Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Air travel isn’t what it used to be

By David Dinell 

After five years of avoiding air travel like the plague, I’ve taken to the skies three times in the past 10 months – and it has reminded me how little I’ve missed it.

It’s likely because I used to fly a lot in the pre-9-11 days, especially in the 1960s and 70s, when air travel was actually a fun experience. These days, it’s about as joyful as root canal.

Don’t get me wrong: being able to get to a distant locale in a short amount of time, even at a steep price, is still pretty amazing, and for many of us with far-flung families, it’s the only practical way to touch base with relatives. But there used to be an air of excitement about the experience, now that happiness has been long sucked away as we jam ourselves into the subway in the skies.

But given the size of our country – and our lack of other transportation modes – we’re married to airplanes.

That’s good news for Derby as nearby Spirit AeroSystems, which produces aircraft structures such as the Boeing 737 fuselage and is the largest employer in the state, has a healthy backlog of orders.

We also have a new local airport terminal, which I used for the first time. While it’s a beautiful building, I was struck by how few people were using it, especially compared to the crowds at airports in Denver, Chicago and New York. But officials say the airport is doing well, and last year was its second busiest on record, with 1.6 million total passengers. Guess I was there at a slow time.

I did fly on Southwest Airlines a few times, which is a major customer of the Boeing 737s. They do run an effective business, and compared to the so-called major airlines, they seem to enjoy what they do.

On the other hand, the employees at one of the major carriers approached their tasks like a dour 1950s era Soviet Union lunchroom matron would.

I’m not asking for the crew to wear clown suits, but a simple smile and a dash of élan would go a long way to knocking down the depression.

Another aspect, which I didn’t realize after being out of airplanes for so long, is the prevalence of Wi-Fi aboard now. With virtually everyone staring into a screen inches away from their face for several hours, there’s no sense of community aboard.

Wi-Fi, it appears, is more important than the engines.

The Wi-Fi went out halfway through one of my flights, and I thought there would be a mutiny as the frantic crew worked to restore it so my fellow travelers could get back to watching “Dancing with the Stars” and not pay attention to others.

I quickly surmised that a crash would be less disturbing to them than additional Wi-Fi loss.

My other surprise was to find a highly shrunken seat. I hardly have a wide backside, but found myself using every inch of the thin cushion to house it. I later read that the airline had reconfigured its aircraft to shrink the seats and legspace – as well as crank up the ticket prices.

They did offer more space for an additional fee and even if there was an empty seat, you weren’t free to take it unless you ponied up the cash.

I stood for most of the flight with a couple of other tall guys and enjoyed that more, which made me question why we even need seats. If it’s a gloomy subway car, we might as well just stand for the whole trip, hanging onto strap handles.

Other than private jets, I doubt the liveliness of airplane travel will ever come back. For those who flew in the golden age of air travel, it was a time to look forward to: passengers dressed up, seats were plush and comfortable and there were even souvenir toiletries.

I got a taste of the tail end of that time and still remember as a kid getting a silver wings lapel pin, served a hot meal with real plates and silverware (no extra charge, either), and visiting the plane’s cockpit and chatting with the captain. I even had one of those famous blue-and-white Pan Am flight bags and once flew on a new 747 that sported several lounges and sofa seating.

Everyone seemed to be in a better mood about the whole experience.

Now, while the operation does usually run with clocklike precision, its somberness – along with extra fees from everything from a single suitcase to a simple snack – is disheartening.

We took Uber back and forth from the house to the airport, and both rides, ironically, were far more enjoyable than the air travel.

So, maybe along with placing rivets and wiring into their products, the employees of Spirit could follow the definition of their company’s name and figure out a way to inject a little bit of cheer into the next fuselage that would rub off on the crew and passengers.

It sure wouldn’t hurt.

Original article can be found here ➤

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