May 31, 2008

Fly the Friendly Skies, You Lowly Maggot.

(Via Insty, who keeps hitting my buttons with the topic of air travel suckage.)

A "New" Form of Transportation?

The only good I can imagine coming out of the slump in air travel is the possibility of high-speed rail (or even normal rail) taking over for some short flights: along the West Coast, for example, where passengers now share pokey trains with freight, and with town-to-town passengers. We can drive between Californian coastal cities, for example, much more quickly than we can get there by train.

And it would be excellent to have rail service between L.A. and Las Vegas / SF and Las Vegas—but, again: it would have to be nearly competitive with driving. If it were at least semi-equivalent to the drive (rather than nearly double the drive time), it would be especially attractive: people who want to start their drinking early would probably prefer to take a train—as would those who like to stay downtown, or on the Strip, and not bother with a car during their stay. (There are cabs in Las Vegas . . . and monorails! Just like Anaheim, but without having to cope with people who are dressed up like Mickey Mouse. In fact, Vegas is widely regarded as an amusement park for grownups . . . and grownups tend to prefer booze to cotton candy. Maybe they shouldn't, but they do.)

Making rail transportation attractive (in the West especially) would probably improve the U.S. public safety profile with respect to terrorism, since trains can't be made into flying bombs. One cannot force them off the tracks and into public facilities, government buildings, and national monuments. Can't be done, outside of action movies.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, though, the U.S. is too big a country to rely on rail. We need an air-travel renaissance so we can stop losing billions of dollars a year (see the first link in this entry).

But How Did We Get Into this High-Altitude Kettle of Fish? And What Can the Average Person Do To Make Flying Suck Less?

The problem with flying lately is the apparent unholy alliance between the TSA and some airlines, which use the need for "safety" as another excuse to essentially screw the customer. Although I do tend to shop by price, if there were an airline that made flying suck less, I'd pay more for a consistently less-bad (or even kind-of-good) experience. This is the danger and the opportunity presented by Virgin America, which I've never flown—but which is clearly going for the "fed up with flying" market. As is the express-security Flyclear service, which might be promising, but hasn't yet hit La La Land. (The blogger "Sack of Seattle," however, has high hopes for Flyclear.)

Personally, I liked the warm chocolate-chip cookies that Midwest Airlines was handing out for a while, because at least it indicated an effort to please the customer. (Have they stopped doing that? I thought I heard that they had: unfortunately, I don't have a lot of access to Midwest, since that means Going to the East Coast, which I generally only do once a year, and it's only if I luck out on the second "leg" of the journey after connecting to MW in Kansas City or wherever.)

Eric Classic points out that Southwest Airlines sucks less than most of the other airlines, whereas U.S. Air and American Airlines suck more.

Remember that Southwest isn't part of most Expedia/Hotwire/Priceline-type online booking services; neither is Continental, which also has great fares. One has to check out the "indies," in addition to seeing what the usual web sites can do for one. I believe Virgin America also has to be checked separately, apart from the Web Consortia—though I'm not positive about that.

I've had reasonably good success with Continental, provided that I know my plans a good 4-6 weeks in advance—preferably more. Their service is decent, but their fares spike when it's close to trip time.

But Surely Flying Isn't That Bad.

Vanderleun rather gloomily suggests that air travel suckage will simply get worse over time:

Food goes, blankets go, seats get jammed in, pillows vanish, oxygen is reduced, peanuts change into tasteless "freeze-baked crunchy things with salt" which come two to a pack and you only get one. Don't even get me started on Homeland Security which is just biding its time until you will be required to fly naked after an anal probe by uniformed dwarf.

I know I am far from alone when I say that after years of flying many times a year, often on a whim, I am now at the point where only the most powerful forces in life -- love and death -- can get me on a plane.

It is not that the whole experience is uncomfortable, which it is, but that the process has become -- through a Satanic collusion between the airlines and government -- utterly dehumanizing. Bean-counters and bureaucrats have combined to create the one central experience of American life in which you are reduced to a hunk of meat.

The situation for consumers is really dire. For example, I am a tiny woman. I shudder at how scrunched in I am in coach—at least with the Prozac, I'm no longer experiencing panic attacks, but I still feel like a sardine. And yet my spouse is more than a foot taller than I am, and he is still folded into the same space. We have taken to booking aisle seats across from each other, so I don't feel too hemmed in (and so I can get up to pee without crawling over people), and so A the H can stick his legs into the aisle. Of course, last time we flew it was a short flight in a small plane, and a warning was broadcast about keeping feet, knees, elbows, and shoulders out of the aisle so the beverage cart could go by. Good times for me; better times for my husband.

Flying has become a truly miserable undertaking, except for the rich, who can afford British Air and its ilk—or at least spring for first class on a normal plane. (And, of course, for the super-rich, who simply charter planes and lecture the rest of us about how we should be driving Priuses for environmental reasons.)

