Stop Whining About Air Travel

Airplane Flying into Sunnset

The fat guy spilling over the armrest next to you; the douche-bag hauling on your headrest from behind; the brat screaming non-stop across the way in 12C; the aromas wafting from the lavatory; are all pleasant distractions from the deep vein thrombosis inducing stress positions required to contort oneself into a coach class seat.

Yet despite all of that, Slate’s Matt Yglesias suggests we stop whining and learn to appreciate the wonders of modern air travel.

I have to say, I agree.

By focusing exclusively on the awfulness of the airline experience we ignore the ridiculousness of the alternatives; chiefly the driving or sailing for days on end needed to otherwise reach our destination.

Moreover, Matt reminds us:

Air travel is fantastically safe. . . The death rate for car travel was 72 times higher. Think about what kind of discount you’d want if a gate attendant asked you to swap your flight for one leaving five minutes later that’s only half as safe as the original plane. Then double that risk again. Then again. Then again. Then twice more. That plane’s still safer than driving an equivalent distance.

With respect to discomfort and affordability:

If you’re willing to pay late-’70s prices for your air travel—which is to say double present-day fares—you can book yourself into business class and enjoy a luxury travel experience. 

Said another way, you get what you pay for. Over the years passengers have demonstrated time and again that they prefer cheap flights to more comfortable ones. When given a choice, we’ve repeatedly chosen less expensive and crappier air travel, so that’s what we get. If we wanted a better airline experience, we’d pay for one. But because we won’t pay for it, we don’t get it. It’s really as simple as that.

And, my personal favorite, Matt’s take on airline delays:

As a person who, whatever his other flaws, is extremely punctual, I’m here to tell you that you’re often late too. . . . The difference between you and the airline is that the airline has to report its on-time statistics to the government while you get to just make excuses. When you can show me that you’re showing up on time 90 percent of the time, then complain.

Of course my preference wouldn’t be to give the airlines a free pass here. I’m more of the view that if we imposed fitting punishment on people who waste our time, perhaps by sentencing each offender – whether a personal associate or an airline executive – to an equivalent duration confined in a coach class seat, we could end chronic tardiness once and for all.

Barring that, we do have another option for avoiding the aggravation of air travel. We could just stay home. Now that strikes me as the most awful alternative of all. 

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26 Comments on “Stop Whining About Air Travel”

  1. The Wanderlust Gene April 18, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Very well put!


  2. digger666 April 18, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    Ah, memories…somewhat over a hundred North Atlantic crossings under my belt, and you can’t beat steerage for entertainment.

    Best one was a British Caledonian flight from Gatwick to Houston a few days before Christmas. It was still possible to smoke in flight at the time; the flight was heavily populated by Texas oil workers heading home for the holidays. Cabin staff in steerage opened the bar and we had a party at the back of the plane all the way across the Atlantic and across the eastern US.


  3. mytimetotravelmytimetotravel April 18, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    When possible, I take the train. Much more comfortable. Of course, this works better if I’m not in the US, which is usually the case when I travel.


    • Brian April 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      Looking forward to better public transport in Europe.


  4. ronmitchelladventure April 18, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    I flew first class once in my life…didn’t want to get off the plane! Ahh, burnt-up all those accumulated travel points, though.


    • Brian April 18, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Flying business and first class are certainly humane ways of traveling. It’s a good option for people who value their comfort more highly than their dollars.


  5. tiny lessons blog April 18, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I fully agree. All modalities of travel, including on camel, have their best uses. And if you don’t want to stay at home, flying is a pretty good option and there’s plenty of choice today on how we fly.


    • Brian April 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Very good point. Those usually-empty “Economy Plus” seats are now available on most flights for travelers wanting a bit more space but without the full first class price tag.


  6. Debra Kolkka April 18, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    I agree! I am too mean to pay for business class, so economy is just fine by me. I get to sit down, read a book, watch a movie, someone brings me food and a bit later on, I land somewhere wonderful…and I am paying less than I did 30 years ago. What’s not to love?


  7. Animalcouriers April 18, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    We always think of modern-day cheap flights as glorified buses. No frills and you do get what you pay for. Outstandingly safe in most counties.


  8. captainofadventures April 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Love it. I’ve been flying a lot lately and philosophically I agree with all you’re saying. A few (or far more) hours spent uncomfortably on an airplane is a far cry better than spending weeks or months on a train, ship, train, wagon, and camel to get to where you’re going.

    Delays don’t have to be hell either; My girlfriend and I were delayed twelve hours in Amsterdam last August. Instead of whining about it, we hopped on a train and toured the city until well into the morning. And we were awarded something like $600 from the airline for the inconvenience!

    It’s all a matter of perspective!


    • Brian April 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

      Perspective really is key. We make our own happiness (or lack there of).


