Though more people travel regularly by air than ever before; while international airports spring up at vast cost though not required (Spain has recently built two particularly pungent examples of this kind of wastage – the new airports at Ciudad Real and on the island of La Gomera – both airports entertaining virtually no air traffic at all); although air travel is considered probably rightly as the safest form of travel; though London/New York (6000 miles) can be achieved effortlessly (it’s the aircraft I’m talking about, not the passengers) in not much more than 6½ hours . . . why the Devil does air travel have to be so uncomfortable, so inefficient (at the airports), so people-unfriendly, so disgustingly unhygienic, so time-wasting (at the airports), so unpredictable, and above all so DISHONEST?
You will hear more downright lies over the softspeaker system (it should be ‘loudspeaker’ but it never is) at an airport in the usual two hour wait for a scheduled flight than any couple of hours spent in the House of Commons. Modern airlines never under any circumstances, favourable or otherwise, tell the truth. My wife once travelled on an Iberia flight supposedly Madrid/Tenerife which suddenly landed (only just – the aircraft was an Airbus, and the landing strip is the same size as a piece of Sellotape) in Lanzarote. The irate captain kept the passengers stuck inboard for an hour, then managed to take off again, though it was a near thing. The crew told the passengers the unexpected landing at another Canary Island was to take on some extra crew. Actually, as it was later – much later – revealed, the stop was made to take on extra fuel, not staff. The aircraft had taken off from Madrid without sufficient fuel to get it to Tenerife. Not a word of this reached the passengers, who cheered ironically when Tenerife was finally reached.
Now discomfort: the average aircraft these days is a metal tube in which the airline company squashes the maximum number of passenger seats to make the trip pay for itself. You would not have a chair in your house as desperately incommodious as the average airline seat. If you pay the exorbitant sum demanded for a Business or First Class seat you will be fitted into exactly the same size seat but you’ll get airline cooking free. As if you’d want it.
Now we come to ‘the good old days’. I do not apologise. I cannot help your frustration. In the 1950s and 60s of the last century there were aeroplanes called ‘Stratocruisers’, ‘Constellations’ and ‘707s’ all of which had armchairs instead of seats. Six-footers could fully stretch out even in Tourist Class. Ladies with generous embonpoint were catered for. When you arrived at the airport to catch one of these airborne masterpieces you reported to a desk where a sweet girl with a clipboard asked your name.
When she got it she ticked you off the list. You then swept through to an outside terrace where you could watch airport traffic in comfort. If you were flying to New York from London, Paris or Madrid you stopped innumerable times but eventually you arrived (strangely enough without jetlag) at Idlewild. You had probably eaten airline food eight or nine times during the eleven hours but you did not feel sick. I wonder why not? At no time were you strip-searched, told to take your belt off, ordered to place your watch and money on a plastic tray, told to raise your arms, or treated generally like cattle awaiting slaughter.
The following are things that should happen:
* Make checking in and luggaging much easier and more rapid. Silly people will ask how but respond with a mention of television, succesful voyages to the moon, the success of the Internet and street cameras etc. If Our Masters can avoid inconvenience with these they should be able to do it with air travel.
* Force airport microphone staff to tell the truth, not a pack of lies.
* Abolish First Class except for ten seats per aircraft. Instead, use normal seats for normal passengers, but special seats for passengers over six feet tall, pregnant women, any registered sufferer with bad blood circulation, varicose veins etc. with qualified medical practioners’ proof.
* There will always be very rich people. They should be allowed the privilege of travelling First Class but they should never occupy more than ten seats in an aircraft licenced to carry more than 110 passengers. There should be a much, much higher cost for passengers who feel they are First Class.
* Train airline staff not to act as if they are superior. If a stewardess’s daddy is a banker she should refrain from reminding passengers of the fact. And let’s ask the banker why his daughter is an airline stewardess.
* Do not encourage airports to build enormous carparks and then make passengers or their families/friends etc. pay. Build enormous carparks and keep them free.
* Do not create single lanes near or outside the terminal where drivers are allowed to stop for a second or two while they drop off or collect aircraft users. Build proper lanes where collecters other than taxis can legally await their dear ones, who are hardly to blame for the customary two hour delay in arrival.
* Introduce air travel by seaplane between islands that are close enough to each other to make it profitable and safe. Start with the Spanish islands – the Balearics and the Canaries.
* Most important of all: Stop users of public address systems from repeating lies put out by the airlines. Tell the truth. The public would much prefer to hear the truth. The public does NOT like being lied to.