The misery that is air travel will force us to stay at home.
Could they make it any more unpleasant? Could they really? Air travel has rapidly moved from the ‘warm glow’ list – shiny new car, swanky new stereo, designer LBD to the other side, the dark side. The side of gritty necessity – a dentist visit, a colonoscopy, damp-proofing, taxes. It really is that miserable. To think, as a child , it always seemed such a magical experience and now it is alongside teeth-pulling and sticking a vacuum up yer arse.
So where did it go so wrong?
For Exhibit A, let us take a normal, run of the mill, Friday flight. No volcanic ash clouds, no snow, no nothing. A boring JFK to Heathrow flight, British Airways. Despite taking the time to check-in online, print out your boarding pass, you still have to join a queue just to drop off your bag. Even though you, as a customer, have actually done for yourself what used to be part of the price of the ticket, you haven’t gained an inch. So there you are. Queuing. You’ve save the airline money, but not saved yourself any time. Airline 1, Inconvenienced You 0.
On arrival at the bag drop desk, you are ‘politely’ informed that the flight is already delayed. As you roll your eyes in resigned despair, you are ‘tartly’ told that there was a mechanical fault on the plane leaving Heathrow – a message casually echoed by your pilot later – as if this was a force majeure. And isn’t a good job we fixed this, because it’s your safety that comes first. It’s not fate. It’s not customer care. It’s the airlines responsibility to keep their fleet in working order. And if it isn’t, then a replacement should be at hand. You wouldn’t expect your TV repairman to be as insouciant when fixing your flickering flatscreen. Airline 2, Inconvenienced You 0.
Then there is Dante’s Tenth Level of Hell – security. JFK have installed the full-body scanners. Which takes approximately 100 times longer to navigate, notwithstanding there is a group of minimum wage TSA employees giggling at your naked form, and the queue is almost at the terminal door. And nor does it remove the indignity of removing your belts, your wedding ring, or your shoes. It just adds to it. And do you feel any safer? No, you don’t. Arse-Covering Security 1, Inconvenienced You 0. You lose to all-comers.
On into the airport proper, sorry, it’s not an airport, it’s a shabby shopping mall filled with wandering, glass-eyed zombies. No daylight, no comfort, no way out. Departure lounge prisoners. You won’t find a seat, unless it is in the overpriced catering establishments, or fast-food junkhouses. Blaring announcements add to the calming ambience (on this particular evening Passenger Columbo was urged to play detective and find their way to Gate 4. Over and over and over again.) Trapped passengers, unable to even find a place to sit, overpay on coffees, magazines, anything just to while away the time. Airport Retail 1, Inconvenienced You 0.
Finally on-board, you find out that you are roughly No.23 in the long line of planes waiting for take-off. Further delays. The captain chuckles at the ‘busy Friday night’ at JFK, and explains there is nothing to be done and we’ll just have to wait our turn. Sorry? It’s your fault you missed your slot. It’s our joy that we have ended up in a traffic jam. Airline 3, Inconvenienced You 0.
And then there is the service. When did it switch? When did it stop being about us, the fare-paying customer, and start being about them? About efficiency and flight attendant comfort? Meals plonked, glasses sloshed, passengers overlooked, duty free waved and then poof! they are gone. Not a single member of staff on hand for about 2/3rds of the journey time, until a muffin is thrust into our faces with 45mins to go. We don’t all necessarily aspire to be flight attendants, it can’t be that much fun, but isn’t there something askew when they spend 4 out of the 6.30 hours of a flight either holed up somewhere or fast asleep? Surely they could sleep when they are NOT working, rather like the rest of us? And not leave us to sit there with a pile of rubbish and warm wine on our tray for hour after hour? And when did they stop looking at you? The only eye-to-eye contact was when stepping off the plane, as the FA Robot intoned ‘Goodbye. Goodbye.’ and the eyes said ‘Good riddance. End of shift. Good riddance. End of shift.’ Airline 4, Inconvenienced You 0.
Welcome home! Welcome to a 40min queue to get back into your own country (we were fortunate; the day before it was 3hrs) because there are only two super bored Border Agency agents swiping passports with all the care of an Asda checkout. And if they don’t seem to care, how can they complain if we don’t care for it, if we complain, get belligerent sweating there under the fluorescent? Arse-Covering Security 2, Inconvenienced You 0
We could, of course, go on. We failed to mention the reclining seats in the lap, the cabin lights stuck on full glare, the sticky/mucky entertainment controls, the dim screen, the non-working headphones, the delights of baggage reclaim, customs, the scrum of the terminal, the misery of trying to get to your car with a full load of luggage…
It all adds up to an expensive misery. A combination of profit-gouging from airlines and airport owners, coupled with an overly-cautious approach to keeping us all secure, all sprinkled with an air of distaste for the poor passenger. Treat us like sheep and we’ll end up acting like them. Bah! It’s the least intelligent we can be as humans. We’ve just not been able to figure out how to run air travel in the modern age (click here for a few suggestions).
So how much longer will we, the ones footing the bill, want to keep paying for the privilege before we decide to fly no more?