Fear Of Flying

As one who will be flying over The Pond again in precisely four weeks’ time, I read this Drudge-linked article with interest. For those who want to follow the link: yeah, it’s an NBC article and you can ignore the first third of it, which is a classist rant against the fact that wealthy people can cosset themselves against the rigors of modern-day air travel by buying their way into luxury lounges and wider seats, etc. BFD. A sample:

Ordinary passengers, however, shuffle along in line, and then just before they pack into coach, they have to edge through first class — where cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and hot towels might be passed around, even before the cabin door closes. Airlines are increasingly catering to their premium customers with fancier seats and beds, and most passengers never even see the comfortable terminal lounges for first-class seat-holders and very frequent flyers.
At Los Angeles International Airport, the wealthy can pay for an even greater buffer from the great unwashed, courtesy of an exclusive new club, The Private Suite. The service — with a $7,000 initiation fee and $2,700-per-trip price tag — allows travelers to ensconce themselves in a retreat on the south end of an airport that, by consensus, is one of America’s most crowded. Members can dine on caviar, take a shower and get a pedicure while waiting for their planes. The Private Suite has its own TSA agents, far from the exasperation of the long lines. And when it’s time to board, a car whisks Private Suite members across the tarmac, directly to their gates. Gavin de Becker, the entrepreneur who founded the Private Suite, hopes to expand to other airports.
Stressed and financially strapped, Americans are sensitive to any additional signs that they are falling behind, said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “People are working two and three jobs to get by, and the disparity of wealth is growing,” Nelson said. “People are upset.”

Oh, mercy me: rich people have it better than the peasants. The iniquity! (In other breaking news, water is wet, and General Custer’s having a little trouble with the Sioux.)

The rest of the piece is far more interesting, especially this:

Though the airline industry was deregulated by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, it would take several other systemic jolts — notably the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the Great Recession, with its sharp reductions in discretionary travel — to get the airlines to trim money-losing routes. The downturn also triggered a series of bankruptcies, followed by consolidations. Delta Airlines consumed Northwest, United gobbled up Continental, Southwest took over AirTran, and American Airlines swallowed U.S. Airways.
Those four giant carriers finally had the reduced competition — combined with newfound discipline over the number of routes offered and the size of air fleets — to forge consistent profits.
One result: The number of flights offered annually declined by nearly 1.5 million over the last decade. Less service and fewer partially filled planes, combined with sharp cost-cutting, drove revenue to new highs.

Yeah, the airlines are making a profit again, after years of massive losses caused mostly by high fuel prices. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that airlines can get away with treating us like shit, generally under the guise of “security”, which is all the excuse the little gauleiters need to mess us around.

The plain fact is that air travel is no longer “fun”, as the article puts it. Those days of glamorous passengers and gorgeous, svelte young stewardesses have given way to the International Backpack & Sandals Set and grim-looking middle-aged “flight attendants” who bitch and moan about passengers — with, it should be said, quite a lot of justification — but which is all to be expected when you make an activity available to the masses by making it cheaper.

That said, there’s no excuse for the airlines treat We The Farepayers like self-loading cargo (which to be honest is what we are, really), but then get surprised when we get pissed off when we’re over-charged for crappy meals, a suitcase that’s a half-pound overweight, cramped seats and [2,000 other complaints deleted because duh]. and don’t even get me started about “involuntary ejection” or whatever cute little euphemism they employ when they toss a fare-paying customer off a flight for whatever reason they want to.

So it’s small wonder we try to game the system wherever possible.

Fact is, there is no more romance involved with flying; it’s just like being stuck in rush-hour traffic on the interstate, only more restrictive. And for me personally, all this just reinforces my conviction never to fly domestically — i.e. never fly anywhere I can drive — so the airlines can just fuck right off. They’ve got me on the international flights, and they’ll just have to be content with that — just as I’ve resigned myself to being forever subject to “random” searches and closer scrutiny in their fucking domains.

As with so many things, I just long for things to go back to being more civilized:

… or at least fun:

…but it doesn’t look like this airline travel ordeal is going to get better anytime soon, more’s the pity.


  1. I am fortunate in that I have no need or desire to travel far. When I do, I drive one of my collector cars. I quit flying in commercial aircraft in the early nineties. I was fed up with the cattle car mentality long before TSA reared it’s ugly head. A few years after that, I gave up train travel too and all forms of public transportation. I can no longer bring myself to give up the Bill of Rights at the gate.

  2. Have you ever noticed that the longer the flight, the larger the person in the seat next to yours is?
    Or alternatively, the longer the flight, the longer it has been since your seatmate has bathed?
    Ex: Narita to LA, in a VERY full flight next to what would pass for homeless anywhere in the USA.

