Having just returned from a family visit abroad, I had plenty of time, some 24 hours door to door, to reflect on the modern flying experience. While at one time, apparently, travel was exiting and almost magical, it has become unpleasant, even borderline insufferable.
The anxiety begins even before the trip. Despite the plethora of options available to order airplane tickets, the sheer number of options in terms of airlines, types of connections, layover times and prices can be very daunting. I have to admit that while for simple trips I use Expedia, for most trips I call the airline directly so I can compare the difference in price for specific days. It is far more time efficient. Unfortunately, the mere possession of the reservation guarantees no peace of mind. My flight paranoid has been justified on numerous occasions. I have had flights delayed, cancelled and “disappeared” (never existed according to the airline, from Miami, of course). I have had to sit hours at the airport, been sent home from the airport and, just recently, even had to take a cab to another airport in order to make the connection.
The airport itself has become an obstacle course. Some airlines have self-checking in stands that easily confuse the easily confused. After checking in, US rules require a security process that is not far from a strip search and create long lines as each traveler gets his/her five minutes of unwanted attention. After that obstacle, in many airports, travelers of all ages can begin the long distance sprint. Many airports, including San Francisco and Frankfurt, have kilometers of halls to pass to reach the golden gate of departure. I have done it with an irregular heartbeat, a humbling experience. I can imagine how older and less fit travelers feel.
The reward for having successfully reached the plane is sit in cramped seats like sardines in a can with generally efficient but not exactly friendly stewardesses and stewards, overworked themselves to be fair. Airplane food is rather infamous, justifiably. As for scheduling, officially, a half an hour late is on-time. Try telling that to your boss. Some airports then play lottery with our luggage. Smart travelers try to avoid checking in luggage not just because of the cost.
Thus, traveling by plane involves stress to the third power. Once upon a time, people were scared of flying because they were worried that the plane would crash. The vast majority of Western flyers (not including Russian ones, I imagine) are now more concerned about what kind of physical and mental shape they will arrive at the destination. That is the current meaning of the title of Erica Jong’s book.