Why has air travel become such a shit show & some simple things you can about it?
November 27, 2022
by Jeffrey Ian Ross
In addition to visiting relatives and friends, and filling ones belly with copious amounts of turkey and predictable side dishes, this Thanksgiving holiday weekend reminds us how historically, the greatest number of people travel via airplane during this time.
For many people, the holiday also reminds us how air travel, in the United States at least, has become such a shit show.
Starting from the time you arrive at the airport until the time you get to your destination airport, air travelers quickly learn that many of the systems to get you safely, securely, and efficiently on to your plane and off either don’t work in a rational manner, or numerous entities seem to do their best to frustrate the process. No wonder why airlines and other advisors tell you to come to the airport two hours early before your flight.
Many of these annoying experiences have been going on for a long time, but the ubiquity of smart phones, and popularity of social media, has enabled the public to witness passengers on their worst behavior.
Why does this occur?
Traveling by air has rarely been fun, but since 9/11 it’s become an unnecessarily frustrating experience, enabled by a unique combination of airport authorities, the airlines, airline personnel, government entities, and most importantly passengers.
Although some airports are better than others, whether its resources or poor leadership and management, in some cases airport authorities have failed to take into consideration the user experience. This includes a lack of signage, signs that may be minimal or confusing, and parking, drop off, and pick up protocols that don’t make sense.
The Transportation Safety Administration, (TSA), which is responsible for passenger and airline safety, has been a source of constant frustration. More specifically many TSA rules in connection with passenger screening do not appear rational and they are enforced in an inconsistent manner. More specifically what is required or enforced at one airport (i.e., belts on, versus belts off, etc.) is not enforced at another.
Most airline desk, gate, and flight attendants do their best to assist passengers. In some instances, however, some airline personnel can be unhelpful, dismissive, and rude. Some of this is because they have been constantly abused (emotionally, mentally and physically) by passengers, co-workers and supervisors. And thus they are short, and unaccommodating.
In an effort to maximize profit the airlines have configured seating so that passengers are often struggling with small spaces that force passengers to sit ever closer together, charging for all manner of things that the airlines used to give out freely (e.g., water, soft drinks, beer and wine). In the meantimes electrical outlets may not work, gate changes are provided at the last minute, etc. etc.. Everyone seems to have their favorite airline horror story.
Most importantly, for some strange reason many airline passengers see the airport and airplane experience as an opportunity to cop an attitude, be on their worst behavior, and in some cases loose their shit. How does this happen?
Flights are long. You are forced to sit beside people who you don’t want to sit beside, often don’t respect personal space, and disrupt you, etc.
At a minimum travelers accidentally or purposely ignore written signs and rules, and oral instructions. Predictably this slows things down, particularly getting through security checks and in the worst case flights. Alternatively travelers talk back in a condescending manner and in some cases assault airport and airline personnel and fellow passengers. Sometimes this is because many airplane travelers mistakenly feel entitled or believe that possession of an airplane ticket grants them all sorts of unwritten and unspoken rights and privileges, that enables them to disobey the rules.
What can we do to rectify things?
It’s not easy addressing these challenges. Each offending constituency and situation demands different solutions, and some are easier to change than others, but let’s start with the ones that are under our control, and those involve the choices we make when and how we decide to travel, more specifically by plane.
Before you go do a handful of quick cost-benefit calculations.
To begin with prospective travelers should be very clear about the purpose of their trip. More specifically ask yourself do I really need to travel?. If the answer is a resounding yes, then accept the fact that flying is generally speaking a clusterfuck.
. When choosing a ticket, airline, departure and arrival time, consider flying during times of the day, week, and part of the year when airlines are not as busy.
. Try to avoid using budget airlines.
. If you can get to your destination in about the same time as it takes to travel by train, take the train.
. Try to relax. If you can’t do this by physically exercising before your fight, consider meditation, one drink, or taking an edible (but don’t get drunk or stoned).
– Wear comfortable clothes particularly if it is a long flight.
– If you are on a relatively uncrowded flight move to a part of the plane that is less crowded.
– Show up well in advance of take off to get through security and to your departure gate that may end up being at the other end of the airport.
– Bring enough stuff along the flight to occupy yourself like reading material or videos downloaded to your personal device.
– Travel light (i.e., try not to take so much baggage that you need to put it underneath in the hold)
– Don’t put your medication in a bag that you check in.
– Resist the temptation to snap back at others whom you believe treat you in a disrespectful manner; and,
– If you are taking a long flight, try to take one as late as possible in the evening (That way both you and your fellow passengers are likely to sleep the majority of the trip).
By properly preparing yourself for the long haul you can’t eliminate the craziness that comes your way, but you will be better able to deal with it when it arises.
Photographer: Rudi Riet
Title: Passengers await their flight call