Traveling by Air

Later today I'll be boarding a plane and flying to Ohio for the holidays, just like I did last month for Thanksgiving, and dozens of other times this year, for a variety of reasons.

Last month I heard a pretty interesting interview on public radio with Andrew Thomas, who's written a book about the airline industry. I've always felt like kind of an out-of-place urbanist when it comes to air travel. From my experience, many urbanists love trains, buses, and bikes, while air travel often seems to get shunned along with the automobile as an occasionally necessary evil.

(from thomas23 on Flickr)

Without a doubt, one of the biggest downsides of airports is that they're almost always on the outskirts of cities. Train stations, on the other hand, tend to be centrally located. A downtown-to-downtown trip by air often involves ground transportation on both ends that can be expensive, and frankly, a pain. Asking someone for the "airport pickup" is a favor that usually requires great repayment. So yes, I get why people don't love it.

There's also a lot of things that fuel constant complaints. TSA has become the prime example of everything that's wrong with doing things in the name of "security". The problem is, if it's true that TSA is mostly in the business of "security theater" and the reasons for its existence is arbitrary (that some bad people chose to abuse airplanes rather than trains) then there's a real risk that TSA could be applied to other forms of transportation if something terrible were ever to happen.

The reality is that traveling is difficult and expensive. It doesn't matter whether it's a trip cross-country or a commute from the suburbs to the city. The longer the distance, the more painful it's probably going to be, regardless of the mode of transportation used. When I hear people talk about how much they hate to fly, I think what they often mean is that they hate to travel.