I had forgotten how much I disliked flying. All it took was two recent business trips to the American West and Midwest to remind me. Among the many hidden benefits of enforced nesting during the pandemic was the pleasure of staying home. Now that we are returning to a modicum of normalcy I am determined to limit my ventures on the road to absolutely needed.
It’s not for fear of flying. I have long known that flying is actually the safest way to travel compared, say, to driving, taking a train or bus. Credit the FAA and the professionalism of career pilots for that safety record. I know there are lots of people who not feel particularly safe hurtling six miles up in the air at 500 miles per hour, protected from freezing to death and/or asphyxiation by only a ¼-inch thick aluminum tube. The fact is that flying is just about the safest thing in the world you can do. Taking a bath in the comfort of your home is far more dangerous. Not that some folks will be assured by such data. The difference, of course, is the sense of vulnerability and exposure. Still, it’s not the safety that bugs me.
It’s the time sink involved, the complete waste of hours upon hours. Last week I had a simple 90-minute direct flight to Detroit that would have gotten me there in plenty of time for a full day of work with a colleague along with a round of golf thrown in. Too bad the flight was delayed by seven hours, so that instead of arriving at 8 AM I did not land until 3:PM. Good thing I live close enough to the departing airport (BDL) that after checking in at 5:30 AM I went home for the rest of the morning. But there was still an acute awareness of time squandered. I am someone who is pretty disciplined about how and when I work and when I play or goof off or just hang out with friends and family. There is nothing more annoying than being beholden to a schedule that is subject to arbitrary change without notice.
It did not help things that during the recent reopening of air travel the airlines seem to have cut back dramatically on service, including answering phones. Fee paying customers trying to make schedule changes are left stranded of late on Delta Airlines, among others (I am told). Forget about benefitting from one’s Sky Priority status – you can’t get through or get them to call you back. And if you try trading in your frequent flyer miles for a seat it seems that the airlines have used the reopening to raise the points needed.
I’ve always had the sense that the airlines hide behind “security” as an excuse for evading the most basic kinds of civilized consumer relations with their clients. They’ve also reverted to charging for things that used to come de rigueur – like checked luggage, or a guaranteed seat reservation. It also used to be a lot easier to change a flight, but additional fees for that along with a cutback in flight frequency have made that very costly, if not impossible.
I am well aware of the uptick in recorded attacks on airline personnel. It is further evidence of a general increase in meanness and anti-professionalism that has pervaded our culture the last few years – ever since it became a matter of public/political legitimacy to be a bully and a thug at the same time. I can’t help thinking that some of these outbursts are attributable to passengers having tired of being treated like cattle forced to pay for their abuse.
Of course some of the anger vented at flight attendants is traceable to the residual resistance over mask mandates. We all know exactly how mask wearing in this country got politicized and partisan, to the point where a definable sector of Americans openly still resent being told to engage in minimal public health precautions as a matter of public safety. That’s how perverted our understanding of “freedom” has become. To their credit the airports provide frequent reminder of the need to maintain social distance. Signage and announcements are abundant. So, too, are vending machines, like the one I saw in Minneapolis Airport (MSP) Concourse F dispending various PPE items like masks, disinfectants and gloves.
To their credit, on-board personnel are careful to make it clear through their flight announcements that they are simply enforcing federal regulations when they require all passengers to wear masks for the duration of the flight – and that wearing a mask means covering the nose and mouth, “even while sleeping.”
None of this is surprising – or unique to flying. Airports are simply a microcosm of our culture and reveal all of the tensions and features of our world at large – a mixture of wondrous technology, impressive professionalism, cutthroat corporate business pressure, the dehumanization of consumers and a populace on edge because of exposure to various unknowable risks.
I’m not sure how to solve any of this. All I know is that my days of traveling are in for a serious reduction. Among the many things I’ve learned the last fifteen months is that I can manage to get a lot of my work done without having to fly all of the time.