NPF: STILL BETTER THAN SPIRIT

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 25th, 2017 by Ed

Having mentioned Charles Lindbergh's 1927 Transatlantic flight earlier in the week I cannot help myself from giving you just a peek inside the rabbit hole of the early days of aviation.

Flying is terrible, right? It's a thing we endure because the other options are so much more time consuming. Unless you can afford to upgrade to First Class (which basically just replicates what flying was like prior to the 1977 deregulation) you grit your teeth and exchange both comfort and dignity for an inexpensive ticket. Yes, many domestic US tickets approach or exceed $500 in coach depending on your destination and dates, and $500 can hardly be considered "cheap." However, in the grand scheme of things it's about what we can expect unless the airlines wish to resume the ritual of declaring Chapter 11 once per decade.

This is our fault, of course. Actually it's capitalism's fault, but let's keep this manageable. If given the option between a $1000 ORD to SFO ticket with pampering, comfort, and no additional add-on costs or a $255 ORD to SFO ticket that entitles you to be treated as subhuman and confined to a space in which you can barely fit, which will you pick? Your personal preferences and financial situation might point toward the $1000 ticket. Most of us suck it up and take the cheapie. We punt on comfort. The rotten business model in use across the industry offers us the opportunity to get things like legroom and dignity and checked baggage if we fork over the money. Very few passengers choose to do so.

I digress. The reason I mention this is simply to use flying in 2017 as a point of comparison for the following anecdote.

In 1934 the Australian airline Qantas began the first London to Sydney air service. Australia is a chore to fly to even today from Europe or North America. Modern equipment has improved things vastly, as you'll see, but flying to Southeast Asia or Australia-NZ borders on grueling in the best circumstances. In 1934 well-off Brits were astonished to learn that they were free from the tyranny of the steamship and could actually be flown to Sydney and back with each journey taking a mere…are you ready? Twelve days! It was practically like teleporting.

The next time you grumble (as I do, constantly) about flying today consider the ordeal it was in the early days. The flight departed London and before arriving in Sydney it required five changes of aircraft (!!!) among the 12 to 15 layovers, disembarking to travel across Italy via train (Mussolini forbade foreign airlines to cross Italian airspace), and twelve days and nights all for the low price of about $18,000 in 2017 US dollars. For Americans, Australia was on the far end of the early Pacific routes, immortalized by Pan Am's China Clippers, that stopped and spent the evening at five or six fly-speck islands in where grand hotels had been built hastily to pamper passengers who were forking over a lower class working person's annual salary for a seat aboard the loud, primitive flying canoes of the age.

You can't call modern air travel perfect, but it helps on occasion to remember how far it has come.

Actually that doesn't help at all. I want whoever invented the reclining coach seat to be guillotined.