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News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

Airplane Mode


When was the last time someone told you they loved flying? Or even said they liked it? Or that they couldn't wait to get back in the air?

In the spring and summer of America's flying discontent, it's likely your anxiety began to mount long before reaching the jetway. You felt nickeled and dimed by charges for everything: extra leg room, a snack, a thin blanket, an advance seat assignment. If you weren't blindsided by a tumultuous curbside check-in, you might have stumbled over new complexities at a security checkpoint (Coming soon: mandatory screening, in separate security bins, of almost ALL electronic devices!) or arrived at your gate to find there was nowhere to sit.

Eight hours of aircraft movement at LAX International Airport.

Photo illustration by Mike Kelley

There's now such a jumble of boarding groups on many flights that it's hard to feel the system isn't rigged, to someone else's advantage. And getting on the plane in good time feels crucial. Boarding late means jammed overhead compartments and probably being forced to check your carry-on, to be recovered later at baggage claim. (Unless you've paid that new novelty fee on some airlines — $15, and up, for overhead bin space.)

Once inside the plane, you finally breathe deep. But not too deep. Your seat is almost certainly narrower and closer to the seat in front than in years past. And no doubt your airline has packed additional seats into the cabin — as many as 19, for example, on one model of the workhorse Boeing 737. The narrow metal tube is filled with more of your fellow humans, too, because "load" factors recently reached an all-time high. That empty middle seat of yesteryear? It's as scarce as hot in-flight meals and complimentary pilot's wings for the kids.

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