comes to travel, the entertainment industry has never really bothered to separate fact from fiction. Turn on your TV if you don't believe me. Or catch a summer movie.

See the film "The Terminal," for instance, and you might wonder if getting stuck at the airport is such a dreadful thing. (In fact, most experienced travelers would do anything to avoid spending even a few hours at a terminal).

Watch the A&E series "Airline," and you could be left with the impression that airline employees are just one big happy family who tell passengers jokes. (Actually, most airline workers I know are neither happy, nor allowed to kid around with customers.)

Sure, there's always been a disconnect between real travel and the fertile imagination of scriptwriters. But no one needs to be told that the bumbling innkeeper played by John Cleese in the series "Fawlty Towers" couldn't cut it in a real hotel. Or that Peter Graves' character in "Airplane" would never pilot any kind of commercial aircraft.

This is different.

This summer we're being spoon-fed a version of travel through our television sets. The silver screen looks almost plausible, but is almost totally detached from reality.

Consider the surrealism of Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," which is arguably the summer's most prominent travel-themed film. In it, Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European refugee stranded in a New York airport after a coup in his homeland renders his passport invalid. We know that living at an airport is possible, because it is based on the true story of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian expatriate who has lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport's Terminal One since 1988.

But that's pretty much where the facts end and the fiction begins. "The Terminal" expects us to embrace the idea that airports are interesting, if not fun, places (after 9/11, they aren't).

And flight attendants who look like Catherine Zeta-Jones? Please. I haven't seen one on an American airline since 1977.

The film is also peppered with product placements for a bankrupt carrier, United Airlines. That may not seem odd now, but if United goes belly-up - after having another federal loan application rejected recently, it might - then all those references to the airline will seem as quaint as the nods to defunct Pan Am in Spielberg's other movie about travel, "Catch Me If You Can. …

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