Is flying still fun?
The question usually comes from people who look back fondly on the age of airline innocence before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 changed the way we fly forever.
They remember – as we do – how loved ones could accompany you all the way to the gate to say goodbye; how you could keep your shoes on in security; and be certain of speaking to a human at check-in.
On Sue’s first visit to London, the Qantas pilot escorted her to the cockpit to see the the Hale-Bopp comet up close and personal. That gesture made an enormous impression on us – but simply couldn’t happen today.
And certainly, a lot of the changes that contribute to today’s airline experience can be traced back to the aftermath of the horrendous events of 9/11.
Dramatically increased security at airports has added a level of aggravation to flying.
Few people, if any, object to tight security applied uniformly.
We willingly put up with the occasional pat down, body scans, removal of belts and shoes at security etc as minor niggles that are part and parcel of remaining safe.
However, it’s hard to deny that the increased stress of the airport can sometimes be harder to accept – especially for older passengers.
Tight security means you can’t be sure how long to allow to reach the gate. Airports have become synonymous with long lines of people; often long waits at security; and the fear of missing a flight or connection.
In this way, it’s true that flying seemed more fun back in the day.
But, other changes that are often criticised are simply the impact of technological change and development of the airline industry. And, such change is as ever-present at the airport as anywhere else.
Self-serve check-in kiosks; drop off areas for self-tagged bags and many more automated systems can help speed-up the journey through the airport. We’re all for that!
Increasingly, there are more free wifi zones and charging points for telephones and other electronic devices; both in airports and on planes themselves. This is long overdue.
Some travellers may feel differently, but we really haven’t missed free blankets and pillows, while the ability to choose and buy your own meals would seem to increase choice.
At the same time, the use of iPads, e-books and iPods seems acceptable in-flight entertainment in this day and age, especially if lack of back-of-seat systems means cheaper tickets.
The large number of low-cost airlines have also dramatically increased choice and flight routes – and the arrival of new-generation aircraft has given an improved flight experience.
On the other hand, in our view, probably the most unfortunate recent development in air travel has been the imposition of ancillary fees for everything from a checked bag to an aisle seat or early boarding.