Thursday, June 19, 2008

Airplanes and Simplicity

I read yet another editorial in the Washington Post yesterday bemoaning the increasingly horrible state of air travel. Because of the skyrocketing cost of fuel, some airlines are now charging people to check not only their second, but their first bag ($15) and charging for bottled water and peanuts. Routes are being canceled and delays are still common.

I read all this with a certain blithe serenity. Why is the writer so worked up, I wondered? Then I realized I can be so serene because I haven't been on a plane in 15 months and am not planning to be on one in the near future. It occurred to me that one way to avoid the stress and hassle of flying is not to fly.

Ah, but of course, some have to fly. This is true, but I wonder even how much of that necessary air travel is truly necessary. Can the business of business trips sometimes be handled another way? I have often wondered over the past few years: do we need all these conferences?

I remember, growing up, when air travel was quite the glamorous thing, synonymous with luxury and having "made" it. While air travel, for the masses anyway who have to use commercial airlines, is anything but pampered, I think it still holds some of that mystique. There is something exciting about going somewhere by plane, from arriving at the airport to lift off to soaring over the clouds.

If it becomes a rarer --and perhaps more expensive and less harried--perhaps that will be a good thing?

Like the $7 a gallon gas we're threatened with in a few years, more expensive and less frequent air travel could slow us down and cause us to savor what we have. I'm always struck when people come back from, say, DisneyWorld or a year in a town in a European country, delighted and raving about not needing a car -- and complaining about how wearying it is to have to do everything here by car. Inventing lives where we're don't need cars on a daily basis because they're simply not affordable could be extremely liberating. Avoiding the false glamor of ceaseless air travel could take some of the stress from our plates. We can put monorails and walking paths in our towns and suburbs. Stay home and savor our fewer plane trips more. Have our heads clear as we live in less of a rush and blur. No wonder the Saudis are worried.

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