Travel

The nightmare that air travel is today

Air travel is the only mode of transport that has lagged behind in the last 20 years.

Trains are now faster. Nozzles pollute the environment less. Cars are smarter and electric. So are bicycles, ferries and trucks.

Flying, on the other hand, is considerably more horrendous than before. Years after a British terrorist failed to detonate a bomb in his boots on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001, passengers still face maddening liquid regulations as they are squeezed into smaller seats and charged for sandwiches. which they once received for free.

Flights may be cheaper and safer, but they are also slower than in 2003, when Concorde made its last flight across the Atlantic—about twice as fast as it is today. Airlines have vowed to bring back supersonic flight. This is not true.

I wrote a version of those very words in 2010 when I was an aerospace correspondent for the Financial Times, never thinking that a global pandemic would one day make matters worse.

This thought occurred to me last week as I stood in a long queue at a small Spanish airport where I saw something I had never seen in over 30 years of flying.

The line was filled with people boarding two flights to London, one to Gatwick, which I was on, and one to Stansted, both scheduled to take off around 11am.

We stood in line to have our passports stamped, as they do after Brexit, just a few meters from the exit doors, behind which the waiting planes were clearly visible.

As the clock approached 11 o’clock and fears of closed gates grew, noise broke out at the front of the line.

Passengers bound for Stansted, including parents who had been queuing for ages with toddlers in tow, began yelling at the flight attendant for not calling them to the front of the line sooner.

Suddenly, several people broke past the passport office and rushed to the exit. A portly policeman jumped out of the station and ordered everyone to stay where they were.

The would-be fugitives returned alone, reporting that the gates were closed and left to wait. new flightswithout the help of an airline in sight.

It was just one small drama among the thousands that have turned flights into hellish chaos this year with canceled flights, lost luggage and untold lines around the world.

The shortage of staff due to the pandemic and the supply chain disruptions that caused these upheavals are less visible than the Icelandic volcanic ash and the 9/11 terrorist attacks that have caused air travel problems in the past, but they are no less worrisome.

Bumps at Heathrow Airport last week and Qatar Airways warned that industry disruptions could last much longer than expected. “I think it will last a couple more years,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the FT.

As expected, a cottage industry has sprung up to advise travelers on what to do. Some advice is obvious: get ready for the queues; direct flight; take only hand luggage, and if you need to check bags, take medicines and other essentials with you into the cabin.

Some ideas seem silly: you can check your bags…

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