I love flying. Always have. Ever since my first flight as a kid, there was just something magical about getting into a giant metal bird and taking to the sky. I say was because it seems like, especially over the last decade or so, we have gone out of our way to make flying as miserable an experience as possible.
The “golden age” of air travel is long behind us and flying is now just a completely miserable experience. And it pains me to say that because I used to love flying. I loved airports, watching planes, feeling the potential of all the places you could go. But now, it is just an objectively awful experience.
Surly “security” theater forcing us to adhere to arbitrary ever-changing rules (that you can totally get out of if you just pay enough money).
Weird, always-changing and sometimes privacy invasive identification requirements.
Rapidly increasing nickel-and-dime fees for every single little thing. Want to check a bag? That’ll be $30. Want to pick a seat? We’ll charge you for that, too. Want wifi that barely works? Fork over $15. Fees, fees, fees. Charging you for everything.
Poor quality food. Airline food has never been great, but once you could count on at least some food on any flight over a few hours. No more. If it is even offered at all, it’s basically snack quality and it’s expensive. And you can’t even bring your own food past security.
People packing every possession they own into a “carry-on” bag trying to avoid the above fees. Low-fare carriers have wised up to this and are now charging even more to people for carry-ons.
Ever shinking seats that force you into uncomfortable contortions for the duration of your trip. Ten years ago I could open a 15 inch laptop in coach. These days I can barely get my MacBook Air open without resting it on my chest.
“Air rage” incidents are on the rise. This is probably related to the rapidly decreasing personal space and increasing cost and frustrastion associated with air travel.
Almost nonexistent communication from the airlines. Flight cancelled? Sucks to be you, maybe you’ll find out on the monitor. Good luck finding someone to rebook you.
I could keep going, but you get the idea. And yet, we just accept this, because “you have to fly.” Sounds an awful lot like learned helplessness to me:
If this industry was forced to compete on merits alone, it would have gone by the wayside a long time ago. Air travel has become wildly unpleasant because we tolerate it and accept it, and because we view the journey as being separate from the destination, rather than being an integral part of the whole experience. We want to get where we need to go, and if that means being stupidly miserable for a few hours, well, that’s just the price.
But what if it wasn’t?
Take the Train
This last week my wife and I decided to go to New Orleans. But rather than make our usual flight reservations (which would have been about $600 for the pair of us) or plan a drive of about 8 hours (along with costs associated with fuel, parking, etc) we decided to do something entirely different: we took the train.
Yes, the train. They still exist! We hopped on the Amtrak Crescent from Birmingham to New Orleans. And I just cannot say enough positive things about what a great experience this was.
First of all, start with the obvious: the cost. It was $150 roundtrip for my wife and I to go from Birmingham to New Orleans. Airfare was around $600, and I would have paid $150 in parking alone if we had driven.
Moreover, the time difference between any of these options was not all that different. The train was scheduled at seven hours, about the same as driving time without stops. And air travel would have been about the same once you factor in getting to the airport early, two flights with a layover in Atlanta, and getting from the airport to downtown.
There’s also no need to show up super early with the train. As long as you’re there 5 minutes before departure, you’re getting on the train. There’s no security theater, no 3oz liquids in bags, no porno-scanners or surly poorly trained “security” “agents.” No showing IDs or worrying if they IDs you have are acceptable. Just walk up, get on the train and have a seat.