Air travel is not for the faint-hearted. Not for the impatient, either. Or for those of us who like peace and quiet, who prefer to stick to schedules, who despise lines but love personal space.
My whirlwind of airplane flights this year has confirmed what others have long been telling me: The skies are not friendly, and it doesn’t matter how many packets of pretzels or Biscoff cookies the flight attendants hand out.
The horror experience begins online, before you’ve even selected a seat or scrambled for overhead compartment space. Researching airfare is like getting stuck in a pit of quicksand with a Saharan dust storm swirling around you. Prices change on an hourly basis, if not faster, and while travel apps, search websites and alerts may help, I still emerge from the experience feeling somewhat like that the airlines are playing me. Few other industries — mattress firms and healthcare come to mind — get away with such lack of transparency.
Don’t believe me? Scout a flight over the next few days and watch how the price invariably inches up every time you check.
The first circle of hell of air travel has been further complicated by the introduction of a new debasing tier called “basic economy.” This is a marketing ploy in which you’re not allowed to select a seat beforehand nor bring a carry-on aboard. In essence, you’re nickled-and-dimed into steerage. If you were part of the passenger list on Noah’s Ark, you’d be assigned to a leaky life raft.
Then there’s that not-so-itty-bitty issue of seat size and leg space. As Americans have grown taller and wider, everything else in a plane has shifted in the opposite direction, the kind of contrarian thinking that defies logic. According to a 2017 report in The Wall Street Journal, JetBlue and Southwest, low-fare upstarts, provide more space in economy class (32 inches) than the legacy airlines. The others expect you to stuff your legs into 30 or 31 inches, with Spirit at 28, a challenge for anyone who is of average height or taller. In comparison, 15 years ago we used to get 34 inches.
I’d be remiss in placing all the blame on the wingtips of the airlines, though. Passengers must accept their share of responsibility as well. And I’m not talking just about crazy travelers like the 25-year-old flying from Atlanta to Las Vegas, who sprinted past the boarding gate after being warned it was too late to get on the plane. She kicked a guard and cursed the crew, her outburst forcing the other passengers to deplane. She recorded her own misbehavior on Facebook Live and then bragged that the video had earned her followers on social media. Idiot.
Most travel incivility tends to run-of-the mill transgressions that underscore how we’ve lost our sense of propriety along with our self-control. On an April flight to Atlanta, a school-age boy spent the two-hour trip from Miami alternating between kicking the back of my seat, fiddling with the tray table, and resisting efforts by his beleaguered mother to control him. On a flight from San Francisco, the guy in the row in front of us slipped off his flip-flops and plopped his bare feet up on a partition, perfect position for the rest of us to get a good whiff. Bare feet in flight, by the way, is the pet peeve of more than 90 percent of air travelers, according to a recent Expedia survey.
I could go on and on with other wince-inducing examples (the gassy seatmate, the loud talker, the nose-picking man), but I won’t. Too depressing. Instead I’ll work on gaming the airline reservation algorithm and figuring how to laugh about my unforgettable travel experiences.
Let me get back to you on that, OK?