Friday, November 22, 2013

The lithany of a travel prisoner

Having loaded my beloved mini ipad with books to kill a full day of enslavement in planes, airports and other means of public transportation, I usually manage to transcend the mundane situation and place myself on a different planet, yet some recent rather uncomfortable business- and personal-related flight have made me think.
(Image from

Really, isn't modern air travel just a modern version of a XIX century Orient Express in 3rd class cattle train? 

Exit the lunch service. The prices on board as well as the lack of credible choices means that passengers board with their packed lunch. I have already been enjoying the aromas from a hot reuben sandwich (remember? The one with sauercrauts?) open at my side. A burger with extra onions can also be quite disruptive to an innocent and sensitive nose.... Pastrami? Curry leftovers in a tightly wrapped naan? French ripe cheese on baguette? All things that I love, in the right place, but that generate an awareness that I would prefer to avoid when in such an intimate physical closeness as on a packed economy class seat. As for drink, coke and industrial OJ are still(so far....) free, but subject to availability.  Other blogs and articles have captured in full this misery. 

Exit as well the checked luggage. Since airlines have reduced the permissible weight and eliminated free check-ins, everybody (and their mothers, their fathers, grandparents, sisters, uncles and BFFs) travel with hand luggage only. The result is of course that the overhead bins overflow after the first 10 passengers have boarded. At the last minute, we are forced to check in our carry-ons; lets hope that this time my luggage will not be lost.

To compensate, enter the ever-shrinking seat. A really well-written article is here, comparing the current economy class seat and showing it smaller than even stadium seats. It is worth to take note of the conclusion stating: "With food and TV," said Mr. Clark at Emirates, "people are mesmerized." In his own words, once you take away food, service and entertainment, passengers have all the time to focus on how uncomfortable they are. 

Barked at by tired attendants, prisoners of small seats, under-fed and over-watered with scarce access to hygenic facilities, stuck between fellow humans with similarly unfulfilled needs, delayed times and times over - it is rather impressive to see that US airlines are able to fill +54 million seats in 2011 alone.

Yet, aren't there some contraddictions? Airlines are looking to generate additional income (while at the same time cutting costs), fair enough. Smaller seats mean more tickets sold per plane, no meals mean that hungry passengers will buy whatever miserable food will be available, with credit cards at the ready to cover the 20$-per-miserable-sandwich-fee (and the laughable part is that it's called a "gourmet" sandwich). Well then, why not sell it as an option with the ticket, eliminating the complication of payment on board? 
If the goal is to get money out of us by selling the luggage option, then either the rule about carry-ons must be changed, or there should be room on board for all. Yet I haven't been on ONE plane within the US airspace in the last two years that didn't REQUIRE last minute free check-ins to cope with space management (or, I'd rather call it, poorly managed space); this generate departure delays.

Ironically, while mass passenger transportation is treating all of us as non-handled luggage (nice paraphrasing to avoid calling us  "a piece of meat"), business and first are getting more and more luxurious. Airlines are spending billions to install extremely sophisticated business seats, each using the surface of 6 "cattle" class seats, and while the quality of the food offered is only OK, there is plenty of free wine, champagne, snacks all day or all night. 

Could we find a middle point? offer an equivalent to the old style biz class, where travellers could relax, not necessarily drink all night but be able to have some decent food and a drink, stretch a bit, and arrive without cramps to their destination? I'd go for this. 

I would like your comments - am I alone in this???