The Ruination of Plane Travel – Jeffrey A. Tucker 4/30/24


The best time to write about how horrible plane travel has become is immediately following, or, in this case, during a scheduling and delay disaster that completely upends the routines of life.

When it doesn’t happen and your flight goes well, you just don’t care that much. But when you are in the thick of it – I’m writing now from a 36-hour international travel time on a 19-hour delayed domestic flight that just took off – it feels like the apocalypse.

It’s more common now than I can ever remember. I’m at the point of trying not to travel unless I have to because 3 of 5 of my trips these days seem to end up this way. I’ve come to expect disaster and so prepare for it. But most people start with the assumption that all is going to go well because that’s how it always worked in the past.

Consider the three young women attempting to travel with their foo-foo fluffy dogs who are their best friends. These dogs are well-behaved and perfectly gorgeous animals who manage the scene just fine. Unless there is a problem. When the food runs out and nature calls, it’s another matter. Airports don’t really provide areas for dog bathroom breaks. So the dogs and their owners begin to panic and cry. It’s truly horrible.

Then you have older people and their medicines and other special needs. They could be shots or otherwise and require special conditions. They might not have enough. They might have packed for a week of travel and run out just before the disaster strikes. There are no pharmacies in US airports that I’ve seen.

And then there are the families with young children. The kids are screaming, crying, miserable. The formula is out and the kid is hungry. There are no more diapers and no readily available changing rooms, and the human waste begins to get everywhere and there are no showers. The filth begins to affect everything.

Everyone has personal needs and every situation is different. There are fathers missing their sons’ Little League games, bridesmaids missing weddings, corporate executives missing important international meetings, people having to use their paid-time-off days, and happy vacation days ruined all around.

At every step, there are opportunities to spend more money, shops and bars ready to ding your credit card but have no regrets about your plight. They only make more money from disrupted plans. The airline employees feel bad but there is nothing you can do.

The most bizarre circumstance affected my flight. On landing previously, the oxygen masks suddenly fell from the ceiling. So maintenance had to come and check that out but of course there is a shortage of those people and they spend all day running from plane to plane to try to get the little lights to change from red to green. No one really understands how anything works so you just fiddle with things until the machine tells you it works.

That took many hours, and finally we boarded. The takeoff began and we were almost up in the air but another light went on in the cockpit. Apparently an emergency exit door had not been entirely shut so the entire flight had to be aborted just before we were in the air. We got off the plane. Then we had to wait for maintenance to show up again but they took forever.

The flight was delayed and the algorithms took over. Flights were automatically rebooked for hundreds of people. The instructions were flying like crazy: go to D37 and rebook, no E19 for a new flight, no D3 for this flight with a new crew, no D40 for a new plane, no wait here because the flight will leave in 30 minutes. With each new instruction, the crowd would disperse and run here and there over long distances only to return.

Getting mad makes no difference. The algorithms don’t care. They just crank out new instructions. Over the course of 7 hours, the delays and promises continued but it became obvious what was really going on. The airline does not actually want to cancel the flight because they would have to pay for hotels for everyone. Far better to delay that as long as possible and watch the crowd gradually disperse and pay for their own new plans.

Finally at 1:30am, they called it: canceled. Go to the other side of the airport and get your hotel and voucher for food. Arriving at the hotel, they gladly accepted the $12 voucher and the food and drinks that were right there at check-in. Yogurt: $12. Chips $12. Apple juice: $12. Everything was rigged to collect the fake money and get people to spend more. But, hey, you have a choice!

Time at the hotel was only 2 hours because the flight had been rebooked for 5:30am so everyone got up and got out the door without expecting the inevitable, which was that the flight was delayed until noon. Some people figured this out and went back to bed but others made their way back to the airport to sleep in some curled-up position in a chair, wearing the same clothes.

After this whole disaster, many people were lost on the way. The girls with the dogs vanished and so did many older people. The only people remaining were the strong and now very very sleepy, who then spent money on coffee to wake up and liquor to dull the pain.

At some point, one realizes that no one is actually making decisions here, so no one is really responsible. Machines are running everything and they are pitiless. The people in charge don’t run the machines; it’s the reverse. The algorithms are running us, the real bosses and they don’t give a flying puppy about your inconveniences.

The loudspeaker thanked us for our patience but there was no more patience. So this felt like a psyop. We were all brutalized from the scanning, the IDs, the security systems, the phones blowing up with new instructions, the spy cameras everywhere, the endless delays, and the sheer uncertainty of what was going to come next.

At some point, I was standing in an airport aisle and someone asked me to move out of the way. I turned around only to see a robot trying to make its way through, so I deferred to its wishes. As did everyone. The robots have more rights than we have. They have set it up this way.

The sadistic ruling class now running the show hates the ability of regular people to travel the way we did decades ago. Many top elites have dreamed of ending commercial plane travel completely because, they say, this would be good for the planet. But they dare not. Instead, a much easier path is to impose deep and abiding regret on everyone who’s willing to leave their 15-minute cities. This is the best path to closing the age of travel: a slowly drawn curtain on what we used to call civilization.

Of course they will still have their chartered jets that do not have to comply with any of the above, always leave and arrive on time, and probably even allow you to land with your tray table down. The Internet probably even works on those flights unlike ours.

Plane travel is now nothing like it was 5 years ago. The vaccine mandates drove many people from the industry and the lockdown-based supply chain and labor disruptions have left whole fleets in disrepair so that we have to take our chances. The inconveniences and brutalisms in the name of security take care of the rest.

It’s remarkable to consider that the high point of affordable, reliable, and convenient travel was more than 25 years ago. It’s been in decline ever since. All of it makes me long for a good solid train or boat trip, which we should all do before they get around to ruining those, too.