  9. Holiday Rent Club April 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Reblogged this on Spring breaks, getaways and holidays and commented:
    Like to fly or not?


  10. mooseleader April 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you! Too often I forget about the wonders of air travel. Also think how amazing it is to be in the sky! Our ancestors could only imagine it.
    However when in Europe I still take the train, it is a great way to see the countryside 🙂


  11. jmeyersforeman April 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    great commentary, and so true. I remember thinking not to long ago, when I was standing at the gate that air travel now looks a lot like greyhound bus travel in the 70’s. It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t convenient, but it was cheap….
    love your blog.


  12. andytallman101 April 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    My boss went on a 15-minute tangent complaining incessantly about air travel to a room of workers the other day … this was during a safety talk, which was supposed to focus mostly on the dangers of prostate cancer.

    I mean, yeah prostate cancer is kind of a big deal, with it being the 2nd most deadly cancer for men in Australia … but by all means please distract from the topic and waste all our time by prattling on about how you were inconvenienced slightly while doing something that would have seemed like a miracle 100 years ago!

    Worse still, he wasn’t even funny (though he tried to be). I mean, he didn’t even mention what’s the deal with airline peanuts!


  13. NewLifeOnTheRoad (@NewLifeOnRoad) April 18, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    Totally agree! Its far more dangerous driving on our roads then flying, and really what’s to complain about when you consider you are going to arrive In a new location!


  14. Touring NH April 19, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    Over the last few years, I’ve had to fly quite often. I don’t really mind the economy class (I put on my headphones and take a nap), but you would think that after all these years of experience that the airlines have, they could come uo with a better way of loading the plane! Say from the back to the front and window seats, followed by center, then aisle. It would take a hell of a lot less time if you didn’t have to wait for someone to move from the center seat so you could get to the window. Or if you didn’t have to wait for 10C to put their bags in the overhead while you were trying to get to 22A.


    • Brian April 19, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      Nothing about air travel really yields itself to intuition – and that includes optimal boarding strategies. Strangely boarding back to front isn’t any quicker than front to back (all it does is move the line from outside the plane to the inside). And when you incorporate all the challenges of human misbehavior (we don’t show up or board when we’re supposed to, etc) it tends to diminish the benefits of any strategy at all. That is why some researches have concluded that pure random boarding is one of the most efficient ways to fill a plane. Go figure.


  15. Zabe Bent April 20, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    Too true! Many times people complain about air travel (me included sometimes) but at the end of it I always think: at least we arrived safely. That said, it has become more and more of a cattle call. We’ve lost the wonder. I remember dressing well to board a plane, now people wear pajamas! Definitely taken for granted. Even when things go awry, it’s still pretty amazing. Things can go horribly awry sometimes, but in most cases, there are only small inconveniences for the pleasure of a trip home or on vacation or whatever.


    • Brian April 20, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      I think it’s true that air travel has gone from a luxury experience that we dress up for to, as one other commenter put it, a Greyhound Bus experience. But that strikes me as an improvement too, at least as far as having financially accessible air travel goes. How much more would it suck to have only fleets of luxurious planes that most of us couldn’t afford?


      • Zabe Bent April 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

        On that front I totally agree. It should be accessible to everyone. But I lament the loss of wonder and appreciation that sorting of thinking held. It seems that it’s so commonplace to us nowadays that we’ve lost respect for it and take it for granted. Or worse, take the air hosts, pilots, etc for granted. To be fair, there’s a lot wrong with the air travel industry. But that’s true of many industries, and the loss of wonder and respect isn’t limited to air travel either. I try to remind myself of that wonder–and all the things that have to happen to make us both safe and secure–when something that seems absurdly wrong happens while I’m traveling. It’s difficult, but it calms me when I want to kick and scream after missing a connection or sitting at a gate for 10 hours and counting.


  16. Leanova Designs April 22, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    I think I agree, but that doesn’t mean that flying is becoming more difficult and less fun than it was.


  17. vonlet24 April 29, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for this!

    The thing about air travel is that there are so many options for dealing with any downfalls. Yes, some of them cost money, but most I would say take a little common sense planning – like arriving to the airport early, packing a sack lunch or snack, making use of the free charging stations so you have a full battery to play games/listen to music on the plane, wearing simple outfits to travel in, and so many more.

    Plus, air travel is time set aside to just sit and relax. Busy-ness is pretty glorified these days and sitting on a plane for at least an hour forces us to just sit, and breath, and look out the window at the beautiful country below.


    • Brian April 29, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      So true, especially the part about packing a snack.


  18. love.antoinette July 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Amen! Very well-said! What do people expect? Some kind of a 5-star hotel service while flying? If that’s the case, shell out for the business class! Lol I love flying so much those things don’t even bother me. As a matter of fact, it’s an added entertainment to my flight aside from the free movies or shows provided.


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