  3. PanAm went broke owing me over a million miles. N.B. Their debt to me did not crack PanAm, Lockerbee did. I still have to fly for business occasionally and the KLM flight attendants today are the same humans to whom I was entrusted back in the 80’s. We are all older but they turned to vinegar before I did. I watched five of them studiously ignore a pat of butter in the aisle for six hours. Yes, real butter. Yes, in Business Class where we pay double the coach fare just to endure modern travel in some sort of comfort. I flew Concorde once and was naïve enough to ask if there was First and Business. BA lady informed me that all seats were Concorde Class. (You silly Texan.). Those were the days.

    1. When United bought Continental I went from Silver Elite to nothing and the miles just evaporated a few months later.

      1. I keep getting emails from airlines to buy miles, “top up my account” and use the ones I have. I wrote back to each of their program people and told them that I’ll accumulate miles the old-fashioned way, and if the miles expire, become unusable or otherwise disappear, they and their little program can go and fuck themselves (I used those exact words), because clearly they have missed the point of “loyalty”.
        Never have heard back from any of them.

  4. I travel for work – and hate it. I haven’t flown for pleasure for years. It took another unpleasant turn when most airlines started charging for bags. That’s when everyone started lugging suitcases into the passenger compartment where they don’t belong. Now getting on and off a plane is long ordeal. I try to fly Southwest as much as possible to avoid this annoyance.

    The coach seats are smaller too – I know this because I can no longer fully open my compact laptop computer on the tray table.

  5. The last time I flew was back in 2011. Overseas and a 13 hour flight each way. Needless to say I didn’t enjoy my flights. Seats were uncomfortable, food was barely par, some seat mates were crude and ignorant… Reminded me of traveling by intercity bus which I only do when I have to these days and I try to use the services that aren’t as annoying as some others. Owning a car is something I am working on just so I can avoid inconvenient schedules.

    1. I make a point of eating a big meal right before the flight so that I don’t have to risk airline food. Fortunately, most airports — at least the international terminals of the ones I fly out of — now have some decent restaurants where I can do that.

    2. Huh, coincidences abound!

      My most recent flight was in 2011 as well, and was overseas to boot — I went to Taiwan with a friend and his family. Flew Delta, and had shelled out for the economy comfort which boasted extra leg room. Being a big guy (6’5″) on an airplane can be agonizing as is.

      I didn’t have any overt problems, other than an inability to sleep on the flight. You’d think a guy known for being able to nod off in a car within twenty minutes of departure wouldn’t have this problem, but…

      1. I find that complementary wine and a Unisom tab help me sleep for about half of the 14 hour flight between Brisbane and LA/ vice versa.
        As for food, Qantas isn’t all that bad. Plus, they offer complementary wine.
        Luthansa was best, in that you got a free drink with your meal, and a brandy after.

        1. The economy comfort upgrade also offered complimentary beer and wine. I’m not a wine guy myself — but the beer was fine. But frankly I just wanted that extra leg room.

  6. This is why I firmly believe the FAA needs to step in and impose Standards of Service. Right now, the airlines abuse the customers, knowing that they have a semi-monopoly of air travel to all but the largest cities, and are backed with Government guns when the customer complains. We’re not talking about a competitive environment here.

  7. I haven’t flown since 2004, and I’m determined to wait out the TSA (damn their souls, if they have souls). If I can’t drive, I’m not going. Period.

  8. The way it was:

    My first flight at age 15 was from Austin to Manila in 1949. Convair to Dallas. DC-6 to Phoenix; leaving Phoenix, an engine caught fire. I later learned that our safe landing was the first non-fatal recovery from that. DC- 4 to San Francisco.

    Okay, DC–6s were grounded, so off we went in a DC-4. Seventeen passengers @ $800 each, one-way. About 200 mph, at 4,000 ft. Left around 8AM; arrived Honolulu late at night. Four hours refueling and then off to Midway. Arrived mid-day and had a guided tour of the wartime wreckage as well as the gooney birds. Four hours later, refueled, it was off to Wake Island. Same deal; also wreckage everywhere. And then off to Guam, arriving at night. Arrived in Manila the next day, late morning.

    Meals were cooked in the plane’s galley. Choices from a limited but varied menu, and well cooked/tasty.

    The seats would lay back as beds, and there was a curtain you could pull around for privacy if you wanted to change to PJs.

    There was a lounge in the rear of the plane for larger social groups to visit and chit-chat.

    Much better than my 2000 trip to Germany. 🙂

  9. I came back from Manila on a passenger freighter. Many enjoyable memories. I highly recommend that mode of travel.

    Several ports in the PI, including Zamboanga and Basilan Island. Three days in Hong Kong. Four ports in Japan and then on to San Francisco via a Great Circle route to near the Aleutians. Whales are neat. 🙂

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