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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Glamour of Air Travel

I have read that once, in the long distance past, air travel was glamorous and exciting. People would dress up formally for the trip, and pilots were considered very, very cool.

When I first started flying frequently, back in the late 80s, there was still some attempt made to keep it exciting, to treat passengers well.

Those days are long gone.

Today, air travel is perhaps as glamorous as bus travel. Where once it was comfortable seats and cocktails, passengers (well, at least those of us condemned to that hellhole known as steerage....errr, tourist class) are now packed in, neck to jowl, and thrown perhaps the occasional bag of peanuts. I had the passenger in front of me lean his seat back, only to find it six inches from my face.

Things have changed.

My flight to India was not in the least glamorous, exciting or even fun. It wasn't even particularly horrible. It was tedious. Simply tedious.

First, the airlines keep finding ways to charge you more and more for what was once free. Weight limits have been lowered on luggage, so they can charge $25 per bag for what was once free.

Second, the discomfort. Seats have been squeezed together so tight, and there aren't many empty ones, that it is hard to stretch out and get comfortable (especially if you have long legs of a bad knee). This would be tolerable on short haul flights, but for eight or ten hours at a stretch is is torture.

Third, the airports are a mess. Paris de Gaulle, which I passed through, is under construction. Almost every airport I travel through seems to be. I had to take a bus from the airplane to the terminal, where I walked about a mile to get to another bus, which then took me to another terminal, where I wandered about before getting to my gate, where I stood in line to get a chance to cross several lanes of traffic in the rain to climb the stairs onto my next airplane. The agent at the gate in Detroit had told me I was lucky that my flights were going into and leaving from the same gate. If this was luck.......

I suppose it's better, time-wise, that travel in the old days, by ships and trains, where I would have spent weeks or months getting to India. But it was an enviable pace of life. I think of it wistfully as I am dashing across airports, worried about making my connection. Tropical breezes, pleasant onboard conversations, scurvy, storms at sea, plague......maybe travel today isn't all that horrible after all.


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