Back when we had money, A the H once flew business class to Southeast Asia, and swore he'd never go back to coach again. But we're very broke once more, so he flew coach to Chicago for a marathon this past summer—and came back the same way. (Keep in mind that it takes him days to gear up for a marathon, and nearly a week to recover therefrom: getting folded up for five or six hours before and after running over 26 miles is not a great idea.)

What Is To Be Done?

The point (and, as Ellen Degeneres would say, I do have one) is that the American flying industry is at a crisis point. Quality had fallen to a certain level prior to 9/11 in the name of cutting costs; just at the point when the market might have corrected that, eleven Islamofascists took out the World Trade Center—and made an attempt on the Capitol Building and the White House on the same day (once of which ended up in the side of the more-distinctive Pentagon building, and one of which ended up on a field in Pennsylvania).

After that, the airline industry hid behind the skirts of the FAA/TSA/Homeland Security, and vice versa. The entire industry began to act like a branch of the Federal government, complete with the "fuck you" undertone one sees in the worst Post Offices, the worst public schools, and the worst (that is, the most publicly subsidized) healthcare providers.

So the entire American approach to air travel must change, or wither / downsize considerably (bringing down with it the entire travel industry, and any number of tourist towns, tourist-dependent cities, and "resort communities" / vacation destinations).

I know Reynolds is always urging the rich to fly commercial, and I think that would change things a lot: fewer chartered planes would mean that the quality of flying would have to improve for those well-off folks who are flying with the hoi polloi. This is one of those situations in which doing the right thing for the environment would also mean doing the right thing for the economy. How many choices like that do we get to make? (At least the non-famous rich should try this; I do get that it's tougher for people in entertainment. I really do.)

Irrespective, there is a choice ahead for the airline industry. I hope it chooses wisely, and well. And I hope the Feds can back off enough to let it make the right decisions.

Or we are all going to be driving just about anywhere we need to go on the continental U.S.

In the meantime, figure out which airlines treat you the best, and stay loyal to them, whenever feasible. Figure out which airports have the stupidest, slowest, and surliest security staffers, and avoid them--sending letters to them to make sure they know why you're doing it. If you have particularly egregious experience with a particular airline--send a note regretfully stating that you won't be using them any more, and then blog about (in a way that will make it findable to the average curious person, such as using the phrase "XXXX Airline Sucks").

Try not the patronize the worst offenders--both in terms of airports, and in terms of airlines. They need to get the message.

UPDATE: Apparently, alliances aren't the answer, since for two airlines to communicate about price requires antitrust immunity. Heaven forfend that anyone do well in a dying industry.

One wants to weep.

UPDATE 2: There's an interesting little thread on flying here, which begins with Ed Morrissey rather uncharacteristically blaming the victim. The comments are very illuminating and instructive, though.

Posted by Attila Girl at May 31, 2008 12:38 AM | TrackBack

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic "Let the issues be the issue.

About Joy W. McCann: I've been interviewed for Le Monde and mentioned on Fox News. I once did a segment for CNN on "Women and Guns," and this blog is periodically featured on the New York Times' blog list. My writing here has been quoted in California Lawyer. I've appeared on The Glenn and Helen Show. Oh—and Tammy Bruce once bought me breakfast.
My writing has appeared in
The Noise, Handguns, Sports Afield, The American Spectator, and (it's a long story) L.A. Parent. This is my main blog, though I'm also an alumnus of Dean's World, and I help out on the weekends at Right Wing News.
My political philosophy is quite simple: I'm a classical liberal. In our Orwellian times, that makes me a conservative, though one of a decidedly libertarian bent.

8843.jpg An American Carol rawks!
Main AAC site (Warning: sound-enabled;
trailer starts automatically.)

Buy Blogads from the
Network here.

This is one of the last pix
we took before we left
the house in La Caņada.
I think it's very flattering
to Bathsheba the .357.

"The women of this country learned long ago,
those without swords can still die upon them.
I fear neither death nor pain." —Eowyn, Tolkien's
Lord of the Rings

KhawHeadShot.jpg Free Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani!
See Jane Novak's "Yemeni Watch" blog,
Armies of Liberation.
Free journalists and dissident bloggers, worldwide!

