Air travel can be hellacious. But whom do you blame more: the airlines or the other passengers?

Air travel is pretty much the safest and most time-relevant method of long-distance travel ever invented, so let’s not knock it completely — even though it isn’t doing any wonders for the environment and some processes therein, like boarding, are completely unscientific — but there is a central dichotomy we need to discuss.

No, we speak not of first-class vs. coach. Rather, the issue is where the blame for the hassles of air travel ultimately lie: is it with the airlines themselves, or the passengers?

Consider this:

In the past 30 hours, I had to be on four planes — two to get somewhere, two to go back (in my defense, I didn’t book these tickets, although I spent most of my 20s buying non-direct flights because I thought I was saving boatloads of money; FYI I’m a moron). Each plane I was on had a particularly grueling de-planing process, to the point that I started thinking about people who travel more than me and how much of their lives are wasted waiting for others to successfully exit a plane. It has to start adding up to months ultimately (if you’re a big business traveler).

There are obviously major pet peeves in this space: for example, when you stand up during a de-planing and get ready to enter that center aisle of traffic flowing towards the door, please have a plan in place. Don’t stand up and look around for where your overhead bags are, or — worse yet — try to go against traffic to get your bags, several rows behind where you were sitting, and then go back with the flow of traffic. This is just awful stuff, and it seems to happen more and more on the flights I’m on (small sample size). This is essentially akin to entering a freeway via on-ramp, dead-stopping, and then putting your car in reverse for no truly discernible reason.

In the above example, the hassles of air travel come from the other passengers. But … you could flip the script and say the issue is “amount of storage space available” or “policy around carry-on baggage” or “over-zealous flight attendants moving your stuff from its original compartment to another one in order to do some Tetris-like stuff with the overheads.” In all those cases, the issues would emanate from the airlines themselves.

The central question, then, is quite simple: are the annoyances of air travel primarily the result of the airlines or the other passengers?

(It’s fun to unilaterally assign blame.)

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Interesting point! On the one hand you have the passangers causing the problem directly by being unorganised, and on the other hand you have the airline which completely fails to provide a system for the de-embarkation (if that’s even close to the right word). There’s an ethical principle that might help here; essentially the idea that responsibility is indivisible. If you look at the problem and try to divide responsibility for it to add up to 100% you’re going to run into problems real fast – how can the airline be responsible when if the passangers just got their shit together it would all be resolved? And how can the passangers be responsible when if the airline just put a freakin system in place the situation would also be completely resolved?

    A better approach is to to forget the responsibility of the collective and focus on the responsibilities of individuals. If there’s a problem that you can fix, does it matter if you’re alone or part of a crowd? Psychologically we might react differently, but ethically the responsibility doesn’t change – it’s only your individual capacity to intervene in the situation that is relevant.

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