While I love flying....it seems like the whole air travel experience has become no more fun than standing in line with your backpack at the bus terminal. I started a thread about this a few weeks ago. It was much more fun and glamorous when I was a kid in the 60's & 70's. I still love the actual flight though and I don't mind a few delays here and there. Here's an article from the Washington Post today. See what you think...
The Dismal Days of Down-to-Earth Air Travel
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2000; Page C01
I was in the Denver airport, on a hellish trip to the West Coast, when I saw the madman.
He came lurching toward the check-in counter, lugging a duffel bag. His face was flushed, his words incoherent. He was bellowing something about being very late for a flight. This was a day of massive systemic problems, of cancellations, delays, cascading failures, and this man obviously had been swept up in the nightmare. He looked as though he were about to start chewing on people, or perhaps, with a final, despairing scream, hurl himself through the plate-glass window onto the tarmac below.
Eventually he stumbled away, cursing the airline.
"Is he a crazy person," I asked the traveler next to me, "or did he just have a really bad day flying?"
This is the kind of distinction that is getting harder to make. Flying has become such an unpleasant, awful, degrading experience that it can turn a sane person into a ranting, babbling fool.
There was a time when we all griped about bad airline food. What a trivial complaint, in retrospect. Now there is no food, other than perhaps some miniature pretzels, which become prized commodities--sustenance!--when we're trapped in an inexplicable holding situation on some tarmac or taxiway, unable to take off, unable to return to the gate, the whole cabin heating up, the kids getting fussy, the adults growing unruly, the situation inexorably turning into something that feels like a hostage crisis.
There is talk in the press of a new trend called "airplane rage." This may be one of those phony trends that journalists invent based on three random incidents, but at the very least there may be some serious airplane despair brewing out there. The extreme cases get press: In March a passenger tried to grab the controls in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight, and two weeks ago a Continental passenger bit the first officer. The more common reaction is a slow burn, eventually fading to resignation. Sometimes we dig deep within ourselves and muster the courage to ask the flight attendant for another pretzel snack.
I don't want to romanticize the past, but I have a dim memory that there was a time when flying was a classy form of transportation. It was special. People dressed up for it. Hollywood loved to show its heroes getting on jets, dashing off to Rio or Rome. Movies had lingering images of big aircraft taking off and landing. So dramatic! So . . . powerful. Flying wasn't just transportation, it was a lifestyle option.
And it was sexy. Yeah, baby. There arose this myth of the Mile High Club. Or maybe it was the Seven Mile High Club. Whatever it was, the premise was that flying was so groovy, so intoxicating, that total strangers found themselves fornicating in the lavatories. That was the whole concept. An entire section of an airplane was set aside for people who wanted to have a cigarette after copulation.
Today, flying is gross and repulsive, in the main. Passengers don't even talk to one another if they can help it--because they've gone into a protective psychological bubble, the way house cats become subdued in a pet carrier. You have to save your strength for when you're trapped overnight in O'Hare. Flying is, potentially, an extremely dirty and grubby thing to do. It's unclean. All those hours waiting on a plane, you start to feel stewed in germs. Everyone is drinking from the same trough of air. By the end of a day of flying you can feel the airplane slime all over you, and when you look in the mirror you recoil in horror; your eyes are puffy and your hair has jelled into a solid mass.
Airports have become bus terminals. I mean no disrespect to bus travel or to any "motor coach" corporation. I'm just saying that US Airways has no right to look down on Trailways. The average airline passenger is just a piece of moving meat. When you fly you turn yourself over to the meat processors.
Partly this is a numbers game. Flying is relatively cheaper than it was before deregulation in the 1970s. We jam the planes. In 1965, when commercial flying was still a snazzy thing to do, the industry carried 84 million passengers on domestic flights in the United States. By 1980 the number had risen to 272 million. Last year, there were 582 million. Every year there's more meat on the move.
Some days, everything works great. Let's stipulate that it's not a nonstop horror show. Industry statistics show that the vast majority of flights leave on time. This has been a particularly bad summer. We've had an unusual number of thunderstorms combining with reluctance by pilots to follow certain landing instructions they think are unsafe. Plus there are situations like the one in Chicago on Monday, when air traffic controllers caused a slowdown to protest their job conditions.
The system is vulnerable--something goes wrong in one place, it has a ripple effect everywhere. It's like chaos theory: A butterfly beats its wings in China and suddenly all the flights from Atlanta are delayed. The worst thing is when you look for your flight on the monitor and see that its status is CANCELED. No explanation. The word is merciless and irreversible. Canceled. Defunct. Deleted. The only worse word you could see on the status screen is CRASHED.
When we fly now we find ourselves trapped in lines, inching forward, kicking our luggage along the carpet, hoping to get on a flight to Dallas, so we can get on the rental car shuttle and go to the rental car lot and get into another line and then get into a car and get stuck in traffic. Lines are our lives. We have become a slightly upscale version of the Soviet Union.
Personally, I'm through with it. I think the purchase of a private jet is the only sane option. Obviously this will put a serious crimp in the family budget. We may have to eat nothing but rice and beans and the occasional packet of ramen noodles. The kids may need to spend a few years without shoes, but they'll survive. I'm sure they'll understand the problem.
Daddy has standards, and he can no longer fly coach.