Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ways In Which Passenger Air Travel Is Better Than It Used To Be

See There Was No ‘Golden Age’ of Air Travel in the NY Times by PATRICK SMITH, airline pilot. Excerpts:
"One of the reasons that flying has become such a melee is because so many people now have the means to partake in it. It wasn’t always this way. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a ticket has declined about 50 percent over the past 35 years. This isn’t true in every market, but on the whole fares are far cheaper than they were 30 years ago. (And yes, this is after factoring in all of those add-on “unbundling” fees that airlines love and passengers so despise.)

For my parents’ generation, it cost several thousand dollars in today’s money to travel to Europe. Even coast-to-coast trips were something relatively few could afford. As recently as the 1970s, an economy ticket from New York to Hawaii cost nearly $3,000, adjusted for inflation.

Not only are tickets cheaper, but we have got a wider range of options. There are planes going everywhere, all the time. Pretty much any two major cities in the world are now connected through at most one stop: Los Angeles to Delhi; New York to Fuzhou, China; Toronto to Nairobi. Overall journey times used to be much longer, and flying from the United States to points overseas meant having to connect at one of only a handful of gateway airports, with additional stops beyond.

Even well into the jet age, what today would be a simple nonstop or one-stop itinerary could include multiple stopovers. Not just internationally, but domestically, too: Three stops in a DC-9 to reach St. Louis from Albany, then another two stops on the trunk route over to Seattle or San Francisco.

Sure, you had more legroom and a hot meal. It also took you 14 hours to fly coast-to-coast, or two-and-a-half days to reach Karachi, Pakistan. Miss your flight? The next one didn’t leave in 90 minutes; it left the following day — or the following week.

I could mention, too, that the airplanes of decades past were louder — few things were more deafening than a 707 at takeoff thrust — and more gas-guzzling and polluting. And if, in 2017, you’re put off by a lack of legroom or having to pay for a sandwich, how would you feel about sitting for eight hours in a cabin filled with tobacco smoke? As recently as the 1990s, smoking was still permitted on airplanes.

As for legroom, there’s that conventional wisdom again, contending that airlines are forever cramming more rows into their aircraft. Except it’s not necessarily true. The spacing between rows, called “pitch” in the business, is, on average, less than it was 20 or 30 years ago — and yes, passengers themselves have become larger on average — but only slightly. Remember Laker Airways, whose “Skytrain” service ran between the United States and London in the 1970s and early ’80s? Sir Freddie Laker, the airline’s flamboyant founder, configured his DC-10s with a bone-crunching 345 seats — about a hundred more than the typical DC-10 at the time.

And what’s that in front of you? It’s a personal video screen with hundreds of on-demand movies and TV shows. No, not every carrier has these, but on longer flights it’s a standard amenity, along with USB and power ports. Onboard Wi-Fi is widespread. Remember when the “in-flight movie” was projected onto a blurry bulkhead screen, and you listened through one of those stethoscope-style headsets with jagged plastic cups that scratched into your ear?"

"Globally — catastrophes like those involving Malaysia Airlines Flights 17 and 370 included — the last 10 years have been the safest in the history of commercial aviation. Here in North America the stats are even more astonishing: There has not been a major crash involving an American legacy carrier in more than 15 years. By comparison, in 1985, 27 air disasters killed almost 2,500 people worldwide. During the 1960s, the United States saw an average of four major crashes every year. United alone had seven major accidents in a five-year span."

"For a number of reasons — technological, regulatory and infrastructural — aviation accidents have become a lot fewer and farther between. There are twice as many planes in the air as there were just 25 years ago, yet the rate of fatal accidents per miles flown has been steadily falling. The International Civil Aviation Organization reports that for every million flights the chance of a crash is one-sixth what it was in 1980."

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