Long delays, lost luggage, security hassles, rancorous flight attendants, scary little snacks you wouldn't feed to a guinea pig -- flying has become such a chore. But before you swear it off altogether, you might want to consider a few things about air travel and the airline industry that actually seem to be working, and working well. Indeed, here are 10 reasons why we still love to fly.
No More Saturday-Night Stopovers
There was a time when travelers were gouged for the price of an air ticket if their plans didn't include one Saturday night away from home. Airlines figured that anyone flying during the week who wanted to be back home on the weekend was a businessperson traveling on an plush expense account, and they'd be willing to pay more for the privilege of getting home earlier. Low-cost carriers eliminated the Saturday requirement in order to compete with the big boys, who subsequently dropped their Saturday requirement to compete with the little guys.
Planes Are Safer Than Ever
They may not be friendlier, but the skies are certainly safer than ever. New technology such as "TCAS," the Traffic Alert and Collision-Avoidance System," keeps planes from slamming into each other; Terrain Warning Systems alert pilots when they're about to fly into things like mountains; and improved onboard technology and enhanced pilot training have all made a dramatic difference in air safety. Additionally, regulatory agencies like the U.S.'s National Transportation and Safety Board play an important role as industry watch dogs.
The past decade has witnessed the emergence of new, cutting-edge aircraft, including the Boeing 777. One of the great features of the 777 is that it can fly higher than any plane in the sky, and high-altitude flying means less turbulence. The technology in the 777 is a forerunner to the industry's two new giants -- the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Like the 777, both planes employ wind-gust suppression technologies designed to minimize turbulence or avoid it altogether. With the A380 and 787 promising to dominate the industry in the coming years, 21st-century flying should be smooth sailing all the way (we hope).
Seatback Entertainment Systems
Personal seatback TV monitors have been a perk in first class and business class for years, but low-cost carrier JetBlue introduced them into coach class six years ago, creating something of a revolution in air travel entertainment. Even people who don't normally watch television were thrilled -- finally, something to do on that six-hour cross-country flight! Now all the major carriers, both domestic and international, have installed entertainment systems throughout their planes, providing TV shows, news, movies on demand (sometimes for a small fee), music and games to soothe and amuse captive guests.
More Non-Stop Flights
Before the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, airline routes were controlled by the U.S. Government, and most planes flew non-stop from point A to point B. After deregulation, airlines could serve whatever destinations they chose. The most efficient way to do this was to fly passengers into a hub and then transfer them to another flight. This hub-and-spoke system allowed the airlines to offer low prices and lots of flights, but non-stop flights became hard to find. In recent years, the emergence of small regional airlines serving limited markets has increased the number of direct nonstop flights.
Miles, Miles, Miles
How we love our free flights and upgrades. In their attempts to mollify angry passengers, airlines have begun reducing the miles you need for award tickets. (American and United this week both cut miles needed for short-haul awards in half -- from 25,000 to 15,000.) Two-for-one mileage awards and other promotions are increasingly common, and it seems like the airlines are constantly announcing new ways to cash in. We know miles aren't nearly as free of strings as the airlines pretend they are (good luck trading them in for free tickets to popular destinations like Hawaii), but we still love the happy little buzz of getting something for nothing.
As airline workers become increasingly ineffectual at answering simple questions or supplying adequate information, Web technologies have happily stepped into the breach, providing accurate and timely information without getting huffy and marking your ticket to ensure you get extra special attention from security screeners. Among other things, airline Web sites offer online seat selection, information about the aircraft, the ability to print out your own boarding pass, and e-mail alerts and text messages to notify passengers of delays, gate changes, and cancellations.
Airport Check-In Kiosks
Why didn't someone think of it a long time ago? Electronic check-in kiosks allow you, with a single swipe of your credit card (for ID purposes), to bypass the ticket counter entirely and check yourself in for a flight, change a seat assignment, register for standby seats on an earlier flight, request complimentary upgrades, and get a boarding pass. Some airline kiosks also allow you to check your baggage too.
No More Food
We bitch and moan about the lack of meals on planes, but does anyone really miss that slop? And why did we always feel compelled to eat whatever was plunked down on the tray in front of us anyway? We're far better off without the gelatinous mystery substances that passed for meals. Pack a couple of healthy snack bars -- and remember there's a reason why the captain and co-pilot are not permitted to eat the same entr e when flying.
Flying Is Still The Fastest, Cheapest Way To Go
The scenic route is wonderful, and we love leisurely cruises, long train journeys, and the thrill of a road trip, but when we really have to get somewhere quickly, flying isn't just the ideal way to go, it's the only way to go. And the fact that we usually manage to get where we're going in roughly the amount of hours advertised (and always in one piece) continues to astonish and amaze.