I hate flying. I don’t mean that I’m a legitimate, doctor-approved aerophobe who munches Xanax like candy and lunges for the barf bag at the first sign of turbulence. I just dislike the minor ordeal of air travel—the security lines, the required partial disrobing and unpacking, the “huddled masses” feeling of the crowd shuffling down the ramp and into the cabin, the cramped quarters and yowling babies, the small talk and recycled air, the vague sense of dislocation when you finally arrive on the other end in a giant parking lot. I’m not ungrateful. It’s not lost on me that the whole time I’m shifting uncomfortably in my seat, rationing my twenty peanuts, I’m 30,000 feet in the sky, hurtling at 500 miles an hour toward my destination, miraculously completing in a matter of hours a trip that might otherwise take days. But I don’t enjoy a minute of it.
Ordinarily, I would keep this grousing to myself, except that in the past ten years the feeling has become widespread. Flying has become so detestable that hating it is one of the few things that brings this divided country together. At some point (seems to me it was about five years ago, after Christmas), a confluence of irritations—increased security, increased delays, increased ticket costs and fees—caused the whole experience to reach a tipping point, and now, with the possible exception of the folks in first class, everyone hates flying.
How bad is it? A few days before we went to press, Congress passed a series of proposed airline regulations known as the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, a grim petition if ever there was one. (As one leading advocate described some of the gains, “Extensive tarmac delays are prohibited… .