Over the last three-quarters of a century, air travellers have had a roller coaster ride.
In the early 1930s air travel was a rather unreliable, somewhat perilous adventure. Passenger-carrying aircraft didn’t deserve to be called ‘airliners’, just as the vessels of Columbus, Cook and Cartier didn’t merit the name ‘ocean liners’.
Wheels: the third airliner wheel used to be under the tail, as on the DC-3, known as the ‘tail dragger’ position. However, at the same time as the now-in-vogue four-wheeled suitcases came into being, suitcases rolled freely to the rear of the airliners. That made it necessary for most airliners to be given a ‘tricycle undercarriage’. That’s how airliner floors became level.
Because passengers could now Sherpa double the number of suitcases, airliner size had to grow. In 1969 came the Boeing 747, often known by the moniker ‘Jumbo Jet’. Later came the gargantuan Airbus 380.
Airline travel became something for the masses, and the masses did come. Alas, so did the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Congestion on the access roads and in the terminals also came. To get to today’s sprawling airports there’s congestion on the access roads and at the drop-off ramps. The terminals are vast, the line-ups to check-in and security inspection points are roped off to create crowd-management chicanes. Security has been upped.
Inside the airliners, patience, decorum and class went out the window. Passengers vie for possession of overhead storage bins. Cabin attendants will soon have to be issued cattle prods to maintain order. Seat sizes and padding have shrunk in inverse proportion to passenger size. Leg room is adequate for dwarfs and children, but absolutely inadequate for basketball players.
For all but prestige class passengers, soggy sandwiches are doled out in shrink-wrapped packages similar to MREs. Cutlery is plastic. The complimentary beverage is now a plastic bottle of water rather than champagne presented in a real glass.
For medium distance travel it may be more time-efficient and comfortable to travel by train, bus or car.
Oh for the good old days of air travel, when passengers had class!