Bill Gates observed that, “[T]he Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since [the invention of] writing. The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together.” Apparently, though, an increasing number of passengers don’t see air transportation through rose-colored glasses. Many of us don’t like it when reconfigured planes rob us of our personal space. A recent Dallas Morning News front-page article recounted some nasty little set-tos, so nasty that planes were diverted! ( Travelers Flying into Rages Over Cramped Seats)
And I might have starred in that article, but for some deep breathing on our last flight home.
The flight was packed full on the first leg of our journey. A young couple with an energetic, talkative little boy scrunched into the seats just ahead of us. His chatter reminded me of other recent conversations we’d been part of while visiting our grandchildren in Maryland. As the parents in the seats in front of us quietly addressed their son’s incessant comments and questions, I liked their calm skill. But, my good will evaporated when the father reclined his seat, robbing me of the “space” to use my tray table without bonking my head on the back of the seat. Shades of four years ago! (Seriously?)
Seething barely captures my reaction. What to do? How do you tap a stranger on the shoulder nowadays and plead your own discomfort, especially if the strangers appear not to speak English? Mercifully, I remembered that a better way is to breathe deeply, sensing that others might watch how I reacted to an infringement, and that my comfort is not the only priority in a crowded cabin. So, I did not slam my hands onto the back of the offender’s seat, complaining loudly of the thoughtless pursuit of his own comfort.
But, come to think of it, it’s not solely the fault of the passenger who used the feature:
. . . people can be forgiven for thinking that if the seat is engineered to go back, then it’s a reasonable thing to do . . . Think of you and your fellow passengers as being on a lifeboat- you’re all in a bad situation-the best you can do is to help one another. (Miss Manners on Flight Etiquette)
So, the airlines – once purveyors of comfy travel experiences, even on a shuttle between DC and NYC – are putting their passengers in a kind of peril that was undreamed of when C. R. Smith of American Airlines
“ . . . published an advertisement entitled "Why Dodge This Question: Afraid To Fly?" in 1934. Airline Safety had been a taboo subject at the time, and Smith was credited with being the first airline manager to discuss it openly with the public.”
Mr. Smith also said his company’s goal was getting people out of cars and trains in the early decades of passenger travel and by making air travel as comfortable and more so than the traditional modes. Hmmmmm. A tart description of current conditions explains what many of us are opting to drive: “That the flights are frequently jam-packed and the air terminals have the ambience of a North Korean hotel and the comfort of a mammogram” (The Down-Side of Reclining)
Flight has inspired people to create an industry that has revolutionized the way we view our lives radically as the invention of writing changed us – yet the magic of soaring 35,000 feet above the earth is dispelled by the cattle-car experience flying has become. The industry seems unable to think beyond the bottom line, and the passengers who now rely on the airlines are captive to all the economies the industry imposes.
Now, come on airlines . . . put your thinking caps on! Your passengers don’t need one more excuse to lose our charm on our air journeys – or fall out with fellow travelers! Is it too late to reinvent some of the wonder of climbing high, and enjoying a perspective on this old world our ancestors thought impossible?
· The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air. ~Wilbur Wright
* Cartoon Source