Do we need to be confined at 35,000 ft for almost a day?


AM I the only traveller, who questions whether airlines and aircraft manufacturers have any idea what the average air passenger wants from a journey? And you can include airports and civil aviation bodies into that equation.

I read that Boeing has just created a record with the new 777-200LR (long-range aircraft) by flying non-stop from Hong Kong to London, the wrong way around, across North America, in order to make it a 23-hour flight. Boeing proudly claimed that this aircraft could now fly anywhere in the world with one stop.
Hands up all those who want to travel in a metal container in a cramped seat for almost a whole day? I cannot see many hands raised! It is bad enough flying from the Gulf to Europe, even worse to Australia, but imagine being confined for 23 hours!
That means some 300 passengers, each using the loos at least four or five times. Food being reheated. Two sets of tired cabin crews. Hopefully the flight deck crew will take it in turns to rest in their special sleeping quarters!
Of course, on the bright side, it will cut down on those lengthy and often meaningless announcements, which the cabin crew seems to compete with each other to complete in the most irritating, rattling fashion.
Travellers will be able to watch eight or nine movies (wow!), listen to scores of pop songs (wow!), even a couple of complete operas (I can’t wait!). Most of us sleep about seven hours normally, so we would only have to fill in 15 hours between sleeping... perhaps some airlines might introduce bingo or hair dressers or lecturers like on the cruise ships.
But do we really need an aircraft, which can fly so far? Don’t they realise, we like to stop en route and stretch our legs on long journeys? Some of us even manage a smoke in the usually dirty, smelly glass bowl reserved for those “criminals” called smokers.
It gets worse. The wire service reported recently that a Dubai-based airline executive had suggested that he thought that in the not-too-distant-future, some airlines (not his) would consider flying the Airbus super-jumbo A380 in an all-Economy version seating some 800 passengers.
It would be a low-cost airline operation, where drinks and food could be purchased, films rented and you could fly in this cattle class from London to Australia for less than $500. In the good old days of emigration to Australia from the UK, it cost only 10 pounds to purchase a berth on one of the packed ships carrying immigrants to the “promised land”.
I like Australia and the Australians, but I do believe that most people would be willing to pay more, much more, for the opportunity to fly in a full service, scheduled carrier to and from Down Under for that dream holiday. Nevertheless, I’m sure the backpacker brigade would use such a service. I just hope it does not catch on.
While I am talking about the travel industry, can I take a swipe at the London airports, which insist that you pass through duty-free shops on the way to Arrivals? This obvious ploy to squeeze more money out of the consumer must be breaking some European Union regulations – there are enough of them in every sector of life in Europe, as it is.
My problem with airports is that I am not as fit as I used to be and the 3-mile trek from check-in to the boarding gate is fine, if you are young and healthy. If you are like more than 25 per cent of all air travelers (50 and above), shorter distances are preferable and certainly more golf buggies are needed to carry us to the aircraft.
I am intrigued, but I understand, why there are so many wheelchair “patients” boarding some flights, especially when I see them disembarking at a destination to sprint to be the first in the queue for passport control.
Of course, we are spoilt. Forty years ago, twin-engined aircraft flew from Dubai’s new airport with only five or six berths reserved for Business travellers and it took the ruler’s promise to pay for empty seats to persuade British Airways to include the city on its network.
Today, we are lucky to have more than 100 airlines serving Dubai with scores of carriers serving Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Doha and Oman. So, progress has brought us the convenience of modern air travel.
But just as we understand that all the roads being dug up in Dubai and all the trenches and tippers are converting a desert land into a 21st century touristic and commercial destination, it does not make the drilling any quieter or the atmosphere less polluted or the traffic jams less frustrating. After all, some of us are probably not going to be around in the Gulf to enjoy these futuristic projects.
On a more positive travel note: Yes, we are lucky to enjoy some of the most modern airports in the world with connections to nearly 200 global cities; yes, we are lucky to have a choice of restaurants, which only major cities like London, Paris or New York can rival; yes, we are fortunate to live in a friendly and multi-cultural environment; yes, we are happy in our expatriate quality of life – and no, I do not have a maid in my home country.
But that doesn’t mean, we cannot grumble a little, does it?

Speaking Out Jonna Simon