An Uncomfortable Bus
My mother, God bless her, will turn ninety-four later this month. Naturally, I will travel to Tucson to help her celebrate her birthday. The trip won’t be enjoyable, since I’ll have to fly.
Thirty years ago, flying was—if not a pleasure—at least a fairly comfortable experience. The seats were well-upholstered and fairly wide, and meals were served on real plates with actual cutlery, even in coach. The stews were around to help out most of the time, and in many cases we all got to watch a fairly new movie on our way.
Not so much, these days. Now I can look forward to a plane packed to the gunnels with narrow, uncomfortable seats. These seats will be jammed together so tightly that if the person in front of me decides to recline, my tray will be shoved somewhere near my upper chest. There will be no food served unless I pay a breath-taking fee for it, and what comes will be in a plastic wrapper. If I want to drown out the cacophony around me, I need to have brought my own wi-fi device with me, so I can view what’s offered on its little screen. The stews come around, but not that often. Overall, it’s kind of like being on a not-too-clean Mexican bus—except that I can’t stop it and get off if the experience gets too bad.
You may tell me everything has gotten more expensive, and that the airlines have had to find ways to be more efficient and save some money. I’d agree with you, if the prices I pay for a seat now were anywhere near what I used to pay. They’re not. They’re far higher. Sure, the price of jet fuel has gone up, but so has the efficiency of the newer fan-jet engines. Everything considered, we’re talking about a business that has cut customer service to the bone, and set prices as high as they can.
Europeans glide around their union in comfortable trains, for much less money. Still, western Europe is smaller than the U.S., and our passenger trains—what’s left of them—are slower and not as well maintained. We have to fly, drive, or take the bus to get to most of the places we have to go. Even travel down the northeast, where trains still make some sense, is no picnic these days. It’s not that cheap, either.
The crowds on tightly-packed airliners today are on the verge of becoming unsafe. The airlines allow mothers to hold their youngest children in their arms or on their laps, with the full knowledge that a crash will kill the child. Even though we are a nation suffering from obesity, the seats become more narrow every year.
The time seems right for passengers to stand up for their rights, before we get packed into these aircraft like sardines. Or, you could be a coward like me, save up your airmiles and sit up front in first. That’s not worth the money either, but at least there’s a little room.