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Then and Now. The Golden Age of Flying Re-Thought.

May 28, 2017

Is Air Travel Really As Bad As Everybody Claims? Here Are Some Reasons Why Not.

AN OP-ED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES BY PATRICK SMITH

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Some notes on this story:

This is the sixth op-ed that I’ve had published in the Times, and I’m extremely grateful for their interest. I’m a little disappointed, though, at the headline they chose for this one. It’s misleading. The piece isn’t about flying in the old days; it’s about flying today. I’m making a case that the golden age of air travel is in many ways happening right now, not in some mythologized past.

As expected, the hate mail has been pouring in. Much of it is emotional and fails to acknowledge the points I’m making. Here’s a typical example, sent anonymously…

We need to look at this objectively. Is flying cheaper than it used to be, yes or no? Is it safer, yes or no? Is it faster and, in a surprising number of ways, more comfortable and convenient? The answer in each case is yes. That’s not me talking; it’s simply the facts.

That doesn’t mean flying is a wonderful experience. However, it does show that it’s not nearly as terrible as conventional wisdom holds — for reasons that are very seldom acknowledged. Give the story a read and decide for yourself.

A colleague and I were talking the other day, and we both agreed that so much of what people hate about flying isn’t really airline-related, per se, but rather infrastructural. The decrepit state of our airports, for example, and our outdated air traffic control system, contribute significantly to delays and congestion. Then you’ve got TSA. Our security checkpoints are badly overcrowded and poorly designed. Customs and immigration procedures, too, are flyer-unfriendly. These are bureaucratic and government-funding issues more than anything else. Fix them, and I estimate that 75 percent of passengers’ frustrations would disappear.

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