Some of My Homegirls— ERROR: is currently inaccessible

My Wish List

• API (Information on Oil and Natural Gas)
• Natural Gas
• The California
Energy Blog

• The Alternative Energy Blog
(Solar, Wind, Geothermal, etc.)
• The Energy Revolution Blog
• Gas 2.0 Blog
• Popular Mechanics'
"Drive Green"

• Libertas
(now on hiatus, but they'll be back!) • Pajiba

Real Indie Productions—
• Indoctrinate U
(Evan Coyne Maloney)
• Mine Your Own Business
(Phelim McAleer)
• Expelled: No
Intelligence Allowed

(Ben Stein, Logan Craft,
Walt Ruloff, and John

Real Indie Production
and Distibution

• Moving Picture Institute


• First Installment: The Basic Story
• Hymers' History of Violence

• How Fun Is It To
Be Recruited Into Hymer's
Offbeat Church? Not Very.
• How I Lost My Virginity


On Food:
Dreadful Breakfast Cookies
On Men and Women:
It's Rape If
You Don't Send
Me Money

Women Talk Too Much;
I'll Date Dolphins

Men Are Kinky

Hot Cars,
Hot Girls

On Animation:
—the Commentary

On Religion:
Athiests and
Christians Talking
To Each Other

"Good grammar, and better gin."
—CalTech Girl
"I enjoy Little Miss Attila's essays."
—Venomous Kate
"Joy is good at catching flies with honey."
—Beth C
"Your position is ludicrous, and worthy of ridicule."
—Ace of Spades
—Suburban Blight


Teh Funny—
• Dave Burge
Interesting News Items

Civics Lessons—
Taranto on How a Bill Becomes Law

Editorial Resources—
• Better Editor
• Web on the Web
• Me me me me me! (miss.attila --AT-- gmail --dot-- com)
Cigar Jack

David Linden/
The Accidental Mind

Cognitive Daily

Rive Gauche—
Hip Nerd's Blog
K's Quest
Mr. Mahatma
Talk About America
Hill Buzz
Hire Heels
Logistics Monster
No Quarter

Food & Booze—
Just One Plate (L.A.)
Food Goat
A Full Belly
Salt Shaker
Serious Eats

Things You Should Do
(In the West)

Just One Plate (L.A.)

• Jalopnik
The Truth About Cars

SoCal News—
Foothill Cities

Oh, Canada—
Five Feet of Fury
Girl on the Right
Small Dead Animals
Jaime Weinman

Mary McCann,
The Bone Mama

(formerly in Phoenix, AZ;
now in Seattle, WA;
eclectic music)

Mike Church,
King Dude

(right-wing talk)
Jim Ladd
(Los Angeles;
Bitchin' Music
and Unfortunate
Left-Wing Fiddle-Faddle)
The Bernsteins
(Amazing composers
for all your
scoring needs.
Heh. I said,
"scoring needs.")

Iran, from an Islamic Point of View
and written in beautiful English—

Blogging Away Debt
Debt Kid
Debtors Anonymous
World Services

The Tightwad Gazette

Gentleman Pornographer

More o' Dat
Pop Culture—

Danny Barer
(Animation News) • Something Old,
Nothing New

(And yet more
Animation News)
Sam Plenty
(Cool New
Animation Site!)
The Bernsteins
(Wait. Did I mention
the Bernsteins
already? They're

Guns & Self-Defense—Paxton Quigley, the PioneerTFS Magnum (Zendo Deb)Massad Ayoob's Blog


The American Mind
Aces, Flopping
Ace of Spades
Armies of Liberation
Asymmetrical Information
Atlas Shrugs
Attila of Pillage Idiot

Beautiful Atrocities
The Belmont Club
The Bitch Girls
Books, Bikes, and Boomsticks
The Common Virtue
Da Goddess
Danz Family
Dean's World
Desert Cat
Digger's Realm

Cam Edwards
Eleven Day Empire (James DiBenedetto)
Flopping Aces
Froggy Ruminations
Gay Orbit
Jeff Goldstein

Mary Katherine Ham
At the D.C. Examiner
Hugh Hewitt
Hi. I'm Black.
Iberian Notes
The Irish Lass
In DC Journal
Infinite Monkeys
Intel Dump

Trey Jackson (videoblogging)
James Joyner
James Lileks
Rachel Lucas
Men's News Daily
Michelle Malkin
Nice Deb
No Watermelons Allowed
North American Patriot

On Tap
On the Fritz
On the Third Hand
Outside the Beltway

Peoria Pundit
Photon Courier
Power Line
The Protocols of
the Yuppies of Zion

Protein Wisdom

The Queen of All Evil
Questions and Observations
Right Wing News

Donald Sensing
Rusty Shackleford
The Shape of Days

Sharp as a Marble
Sheila A-Stray
Laurence Simon

Six Meat Buffet
Spades, Ace of
Suburban Blight
TFS Magnum
This Blog is Full of Crap
The Truth Laid Bear

Venomous Kate
The Volokh Conspiracy

Where is Raed?
Write Enough
You Big Mouth, You!


Support our troops; read the Milblogs!

Support a Blogger
at the
Get Gift Ideas Unique Stuff
Flowers Gift Baskets
Become a member site today!