Thursday, December 27, 2007

let's all complain about air travel

I have always struggled with people's inability to discern the difference between senseless whining and complaining. A complaint is the voicing of a legitimate concern with the positive goal of improvement. Granted, a complaint should be voiced in a constructive manner to get the best response, but moreover than not, people simply take it as whining and ignore the intended message (i won't even begin to address the inability of even well-educated people to have a truly intellectual discussion on the subject of religion, politics or computer operating systems!)

To me, designers and inventors are great complainers. Many of us will start with a verbal gripe, but luckily, many also sit down and draft solutions to all sorts of vexations! I find designer stories very engaging, especially when they can identify their motivation, inspiration and influences in/of their work. One theme that comes up in my own process is air travel (which will bring me to the point of this blog entry).

By the time I was conscious of air travel, the boeing 747 was already flying for a few years. If I remember correctly, my first non-infant flying experience was on a National airlines flight to Miami on a DC-10. Concords were flying over my head from the beach club on Long Island giving out a short sonic boom we would wait to hear. It was also at this time that Start Trek was popular in reruns, Space 1999 was must-see-tv and overall, Sci-Fi was prime-time. From my childhood perspective, the 747 and DC-10 were not even the height of technology for travel at the time as we had the concord in the air and space shuttle on the way. Our sights were set for colonies on the moon by 1999 and trips to Tokyo in super sonic jets cutting the trip to 5 hours (not to mention hovercrafts!)!

This is where I must insert my amazement and awe in technological advancements in computers and mobile telecommunications as I like to keep things on a positive note, but my frustration with things like air travel is a major component of my motivation in creating Nooka – airplanes and wristwatches are 2 things that do not match the level of advancement that should be acceptable in a world that has room for the iphone!

Anyway, why am I writing this? Because the New York Times has a blog that never ceases to anger me on the subject of air travel [access it here]. The NYT is normally a consumer-first news source, but this particular blog seems to be a mouthpiece for the industry itself. Sometimes they do address some concerns like rediculous and pointless security measures, but moreover it is a rebuke to anyone who complains about the state of air travel in 2007 [and soon 2008].

My point? I am on an airplane a minimum of 10 flights a year since 1987. A flight to Tokyo in 1977 took 15 hours from NYC and guess what? It still takes that long in 2007! A computer in 1977 was pretty much 0 for me as home computers were a rarity then yet we have seen increases in speed and technology that only a mathematician could express for me. Why should we not have higher expectations for air travel? The Jetlagged blog sometimes refers to when people had to take boats and trains as a scolding to people complaining about airtravel, and I use the same argument to make my point: it is not 1907 anymore. Everything gets faster and safer...why not air travel?

As for service on the planes: let the people who made the decision to not serve food on short flights prepare for a trip to starting in a suburban household in central New Jersey with a vegetarian and a child with Celiac disease. Let them see how 2 hours flying time does not mean 2 hours travel time for even a family living near a major airport (or anyone for that matter with current security procedures). Let the city planners and politicians travel with a lower middle class family with 2 children and their luggage on a bus to a midwest airport or on the subway+airtrain here in NYC. Let them find a healthy meal in an airport.

I say it's time for EVERYBODY to complain and complain in an articulate and productive manner so blogs like jetlagged get with the program -- and please note, this is not an airline-only problem -- the airports and the government are equally responsible for creating infrastructure and systems that keep air travel a safe and efficient experience. And a note to all the aeronautic engineers out there: where the hell is my anti-gravity drive hovercraft?