June 29, 2009

Clipping Our Wings

These past few weeks, I've been flying more than usual on a mix of business and pleasure and have been forcibly reminded that air-travel has really had all the romance squeezed out of it.

Whether checking in online or queuing at a desk, stripping off and pleading innocence at security (yes, I packed my own bag and no, I haven't sneaked a larger-than-permitted container of shampoo into my carry-on), shuffling towards boarding or being corralled in a holding area, there's no end to the indignities heaped upon us when we travel.

Even when we're in the care of the airlines that sell us a romantic picture of travel, we're hectored to step in from the aisle as we heave our cabin carry-on into the overhead bins, before being subjected to a quick-fire series of sales calls (drinks, snacks, duty-free, lottery, car-hire and hotel-partners). Then it's a token 'thanks for flying with us' as we're despatched onto the runway to traipse the kilometre or more to arrivals.

Now I appreciate that the economics of running an airline, combined with the exaggerated dangers of travel, have left precious few opportunities for those who swallow us up, chew and spit us out at the far end to set a romantic mood but does the experience really have to be quite so charmless?

In fairness to the pilots, their blow-by-blow account of the flying-route does offer a throwback to a time when boarding a plane was the height of adventure, but the gallantry of the gesture seems lost on those of us who've flown more than once and have grown a little disillusioned with it all (which, judging from the recent trips I've taken, seems to have been pretty much everyone on board).

Surely there's an opportunity for one of the airlines to sell us an experience that dresses the perfunctory nature of travel with a little more than token courtesies? For a start, somebody might stop talking to us like we're unruly children, ready to break ranks and cause chaos at a moment's notice.

I find myself almost pathetically grateful when someone in charge at the boarding-gate or despatching drinks onboard shows a glimmer of humour or understanding. I'd choose to fly regularly with an airline that promised to cheer up the grim reality of commuter-style travel with a little charm.

Over To You: Any other takers for travel that goes a bit further than setting an endurance-test?

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