A Theory of Air Travel Agony

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stories about bad experiences with air travel are dull because everybody has them. Every trip involves indignities, personal slights, and some discomfort. I keep perspective by trying to quantify how bad things are getting. My trips all start with 2 points. Then I adjust based on my mood, what happens, and what I expect. So, for instance: going on vacation? +1; Traveling with someone I like? +1 -- these things help buffer the unpleasantness. Screaming child? -1. No seats in the waiting area? -1 No outlets in the waiting area? 0 (I don’t expect there to be any; laptops have been around for fewer years than most airports).

Using this system, my worst flight ever was BOS-SFO on United. It was terrible, but I know that most of that was because of baggage I brought to the party.

Here’s an example from a flight I took from Boston to Aruba.
Base score: 2
Vacation: +1
Glow of getting a cheap awesome vacation: +1
Seats with the smallest pitch I’ve ever seen (seriously -- like <20”): -1
Screaming child: -1
2-hour flight delay: -1
Net: 1. Despite no legroom and a screaming child, this flight was a win.

I started tracking this a few months ago. What I realized was that I was virtually guaranteed to have a miserable experience from time to time but that very little was the result of company decisions by airlines (and therefore, very little could be avoided by avoiding particular carriers). Sometimes agents are mean, and sometimes policies suck (but they’re usually industry-wide). It’s a relaxing thing to remember: whether a flight is terrible or awesome, it’s mostly in my head.


Laura January 13, 2011 at 1:00 PM  

Speaking of airport agony, I assume you've seen this: http://www.hipmunk.com/

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