Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. President Biden has predictably screwed up the traditional turkey pardon, everything costs more, and on top of all that, it’s travel season. A lot of folks will be traveling the friendly skies today, and many will also take to the skies at Christmastime as well; part of the joy of the holidays is visiting people we love who live some distance away. But while we love the visits, the actual travel can be stressful and aggravating.
Speaking as someone who, for many years, traveled for a living, having done business all over North America as well as Asia, Europe, and Africa, I have some ideas on how air travel could be made a lot less stressful.
First, the “what the local government or the airlines can do” list:
Make it easier to get to the airport. Anchorage, our home airport, is easy to get in and out of, but it’s not a big airport and in a smallish city, so that helps (if only they would finally finish screwing around with the parking garage.) I would list the now-completed Boston Big Dig as an example of a vast improvement in airport access, and having flown in and out of Logan a fair amount over the years, I must agree that Logan is now much easier to get to than it was, but Logan is across the harbor from the city proper, and therefore an unusual case. I’ve flown in and out of Denver a lot, and the Denver airport is very easy to get in and out of, as it is built on the eastern plans with nothing but prairie around. These things can be evaluated case by case, but it’s not a panacea. Also, this is something municipalities should do; the airlines can’t rebuild highways or dig tunnels.
Oh, and if you’re planning travel and have any choice in connections, the best airports to connect through or fly in/out of (in my opinion) are Denver, Salt Lake City, Frankfurt, and Kansai (Osaka.) The worst: O’Hare, Hartsfeld (Atlanta), Newark, Toronto, and Johannesburg.
As for the airlines: Fix the seating and make persons of girth buy two seats.
Once, on an evening trans-continental flight from Newark to San Diego, my wife and I took the aisle and middle seats in our row and were fortunate enough to find the window seat unoccupied, allowing us to stretch out some and have a comfortable flight. Better still, I once took the 13-hour Osaka-San Francisco flight on the aisle seat of the five-seat middle row and was the only person in the row; I stretched out, rolled up in a blanket, and slept most of the flight.
But those experiences are the exception to the rule and one that brings up another question: Why should it be such a relief to find an empty seat next to yours? The answer is simple: Because normal Economy seats are so cramped as to make flying, especially for those over 5’6″ or so, miserable. (My wife has no issues with her 4’11” height and tiny frame, so she’s the lucky one.)
Granted, I’m 6’1″, with the normal girth of a late-middle-aged guy in decent shape. I can, nevertheless, fit within the confines of my own modern airline seat – barely. But I was once seated next to a 400+ pound behemoth who spilled into my seat by a considerable margin and had to demand reseating; to my good fortune, I was moved into a bulkhead row, into one of the empty seats that was available on that flight. If there had been no empty seats, there would have been a major problem.
The airlines could do a lot to make the desirability of empty seats unnecessary. Two things come immediately to mind: First, increase the pitch between seats back to pre-2000 levels. Second, demand passengers of extraordinary girth pay for two seats. If they can fit in a first-class seat and that’s cheaper than two regular seats, that works, too.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Next, the “what passengers can do” list:
Complain when it’s justified. Remember that you get what you pay for, but you should get all of what you pay for. It’s common to hear people claim that passengers unhappy with ever-shrinking airline seats should shut up and shell out some shekels for an upgraded seat; United, my airline of choice, charges as much as $105 for the slightly roomier Economy Plus seats. I disagree that passengers should meekly accept being squeezed ever tighter; a little judicious bitching might just reverse this trend.
Also, people should stop bringing all their earthly belongings along. You can always spot the amateur travelers, not least because they are usually struggling to check in with a dozen suitcases and the family dog and spending time arguing over the checked-bag fees. But what really burns my bacon is the chap who brings an enormous backpack in and tries to stuff it in the overhead bin, taking up the entire space. The airlines do provide guides to see if your bag is within the allowable carry-on dimensions, but they rarely bother to enforce these rules; the schmuck with an enormous dog-coffin “carry-on” is all too often allowed to proceed.
Finally, control your kids. Yes, it’s great to take the kids along to visit the grandparents, their cousins, and so on. But it’s troublesome, especially on an evening or worse, red-eye flight, to have kids kicking the backs of seats or running up and down the aisles. Keep your kids in check, in fact, not just on the airplane but everywhere.
Flying is stressful enough as it is. We shouldn’t have to put up with cramped seating, overflowing passengers, oversized carry-ons, and unpleasant jerks in the bargain.