Friday, July 20, 2012

Boy, are my arms tired

Also my knees, back, neck and eyes. Mrs. Blog and I just returned from our annual sojourn to the United States of Awesome and, really, there is much to write about. We saw dear friends, celebrated family occasions and bought fine items in America that were, ironically, made not far from Hong Kong.

Those things were excellent and deserve not just more ink, but photos. I'll see if I can get on that.

The trip also involved a lot of time in airplanes. And that was not excellent. Twice during our three weeks I got bruises around my knees from the lack of legroom. Once we were stuck in the middle of a row of five seats for 10 hours because a certain airline's Web site failed when we booked tickets--I won't name names, but it starts with an "a" and ends with a "merican."

Our one-hour flight from Chicago to Kansas City was delayed by more than three hours. Our slightly longer flight from Kansas City to Denver was delayed by an hour because of a mechanical breakdown, and United happily gave away our seats on our connecting flight, even though we arrived at the gate 10 minutes before it was scheduled to leave. At no point were Mrs. Blog and I treated as anything more than potential butts in seats.

And so on. As a famous aviator once said, the list is long and distinguished.

This is disappointing to me for many reasons. It obviously saps a little of the fun out of a vacation when you know you're going to be subjected to that kind of treatment every week or so. Then there is the actual physical discomfort, which, although it's not waterboarding, can definitely seem torturous if you've been awake and traveling for 20 hours, yet can't sleep because someone decided to sew a sharp metal bar into the seat pocket in front of you.

But for me, the worst part is it dims my love of air travel. I am an airplane dork, as you know, gentle and clever Readers of The Blog. I always want a window seat so I can watch the big metal bird fly. I enjoy listening to the air-ground radio chatter when it is available as an audio channel on the plane. I love flying. But these days, it's getting harder and harder to love.

Maybe the Boeing 787, billed as the "Dreamliner" and allegedly built with both seating capacity AND passenger comfort in mind, will turn things around. The cynic in me is doubtful, but hey, the 777 is the best long-haul ride I have experienced, so who knows. Or maybe airlines could charge more per seat while putting fewer seats in their planes, allowing market inelasticity--thanks, lack of U.S. high-speed transit options!--to maintain their profit margins.

In the end, though, the biggest difference-maker might be customer service.

I'm not asking anyone to pin pilot's wings on me and show me around the cockpit. But acting like air travel was special, let alone providing cheerful flight attendants and good food, would go a long way toward helping me once again enjoy not just the destination, but the journey.

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