Travelling by air has become an exercise in minimising the discomfort imposed by the purveyors of air travel. There is discomfort involved in all aspects of travelling by air. Depending on how fortunate one is, there could be levels of discomfort involved in arriving, in checking in, in negotiating harassment at security, in getting to the gate, in waiting at the gate, on board the aircraft, in leaving the aircraft in collecting luggage and in leaving the airport. A nightmare journey is when you experience discomfort at every stage – and that is less uncommon than one would think.
Sometime last week the US Senate declined to bring in regulation to set a minimum regulation for seat size and leg-room on commercial aircraft. I don’t disagree with that because that should not be a matter of regulation. That is about passenger comfort, and that should be a matter which engages the airlines not the law-makers. It seems that for airport designers, airport managers, immigration and customs authorities and, most of all, for airlines, passenger comfort is no longer something they feel it necessary to deliver.
As I get older I give more value to comfort. But it is a luxury which is no longer even on offer. So when I travel by air – which is still about 10 -12 times a year – my concern is just to minimise the hassle. For a journey of up to about 500 km my preference is to take the car and avoid the hassle. Time, I find, is no longer of the essence. I go early. I no longer run to catch flights. I don’t hurry, I stroll, the 2 km needed to make a transfer at Frankfurt airport. Making a transfer at Heathrow is only for the masochist. But since I am early, I usually have to wait; in the check-in line, in the security line, in the immigration line, in the taxi line. I choose a carry-on bag on which I can sit. This is essential even at the gate. When was a gate ever equipped with more seats than the aircraft to be boarded? I am resigned to paying double for my rubbery sandwich and diluted coffee. I have learned to switch off my taste buds at airports. Airport designers win awards for architecture but they would never win any awards for passenger comfort. Ground personnel resent that you haven’t used the check-in machine that wasn’t working. On Ryanair you are punished if you bring luggage. Jet Air has a luggage limit of 15 kg for domestic flights just to suit international travellers who come with a 20 kg allowance. Security personnel are required to – and do – suspend their brains as they blindly follow their protocols. You cannot take the shortest way to the gate at Arlanda because that would mean bypassing the shops. Cleaners wait for me to approach before they close and start cleaning the toilets. Low cost airlines don’t even arrive at the city they tout as their destination.
Of course the worst comes after boarding. The only defense I have found is to try and sleep through the entire time on board. I skip the meals. I ignore the passenger in front who has reclined into my face. I ignore the pain in my knees and my sore shins. Announcements on board are in 3 unintelligible languages (all recordings of course) – all about everything of no relevance. There is never any explanation of that big thump while descending.
What you pay for these days is for arrival. Not for when you might arrive. The price of being alive (just) when you arrive is however still included. Comfort is no longer included in the ticket price.
There was a time when there was a joy in travelling by air. I still enjoy arriving, but there is no longer any fun in the travelling. In fact part of the new joy of arriving is that the discomfort of travelling has come to an end. Until the next time.
Tags: Air Travel