Recently we attempted to put a spin on prevailing negative attitudes about a hospital experience. It was possible to counter with a list of things that the patients could do to improve their stay. That was fun. Now for something harder – air travel.

Complaining about air travel is something we all have heard and even engaged in. In the mind of many flying is a miserable experience but is it really? Let’s look at the bigger picture.

Cost: Air travel on average costs around 30 cents per mile. This amount varies according to extra fees for baggage and the time and date of travel. Two examples of recent travel for me are from Indianapolis to Pellston Michigan and to Dallas Texas. The trip to Pellston, a small town in northern Michigan cost $214 for 500 miles or 43 cents a mile. A recent 900-mile trip to Dallas cost $293 or 29 cents a mile. Both would accommodate carry-on luggage for at least one week. A typical modern jet aircraft costs between $7,000 and $9,000 per hour to operate. Not cheap. This suggests passenger fares do not seem out of line.

The alternative for the 500-mile trip to Pellston, my choice for travel in most instances, is by car. I have a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a hefty fuel capacity. On the highway the trip is accomplished on one tank at a cost of between 50 and 60 dollars depending on fuel price. With one or two brief stops, the trip takes slightly under seven hours. This compares to about four hours and four times the cost by plane. Of course, if time is crucial or if you don’t have a car, all bets are off. You will fly. Traveling by car you need to be capable and like to drive. The non-stop trip to Dallas by air was under two hours. The drive would have taken 14 hours. The choice is easy – fly.

If several people and a full load of luggage are included, the choice of a car for a 500-mile trip is a no -brainer.

Except for commuter trains, rail travel has been relegated to the past. Interurban travel by bus is available connecting some cities. One example is the Mega Bus from Cincinnati through Indianapolis to Chicago. The cost from Indianapolis is around $20 one way; the trip takes three and a half hours with no limit on luggage. Considering travel to and from airports, parking and flight time, it takes about the same time and costs much more to fly between these cities. Moreover, driving your own auto to a big city takes the same time as the bus and parking when you arrive can be an expensive nightmare.

Whenever driving is feasible, diehard motorists will do it no matter what. Mitigating factors are additional passengers (including relief drivers), lots of luggage and the need for a car at the destination. Other factors are sightseeing on the way and the cost of a motel if the trip takes more than a day. A trip of 500 miles could be done either way, but when it comes to near 1000 miles air is likely to be the best option. For multi-thousand-mile trips and over the ocean air is the only choice. Try driving to Australia! As for ocean liners, the voyage is the thing. Arriving at a destination can be secondary.

Safety: While cost and time are favorable points for air travel, safety is paramount. In the last decade there have been zero fatalities in U.S. commercial air travel. None! Compare this to 102 fatalities per month with automobiles. Equipment and crew in the airline industry meet the highest standards.

Hassle: TSA and customs officers create inconvenience and delays for the traveler just for doing their job. Chalk this up to the price we pay for the world we live in. Seats are said to be narrower and leg room is less in airplanes now, and sometimes our seatmates are “oversize”. I have endured more discomfort in the back seat of a mid-size sedan and the front seat of a sports car and survived both. If you can’t tolerate small seats, several levels of upgrades are available at a cost.

Food: The food on airplanes has been reduced to a bag of pretzels or a cookie and a coke. Compare that to the extensive and varied restaurants available in most airports. There is little reason for anyone getting on a plane to be hungry. The average flight in the country is under four hours so it is unlikely in that time anyone would suffer the effects of hunger or thirst.

Crew: Pilots are well trained and second to none. The usual good nature and helpfulness demonstrated by flight attendants dealing with passengers who cram ungainly bags in overhead compartments is remarkable. Good for them. They understand the stress that passengers endure, and in my experience they respond admirably.

For the gate agent, your boarding pass can be displayed on a cell phone photo. That was new to me. It works. This is just one example of the many new wrinkles replacing paperwork with essential information stored electronically.

Your part: The easiest times to arrive at the airport are too early or too late. Being on time is nearly impossible. To be safe, opt for too early and avoid stress. When you take your seat, relax. Take something to read or settle for the airline magazine and avoid overthinking. Concentrate on what is good and try to forget the rest. The experience starts with you.


By Savvy Senior

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4 thoughts on “Come Fly with Me

  1. Gene, You made a good case for understanding the pros and cons of air v road trip. Here are a few of my additions.

    1. The cheapest fee will not get you what you want. Be sure to find out exactly what you are paying for. If you want different then there are other flight fees that you can buy.
    2. What are your travel requirements? For me, I want a main line airline; assigned seats and good flight schedules. Yes I cannot buy the cheapest seat and get these things, but I do not want to fly without these things included. Look for direct flights.
    3. Pack light and lighter. Only carry on what you can carry. You can avoid stresses by being in control of your things. Baggage check is not the worst thing to do. If you fly twice a year most fee based branded credit cards offer ‘free’ baggage check. You come out ahead on your third flight of each year.
    4, Carry water and your own reasonable snacks. Gene is right about not needing large meals on a 4 hour flight. Going international has other requirements not discussed here. Be kind to fellow passengers and leave the pastrami and onions off the plane.
    5. Dress for flying in crowded places, Comfortable clothes, no strong perfume, durable closed toe shoes (sometimes its a long way out of the airport)
    6. If you cannot walk distances do ask for a wheelchair, gets you to the head of many lines and reduces much stress especially if changing planes.
    7. Always know what you are doing or at the least look like it to avoid ‘help’ or harassment.
    8. If you are going to spend money in an airport in crowds, use a credit card, its faster and you don’t need to dig for dollars or change.
    Bon Voyage

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