Modern Travel

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I just returned home, yesterday morning, from a trip to Lawton, OK, home of the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery School – Ft. Sill. I was stationed down there for a brief time, serving TDY from by home base of Sheppard, AFB, which is roughly 40 miles south. I had not been back to that part of the country in over 30 years and it certainly looks different than what was captured in my, likely, failing memory. One thing that has not changed is that the people we met “downtown” were universally good, friendly, country folks. I had fond memories of the friends I had made when I was down there and how nice everyone was to a member of the Air Force, especially in a time when those in the military were not all that popular in many parts of this country.

One thing that has changed in the past 30 years, though, is the experience of air travel. Thirty years ago, as hard as it may be to believe, air travel was something of a civilized experience. You were not crammed into ever-smaller airplanes, in seats placed ever closer together. If the flight was any distance at all, you received a lot meal of at least middling quality. Stewardesses (I remain something of a male chauvinist, but that is what the universally young, female folks who filled those positions were called back then) were friendly and, I think, enjoyed their jobs. Because air travel was not an every day experience, the traveler was treated like a human being who had spent a great deal of money in order to enjoy the advantages of traveling by air. Today, much of that has changed.

While I completely understand that much of the change in the airline industry recently has come about as the result of the events of 9/11 (another reason to curse those who only desire to destroy civilization) many of the changes, I think, have been made using 9/11 as an excuse. Whatever the reason, modern travel by air is no longer a civilized venture, it is an exercise in survival. Take my most recent trip.

Starting out in Colorado Springs was not too bad, security was no much of a problem and the trip down, through DFW and back up to OKC was rather uneventful. American, of all the airlines, seems to have at least recognized the discomfort caused to passengers when they are crammed into rather smallish seats jammed so closely together that any movement of the legs during flight is a near impossibility – they provide a little more leg room on their flights than most other airlines. However, there is the matter of going through DFW from Colorado Springs, to get to Ok City. Straight line this is about a 90-minute flight, using the hub and spoke pattern the airlines use today, it becomes a 4 hour flight including layovers.

The way back, though showed modern air travel at its best. After our meeting at Ft. Sill we stopped for a bite of lunch and drove straight to the airport in Oklahoma City. We dropped off the rental car and took the shuttle to the airport only to arrive at the check in counter as flight cancellation notices were being posted. Of course, our flight, retracing our original route down through DFW and back up to Colorado Springs, was among those cancelled. The reason given was weather, and it was stormy in southern Oklahoma and north Texas, and I did not see the current weather reports since I was in meetings all day and then on the road, but it did not seem to be that stormy. In fact, my observations of the weather, and I used to do that sort of thing, gave me the distinct impression that a cold front had gone through and the clearing that typically follows such events was taking place. Many passengers were under the same impression and seemed to think that because it was 9/11/03 many people had cancelled flights, thus the reason for the airlines canceling so many flights. I am willing to give the airlines the benefit of the doubt in this case. The next step that American took was not, in my opinion, the greatest marketing ploy they could have decided upon. They booked us on a United flight early the next morning direct to Denver, then on to Colorado Springs – so far so good. They even arranged a motel for us, also the right thing to do. However, the only thing this motel had to recommend it was, I’m sure, cheap. It had for sure seen better days. I am not convinced that the sheets on the bed were clean, the mattress was something concocted from anywhere from two to six plywood boards, and the bath facilities were about on their last legs. Then, arriving very early at the airport the following morning we were all subjected to the near strip search airport screening. I might point out that we work in the defense industry and all hold security clearances, yet more often than not we are treated as security risks the moment we step onto an airport.

When a flight is delayed, I don’t ask that the airlines arrange for their customers to check into the most expensive lodgings for the night, I don’t expect to live in the lap of luxury at their expense. I do, however, ask that the motel be clean and the room habitable. It seems this would be a relatively small investment given the huge amount of goodwill that would be generated simply by treating customers as customers, not cattle. When I finally arrived home from what was a relatively short trip exhausted and not able to do much more than crash. I don’t think driving to OKC would have been as tiring as flying was.

My point in all of this is that the airlines profess to be desperate to attract and retain customers. Yet, it seems that hardly anything they do is customer friendly. Flights are cramped and uncomfortable, there is no food service, flight cancellations are treated as if they were the customer’s responsibility, not the airlines, in short the burden is placed on the traveler. This is hardly the way to make travel more appealing these days.

Oh well, being a Franciscan, I guess I should welcome the opportunity to do a little penance. I just wonder if I should have to pay for the opportunity.


If it's a pilgrimage, then you're supposed to be paying for the hardships; otherwise not. Well, I guess you could consider it "adventure travel".


It felt like survival travel, but then, I am getting older and crankier.

Paz y bien

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on September 13, 2003 10:03 AM.

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