Can air travel get any worse?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 20:00

One thing I like about human beings is that we’re mostly optimists who believe things will get better. But when it comes to air travel, I don’t think so.

In a never-ending quest to cut costs, commercial airlines will continue to do what they have to do to improve their bottom line. If that means stacking more passengers into the same amount of space, I believe they’ll do it.

From sardines to anchovies: There are unconfirmed reports that Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who allegedly have seen a proposal.

With a typical configuration, the Airbus 380 will accommodate about 500 passengers. But with standing-room-only seats, the same plane could conceivably fit in 853 passengers, the maximum it would be permitted to carry.

The harnesses could be adjusted to take weight off passengers’ feet. They might take some getting used to, in that if you suspended yourself off the airplane deck, during turbulence you would crash against the sides of your metal cage like a bell gong.

Didn’t I mention the metal cage? For security, each passenger would be locked within a metal cage for the duration of the flight. The only time they would be allowed to leave the cage is for bathroom visits. No food or beverages would be served on flights to minimize passenger bathroom breaks. In fact, airlines would recommend that passengers do not eat or drink for six hours prior to departure. I’m not sure how this would be enforced; however, unless they implemented some kind of scan to measure passenger’s stomach contents.

Breathing while high above the earth is not a right. It’s a privilege. Pressurizing a cabin over long distances is expensive. To reduce this cost, airlines could conceivably sell individual oxygen canisters to passengers: “Would you prefer the 2.5 litter per minute or the 3.2?” The flight attendant would ask.

Passengers go as freight: To eliminate security threats and human comfort issues associated with keeping passengers locked up in airplanes that sit on the airport ramp for 7-1/2 hours, such as a recent Jet Blue flight in Connecticut, passengers could be handled as freight. At security check-in they would be anesthetized into unconsciousness; sent through security scanners and then conveyor-belted to the aircraft along with baggage and other cargo.

With baggage and passengers arriving in the same area, Airport terminal operations would be much more efficient.

“Now where is your father? He was supposed to be on Flight 504.”

“Look, mommy. Daddy’s going around on Carousel 4!”

Unconscious passengers going around and around on carousels, draped over luggage, would become a common sight. In addition to an unclaimed baggage department, each airline would need an unclaimed passenger office.

First Class passengers, on the other hand, will continue to receive the amenities to which they have become accustomed, such as gourmet meals, imported wine, chocolate chip cookies and capacious, fully reclined seats. And I’m sure there will be some new amenities, such as beauty salons, massage stations, hot tubs and live entertainment.

Point A to Point B: There are definitely other modes of travel, however, like the bicycle. A guy named Greg Bleakney pedaled from Alaska to Argentina, some 19,000 miles, in two years. Walking is another option. At 1.5 miles per hour, you could make it to from Anchorage to Seattle via the Alcan in about 60 days if you knocked off about 25 miles per day. A horse would certainly speed up that journey.

But I suspect we’ll keep using air travel, no matter how tightly they pack us in, seated or standing, or whether we go First Class or freight.

We’ll probably look forward to the flight attendant coming by to ask, “would you like a new oxygen cylinder?”

It’s the little things that count.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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