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Monday 30 April 2012

Flying Sucks These Days

Some of you reading this blog might be too young to remember that travelling on an airplane used be to civilised and sometimes even fun.  Not always, but sometimes.  And this is very sad, really, because you probably have no idea how much freedom and civil liberty we have lost in very short amount of time.  You are inured to the travelling experience because you may not have known anything other than the current clusterfuck of security theatre Britain and America has instituted to keep you safe from dangerous people like ... babies.

Once upon a time there was minimal security at airports, and you'd be surprised to learn that we all got on just fine 99.999999999999% of the time -- I probably could have added a dozen more 9s to that percentage, but I hope you get the point. The risk of something bad happening to you now is no greater than it was in the 70s or 80s or 90s.   Airport terminals were open environments.  Anyone could pass through a metal detector and go right up to the boarding gate to see off family and friends; anyone could wait at the gate for the plane to arrive and greet their families the moment they got off the plane.  If a plane was late to arrive or leave, which happened a lot, you and/or your non-travelling friends could head over to the airport bar or pub and have a few pints.  You could go through security more than once, as many times as you'd like if for instance if you wanted to leave the airport terminal and get something from your car that was parked in the lot or garage.  All of you together could walk throughout the entire airport, including the baggage reclaim area, and nobody would think you were there to cause any kind of mischief, and nobody really did except for the occasional thief who preyed on weary, unsuspecting travellers.  Getting pickpocketed was about the worse you could ever expect, except maybe for the prices for food in the terminal -- that was robbery, no doubt -- or maybe lost luggage.

I'm telling you this because I used to love to travel.  I would back then happily travel anywhere by plane.  Long flights, too. Even after they banned smoking on flights, and in most areas of the airport, it was still a reasonably civilised environment to travel in.  Stewards and stewardesses (yes, I know it's now flight attendant, but what a crap name that is -- I wish they'd go back to the old names) were usually polite to you as long as you weren't causing them or anyone else any grief. It took only a few minutes to clear the longest of security queues.  Passport control was a breeze.  

And nothing much bad happened.  Well, until one day in September ten and a half years ago.  Everything changed.  Now, airports are on lock-down.  Once in, you cannot leave.  You can only get on your plane.  Security takes ages.  Everyone is a potential criminal -- old ladies, children, kids with MS, you name it.  All of us are threats. From the first moment you arrive at the airport, you are deemed a potential threat and they treat you accordingly from there.

If your terminal area doesn't have any suitable restaurants, tough shit, mate.  You'll sit there and wait for six hours because your plane is delayed and you'll just have to deal with that crusty sandwich you paid £7 for from a kiosk with no refrigeration. Smoking area?  Please. What about the flight itself?  Depending on which airline you fly with (ahem-- British Airways --ahem), it can be even more horrific than the terminal experience.  Every passenger is a potential criminal.  If you argue with a stewardess because she's not doing her job properly, they can have you arrested.  It used to be that the captain would come out and speak to irate or excessively inebriated passengers and calm them down -- now, the pilots are no longer allowed out of their cockpit -- hell, they used to come out and say hello and see how everyone was doing.  Now we have sky marshalls that will subdue you mid-flight, and if they feel it necessary, the pilots will land the plane at the first available airport so you can be arrested on the ground.  If by some happy chance you aren't deemed a terrorist during the flight, when you do land, you go through even more bullshit with passport control and customs, waiting in a queue that sometimes takes an hour or two to clear.   Meanwhile, if you're lucky, your luggage is still on the conveyor belt, spinning around and around and around until you finally come to claim it.  More likely, someone else has picked up your bag and carried it away to the lost luggage room.  If you're truly unlucky, someone carried it away to their home. 

Flying is no longer a fun experience. I hate flying now.  I never want to get on airplane again, until we go back to some kind of sensible process of security and of treating people with dignity and respect.  Unfortunately, I need to fly overseas in a few weeks and I'm dreading it.  I have to go. I do not want to go.  I would give anything to find an airline and airport that had very little security.  I would fly on that plane in a second. I would take children with me on this insecure airline without any reservation.  I would even pay a little extra for the privilege, even though that airline would be saving tons of cash on security stuff.  Because being treated like a law-abiding human being is far better than treating everyone as a criminal.  I hate flying.  I miss our freedoms we used to have.

Times change, that's for sure.  Not always for the better, though.  We are not safer for all of this security that we see in airports.  Anyone who really wanted to could duplicate the events of a decade ago.  It's just a fiction -- a bullshit security theatre so that our own governments can terrorise us and make us believe they are keeping us safe, when in fact they are only just taking more of our money and treating us like criminals. 

Right. Let me cheer you up then.  Watch this funny video.  And then after you laughed, weep for the future, because it's going to get a lot worse before it ever gets any better.