Thanks to a man who packed a laptop with explosives and used it to blow a hole in the side of his plane, US authorities have become even more nervous about flight risks than they’ve ever been. A recent ban on laptops and tablets in the cabin on flights from certain Muslim-dominated countries may soon lead to similar action on European flights to the US. And if that happens, it’s only a matter of time before no one on a foreign flight to the US will be able to carry on electronics. And eventually, they might even be blocked on domestic flights.
This is taking paranoia to an extreme, to be sure… but when terrorists are putting makeshift bombs in anything imaginable, including their clothing, the paranoia is spreading. How long will it take before all travelers in the US will be surrendering their clothing at the airport and donning, essentially, prison uniforms for the flight? Will we be forbidden to work on any electronic devices, told to carry cash if we want in-flight food or beverages, and be under surveillance while in the lavatory? Will schedules be scrambled to confuse terrorists? Will flight times and routes change at random? Will we have to send our luggage ahead via UPS?
My issues with the airlines are more about the personal things: Taking 7 hours, from doorstep to doorstep, to take a 1-2-hour flight. The cattle-car lines, to check in, to clear security, to get on your plane. The lack of legroom and elbow-room (I’m over 6 foot, and the major airlines are NOT designed for the likes of me). The over-priced snacks and drinks. The wifi that cuts out as soon as you take off. The sorry excuses for in-flight entertainment. And as ticket prices go up and up, all of those things are only getting worse.
So, fine: Flying is getting crazy, paranoid and annoying as well as being expensive. Maybe we should be taking the hint: We need to make other plans. Like… not flying.
In a world of connectivity, we have more options for long-distance meeting, telecommuting and VR conferencing than ever before. We’re on the cusp of being able to do it in 3-D. Simply put, we really don’t need to be in Houston to attend that conference. We don’t need to go to Salt Lake City to deliver a contract, iron out details, and return signed copies to the boss. Hell, most of us don’t even need to leave our house to do our desk jobs. Business flying is rapidly becoming an unneeded, overpriced, unreliable luxury. Businesses should be first to realize this, and severely curtail flying as a clear waste of business time.
Outside of business, flying the regular airlines is a clear experience of being turned into cattle. Passengers have no control over the process of flying: Airlines tell you in no uncertain terms how much your flight will cost, and deny you refunds if plans change; they tell you when to board, where to sit or not sit, and if they see fit, they can tell you to get off the plane (so someone with more money can take your place at the last minute). The whole process takes so much time that you can drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the same time it would take you to fly there.
So why not drive? Well, the airlines like to brag that air travel is statistically the safest way to get from place to place. But those statistics are changing rapidly, between unseemly activities on the planes, to the growing safety of automobiles… soon to grow even faster, thanks to self-driving cars that are even safer. And as hybrids become electrics, the cost of long-distance driving is falling rapidly. If you think about flying, and say to yourself: “I’m not in that much of a rush,” then driving may just be for you. Sure, there’s still the issue of traffic in many city areas; but traveling at non-rush-roar periods, or on less-traveled roads, can still be very pleasant. And if the family’s along, it’s still one of the best ways to see the country as you travel (not to mention being able to pull over when you want).
And there are further alternatives. We still have bus and train lines that criss-cross the US. Both of these alternatives have seen hard times of late, and the US has been downright embarrassed by the improvements in rail lines in other countries. But there have been constant efforts to improve long-distance buses and trains for more comfort, efficiency, connectivity and reliability, even in the US, and hopefully more improvements will come. America’s Amtrak train line offers a trip the most similar to flight, but with more comfortable seating, and for significantly less money… as long as you can slow down and take a little longer to get where you want to go.
On my last trip to Orlando, I drove instead of flying, and even with traffic, with rain and with the extra time… I was much happier doing it; I saved myself a ton of money and aggravation. Maybe my next trip down will be on a train. Or maybe my next trip to New York, or Nashville, or Raleigh, will be on a Greyhound bus. Bottom line is, in the US, it’s worth considering alternatives to pricey, annoying, unreliable cattle-car airlines.