European Vacation: 2015 (Part 1)

I love Europe. But I hate getting there.

Getting there means I have to sit in a tiny seat with no leg room inside a long, airborne metal tube for something like 11 hours.

To me (I am about 6′ 4″ tall) that is about as close to the sort of torture once practiced in the dungeons of the Tower of London that I will ever get.

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Tower of London

It also means being packed with a few hundred other often ill-tempered and petulant people into a cramped space too small for any kind of reasonable comfort.

If there were only fast ships that could make the journey in a day or two, I would be the first to climb aboard. But there are not.

So the only option is to take a plane. It really makes no difference which airline you choose. They are all equally abysmal.

Airlines today have opted to forgo the comfort of their passengers in favor of more and smaller seats.  The more seats they can cram into a plane and the more bodies they and stuff into those seats, the more money the airlines can rake in. To hell with the passengers. They are, after all, little more than the human equivalent of sheep or cattle.

For the past decade or so we have been in the “cattle car” era of flying. I am surprised that some airline hasn’t figured out how to sell “standing room only” tickets on these already jam-packed conveyances.

Oh wait. I think I heard something about that…God forbid. It’s called the “vertical passenger seat” or “standing cabin” and it may be the next big cost-cutting move in aviation, according to a new report whose author says the concept could be here within five years.

“Standing Plane Seat”

“I’ve seen people stand on buses and trains before throughout a journey of maybe close to an hour,” says Fairuz Romli, an aerospace engineering professor at the University Putra Malaysia in a recent study. “So if that’s possible, then standing on an aircraft (shouldn’t) be a far-fetched idea.”

“If the option available to reach my destination is either sitting on a bus or train for six to seven hours or standing for an hour and half on an aircraft, I believe there are many people who would opt for the latter if the flight ticket price is reasonably low.”

Using the popular Boeing 737-300 as an example, Romli’s study calculates that a standing cabin would lead to a 21% increase in passenger capacity while dropping ticket prices by as much as 44%.

In 2012, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary floated the idea this way: “The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it’s been populated by people who think it’s a wondrous sexual experience when it’s really just a bus with wings.”

One of the biggest scams going today is the promise that if you fly often enough and far enough you will “earn” miles that you can redeem for upgrades to the more spacious accommodations in Business Class. (Forget First Class).

Ha! What a hoax. I bought my Economy plus tickets from United Airlines in September 2014 for our vacation in May 2015–a full eight months ahead of time. I indicated I wanted to use some of my 130,000 miles to upgrade to business class. I was at the top of the list, I was told.

A lot of good that did. By the time I left for my trip the airline still had not granted me an upgrade using my miles. Ditto on the return trip from Europe.

Now, I realize that complaining about overcrowded airplanes, lack of leg room, nasty and overworked flight attendants and bathrooms designed for dwarfs does absolutely no good. Airlines consistently and predictably ignore the protests of anguished passengers as they rake in the $$.

So here’s an idea that is even better than the “vertical passenger seat.”

On long flights to Europe or Asia why not have special air tight sections of the plane where passengers can opt to be rendered unconscious for the duration of the flight with miscellaneous “cocktails” laced with drugs for general anesthesia.

Planes would have First Class, Business Class, Economy Class and “Propofol” or “Thiopental” class sections in which passengers sit down, buckle up, go to sleep, and wake up once the plane arrives at its destination.

Now that’s my idea of flying the friendly skies.

Think of all the meals and soft drinks airlines would no longer have to serve to keep the sheep happy. Think of shorter lines to get into the airborne outhouses. Think of fewer crabby passengers making unreasonable demands on flight attendants.

OK, I will let you think about that for a while.

In the meantime, I must say the best part of the trip was arriving at Heathrow Airport in London. Not that Heathrow is a wonderful airport. It is not. It is too big and possibly the most passenger unfriendly airport I have ever been in.

Inside one of 5 Terminals at Heathrow

Hallways stretch on forever. After 20 minutes of hiking I felt like a Hobbit on a never-ending journey to the land of demons.

Terminals are 10 and 15-minute bus rides apart. If I had decided to walk from one terminal to the other, I would still be walking and never would have witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or paid my obligatory visit to the Tower of London.

Speaking of the Tower of London, imagine my surprise when, while touring the dungeon with its various implements of torture, I saw in the corner the most horrifying and painful torture device of all.

It was a seat from the economy section of a modern airline. How diabolical can we human beings be?


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