Off Topic: Flying like frogs

The hidden cost of cheap air travel is illness, leading to lost work time and ruined vacations.

We all know the paradigm of the frog that doesn’t realize it’s being boiled alive because the heat in the pot of water is being increased so slowly.

I’d like to suggest that as airline passengers, we’re are in much the same situation.

Any airplane trip I go on that’s longer than 2 hours seems to result in a severe cold or flu within 72 hours. That either ruins a good part of my trip, or leads to lost work time when I return. I’d say this same thing is true for about half of my friends and colleagues.

The situation has gotten way out of hand — not just in terms of personal inconvenience but in terms of lost work time and public health expense. The hidden costs of “cheap” air travel are exorbitant.

Like the frogs in the warming water, we’re vaguely aware of the situation. We blame post-flying illnesses on poor air recirculation systems, or germ-laden handles in the airplane restrooms. But I think those are only a small part of the problem. After all, these same factors exist in most office buildings and restaurants.

Think about it. You might bump into the guy behind you in the supermarket line, or the woman next to you in the elevator might sneeze, but would you then stand pressed up against either of them for the next three hours?

The truth is, there is no other environment in our lives besides a plane in which we would put up with this type of prolonged, close physical contact with strange human beings, many of whom are exhausted, dirty or ill.

I flew from Denver to Seattle last week in the middle seat of a row with a man on either size of me. Both were large, but not outsized. Nevertheless, my shoulders were under their armpits and their elbows were in my lap. Let’s not even talk about the thighs. Or the breathing. There are many marriages in which people don’t get this close to their spouses!

I just love those sanctimonious nannies who tell me I can avoid airplane germs by wiping my tray table and arm rests down with sterilizing towelettes. Arm rests? Honey, those two guys had already taken up the arm rests to give themselves more arm room.

Let’s get real here. What I really needed to do last week was to wrap myself in a big plastic bag. Or hand out masks to my whole row.

Can you imagine people sitting in a movie theater in which the seats were packed as closely as they are on the today’s planes? Of course not! They’d never go back to the place. (For a comparison of theater and airline seating, see this article by the Independent Traveler.)

Fifty years ago, when you sat next to someone on an airplane, you were sitting in a large, well-padded seat with plenty of room.  There was absolutely no physical contact with the person next to you. If you needed to sneeze, you could move your arms to get to a Kleenex. You could stand up and walk to a empty area of the plane! In fact, you could spend much of the flight wandering around the cabin if that took your fancy.

Those days are long over. Most fliers don’t even remember them.  And all we know now are the appalling conditions that a combination of security procedures and the industry’s pack-em-in-like-cattle greed has given us.

Isn’t it time for somebody to step in? The Centers for Disease Control, perhaps? Or maybe The Humane Society? The little kitty who came on board in the nice carrier cage looked like he, at least, had some breathing room.

Author: Karen Anderson

To paraphrase Mark Morris, "I'm a writer; I write!"

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