Airports, airlines and airplanes (pretty much anything with "air" in its name) have gotten so much negative attention in the last few years. And to be honest, as a consumer, it's justified. You just don't play around with peoples' time and safety.
The woes of travel lie on a wide spectrum. There are the "discomforts" of travel like expensive flights and airport food/drinks and delays, and then there are the unlikely but realistic dangers of engine failure and even, tragically, terrorism in this day and age.
Many people have lost their infatuation with the art of flying. Many people don't awe at the genius physics behind getting a 735,000 pound aluminum cylinder off the ground and down safely. So I wanted to remind others and myself of the beauty of airplanes:
Despite complaining about flight prices, I need to acknowledge that the cost of flying has decreased significantly over the last 40 years. We're talking really significantly. Adjusted for inflation, a $300 flight now would have cost you the equivalent of almost $2,000 in the 1970s.
And with a little thing we call the Internet, consumers have full transparency when shopping around for the best deal. The government actually regulated airfares till 1974; since then, my little friend -- competition -- drives the market to an affordable price for all us. I knew there was a reason I really enjoyed economics in high school.
Lastly, the airline industry is not an easy industry to get into. Barriers to entry are high. If you've got $80-100 million lying around, go right ahead and buy your first jetliner. But I'm willing to bet you don't. Therefore, it's extremely hard to break into the industry. That, coupled with high fuel cost, low margins, high competition and external factors you cannot control like weather, does not make this an attractive industry. So just remember, as a consumer, we actually have a lot of power and exposure to information to make a good flight decision.
Here's the truth -- I hate flying. To be even more honest, September 11 ruined flying for me. As an 11-year-old, that was the first time I realized an airplane could possibly not be safe. That, in addition to my fear of heights, doesn't really make flying enjoyable for me anymore. Either way, I fly all the time both for business and pleasure. What I have to keep reminding myself is that planes are actually very safe, especially compared to 40 years ago.
Interesting (and very, very sad) fact: Stephen Colbert's dad and two brothers died in a commercial airplane crash in 1974. That was actually the reason he eventually got into comedy -- to help lighten a tragic situation. However, my point here is that due to the very strict regulation of the industry, new technology, and the media covering every hiccup, the airline industry has actual become the safest mode of transportation. So just remember that even in the midst of all the terrible things we have heard recently in the news, your safest bet still is traveling via plane.
Airplanes make it possible for you to be in Israel in plus or minus 13.5 hours from now (unfortunately there is no nonstop flight from Chicago). If you don't think that's amazing, you're just too used to today's ease of travel. To think that you can be across the world in less than one full day is nothing short of amazing. Airplanes make physical globalization possible. It connects people, and not just wealthy people -- all people.
At my age, my grandparents had never left the country (they lived in Russia, but still). That's insane. I can't even fathom not having the ability to travel and see the world, to explore other cultures and languages. Travel brings appreciation and unity and just 40 years ago, that was not easily possible or at least easily accessible to all people.
I like to remind myself of these historical (and current) little tidbits every time I fly because I personally like to stay in awe of modern-day travel.