Plane window with white sunlight. Empty plastic airplane tray table at seat back. Economy class airplane window. Inside of commercial airline. Seat with armchair. Leather seat of economy class plane.

Traveling by airplane sucks

Last week, I flew from Austin to New York City. From there, I flew to Los Angeles. After that, I flew back to Austin and repacked to fly to Miami then back again. I saw every corner of America except the Great Northwest. It was brutal in large part for one reason.

Traveling by airplane sucks.

Let’s be clear. It really never was that good, but it certainly was better. Tucked in the back of my brain somewhere are memories of childhood trips on airplanes. Back in those days, everyone dressed up in their nicest clothes and dinner was served with what at least looked like real silverware and tiny little salt and pepper shakers made of actual glass (Disclaimer—This last part may be totally made up. It was a VERY long time ago. In fact, I vaguely remember the pilot and co-pilot on one such flight bearing striking resemblances to Orville and Wilbur Wright so it’s very possible I’m mixing up my travel memory with a recollection of taking the AP History Exam).

It doesn’t really matter what it used to be. Now it’s just a nightmare. An ordeal meant to be survived. For one thing, no one dresses up anymore unless the time it would take to get from the moment the plane lands to the funeral is so tight that changing clothes is simply out of the question. And it wouldn’t even matter if you have a sympathetic flight attendant who comes over the intercom imploring all the passengers to stand aside while you sprint up the aisle and out of the plane so as not to miss the chance to bid a fond farewell to that much beloved friend or relative.

No one cares. She could even announce, “Please allow the gentleman with his hair on fire to deplane first. The fire department is waiting for him on the jet bridge.” It wouldn’t matter. The instant the seat belt sign went off, all passengers would leap to their feet, grab their bags and get ready to bolt out the door. Little old ladies? Good luck. Mothers with small children. Stand aside.

As for the standard attire on most flights these days, it’s changing. Its actually gone from bad to worse. Not long ago, everyone wore something that would make them equally comfortable at a New York Knicks basketball game or a dinner with friends for beer and pizza. Now many people dress for bed. Since there are those out there whose bedroom attire is (let’s just say) “lacking,” I fear what’s to come. Hopefully, I won’t be around when it comes to that or too blind to see it.

Airline food was never anything to write home about. That’s changed. For the most part, there is no airline food unless you count what you can purchase in the airport terminal before boarding the plane. I say this even though in fairness many airlines serve something along with your five-ounce beverage. Still, I think that even if your pretzels are enclosed in a wrapper bearing the words “Southwest Airlines” it’s really a leap giving them a lot of credit for serving you something to keep you from starving or developing scurvy.

First or Business Class isn’t much better. Granted, they give you a meal. In fact, they are pretty proud of the offerings with some meals created by “famous” chefs no one has ever heard of. Still, I challenge anyone to recall a time when a passenger raved about an onboard meal. I can, however, report that my beef and broccoli meal on United last week was so salty I couldn’t eat it.

Probably the most challenging part of the flying experience these days isn’t the airline or the food but the passengers themselves. We’ve become a very unruly bunch. Case in point. On my last three flights there were instances where passengers were nearly thrown off or arrested for bad behavior. This isn’t good.

The woman sitting next to me on the Austin to Miami leg of my journey asked me if I’d witnessed the fight at the gate between the agent and three angry passengers. Fortunately, I hadn’t because the incident began after I boarded. “Well, I was very afraid,” she told me.
Clearly, that’s not good. The only time we should have a legitimate fear on a plane is at take-off, landing, and through violent turbulence. Simply boarding the flight shouldn’t even make the list.

There is only one positive point I can offer in favor of flying. Driving is much worse.