Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Only Way to Travel

Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon and welcome to Post number 74 headed to Nostalgia and Thoughtfulness. Emergency exits are located in your task bar and in the big red "x" in the upper right hand corner of your window. We ask that you kindly take your seats and make sure that Facebook is safely stowed in another tab or under the seat in front of you. All electronic devices must be turned off at this time, except for the computer or mobile device you are using to read this entry. Thank you, and enjoy the flight.

A century ago, everyday people such as you or I would never dream of sitting in giant metal flying machines, being hurled across the country at thousands of miles per hour. One hundred years ago, the words "airport" and "airline" were almost completely unheard of. In 1910 we could never in a million years have fathomed a situation as unpleasant as the Steven Slater JetBlue incident.

At the dawn of the last century, just before the first world war, the only ways to travel were by train or boat. Neither cars nor planes were considered objects for extended travel. In fact, planes were still just odd scary contraptions that were used in spectacles and air shows. Comfort and safety were unheard of in these early flying machines. It was not until the Great War broke out that planes were seen as viable tools of war and were taken seriously. The twenties saw the beginnings of Air Mail and Air Travel, though passengers came second to the mail cargo. Finally, the Ford Motor Company bought out an aircraft manufacturer in 1925 and began producing 12-passenger "Ford Trimotors", and just like that airline travel was born.

Until the end of World War II, airline travel was successful, but not in any huge scale. Air travel was still relatively dangerous and expensive, so it was reserved only for a select few. The late forties through the seventies were the golden age of Air Travel. This is the same life-span that the Flight Stewardess lived as a sex symbol:

Note the glasses and how the food cart actually fit down the aisle without killing anyone.

This was also the Golden Age of Legroom and Comfort:

Here's another, much longer clip you can skim through. It's another glimpse into a very different time. I really got a kick out of seeing the "modern" communications technology they kept touting throughout the first half of the film:

Not by coincidence, the rise of the airplane saw the end of the golden age of ocean liners. Ships became too slow for Jet age travelers, so more and more they opted for a small sacrifice in comfort for a huge boost in speed. As a result ocean liners were turned mostly into a vacation industry now that the transatlantic crossing could be achieved in a few hours instead of a few days. More on this later. It was also around this time that trains and buses began to suffer huge losses because everyone was taking planes. Naturally it follows that inter-city bus lines began shutting down and the train system was simplified to carry mostly freight. Now, I have nothing against air travel in principle, but pretty soon the airplane literally became the only way to travel... As demand for air travel increased, it killed other modes of transportation, which in turn created more demand for air travel - it had become a vicious cycle which continues to this day.

At the peak of the Jet Age was the Boeing 747 - the Jumbo Jet. These would have been quite a site to behold. Even the steerage accommodations seem more comfortable:

Ironically, this also marked the end of the good old days. The American deregulation of airlines starting in 1978 was what eventually created the modern airline experience. Once economic downturn hit in the 80s, most of the major airlines were bought out by large conglomerate corporations just as a slew of small airlines began emerging thanks to the deregulation. The newer companies couldn't compete with the big money, and were mostly stamped out. More people were flying, and the parent companies wanted to increase their profits, so they had designers fit more and more seats into their planes, including the 747 which is still used today.

So, air travel was getting pretty cramped, no big deal right? Companies have to make a profit off their investments, don't they? It's part of the deal, isn't it? Just wait. There's more.

After the attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001, security in airports and on aircrafts increased dramatically. Which is completely understandable, considering the circumstances. However, when you have to wait in line for half an hour, take off half your clothing, and throw away half of the contents of your carry-on, the least you could possibly expect from the airline is to be treated like a human being. Now, though, in the wake of the 2008 Economic Collapse, airlines have cut the most basic of services.

My grandmother used her miles to upgrade to First Class on a flight between Bogota, Colombia and Washington, DC. They had no blankets, no pillows, not even a newspaper... in first class!!! Have you noticed that we are no longer "passengers", but are instead "customers"? Listen to the gate attendants next time you're waiting for your flight. They will call you "customers". This is the exact problem with air travel today. Instead of passengers to be treated with respect and dignity, we are customers to given the run-around on an automated voice system when we try to call them.

This customer vs. passenger issue stems from a mindset we were put into in the 1980s - where low prices supersede good value. As long as the price is low, the true value of the item is meaningless. This is the mindset that allows airlines to manipulate us. We think that spending more money for a better product is bad, so we're willing to sit through hell just to get where we have to be. That's how companies make money billions of dollars off of us. They produce to the cheapest possible product to sell at a moderately discounted price and remind us that paying less for something is more important than getting what you pay for. Now, I'm not saying you should go out and splurge on a thousand-dollar ticket for a fully reclining cocoon-seat, but airlines can't make these changes for free. If we want better service we'll have to be willing to pay for it. Luckily, interest seems to be turning toward a new standard of comfort. Check out these commercials for the 2011 Toyta Avalon:

Companies are using these nostalgic memories as a standard for excellence - as they should! The standards of the time were much higher. People believed that comfort and service were just as important as convenience and cost. Today convenience and cost dominate the human psyche, so we have people like Steven Slater and Bonquiqui:

Which of these ladies would you rather have as a flight attendant?

It's kind of strange to think about, but wouldn't you agree that cars are generally more comfortable than airplanes? I recently drove from DC to New Orleans and I did not get the least bit tired of sitting in my Jetta for the two-day journey, whereas two hours on any plane is more than enough to keep your neck in a crick.

Anyway, I hope those commercials are a sign that things are changing. Maybe people are starting to understand that everything shouldn't be about the price. More and more airlines are including options like "Economy Plus" on United Airlines which features more legroom. Basically, the more people buy the slightly more expensive seats, the more legroom people will have in general. You can't expect big companies to do these things themselves. These companies will only make decisions based on bankroll. So, logically, if we as travelers show a demand for better seating and service, and show that we're willing to pay a little more for it, we'll get what we want. The only other answer would be to threaten their bottom line, which is basically impossible since other options are now so limited. If you want to travel you simply can't boycott these airlines... What are you going to do? Take a boat?

Perhaps instead of blaming Slater for his actions directly (though he is responsible), JetBlue and the entire Air Travel community should look inwardly and see that Slater's outburst has its roots in the problems created by the airlines and their parent companies. Perhaps instead of seeking to increase dividends, companies should work to enhance the travel experience. At the same time, if we expect these changes to occur, we must look inwardly and change our mindset to be prepared to pay for what we ask for. After all, the only language these companies speak is money.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived at the end of this post. We hope that your journey was to your liking and that the next time you need some reading material you'll keep us in mind. Please use caution when clicking the links to older posts in the sidebars, as contents may shift your interests and prevent you from leaving this website. Once again, thank you for flying with us.

Nostalgically Yours

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like reading some posts on old-fashioned travel on David Toms' blog Savoir Faire. Just don't forget to tell him who sent you!

1 comment:

  1. This was such a brilliant post! I love travel in the golden era! Whether by liner or plane.

    See my post on

    Plus a few others sprinled through my blog


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