I hate air travel. It is an anathema to me, a scourge.
I hate it the way I hate going to the dentist or having a sit-down talk with my wife to discuss my shortcomings. Travel is a necessary evil but it is also just plain evil. You’re in a cramped seat with awkward lighting, how can this be good? Getting from point A to point B is painful and tedious enough, but the worst part of air travel is that it is so wholly predictable.
I’m on a flight right now typing this. It’s a regional jet, which means there is enough room to move one of my legs and an elbow. You would think United Airlines would have installed some sort of power outlet near my seat, knowing The Tech Geek of the Century would be on board. (I suspect this has something to do with needing enough power for the plane, but let’s be reasonable here: I have work to do.)
I mentioned how air travel is predictable. Here are a few examples:
Overly-detailed flight attendants. I mean, seriously: I don’t need to know that the snack cart is big. I can see that for myself. Besides, if I do lose an arm, I will just have to get by with my good one for the duration of the flight anyway. Keep your FAA sermon short and to the point.
The guy next to me using the arm rest. Assuming I survived the snack tray and have not lost an arm, it would be nice to have a place to put one. But no. The guy needs his comfort.
Wrangling over bags. Okay, major airlines and smaller carriers, we understand there are rules and you are broke like a bad Vegas gambler. But this is not the country fair, and you’re not an auctioneer. Just calm down about the baggage fees. We are trying to get to Chicago with our two-piece luggage set, not broker a deal with you. I have yet to take a flight without haggling over bags. It makes me want to take a bus.
Laptop cramps. This is the ailment that really gets me. I fold open a brand new Lenovo (not that I purchased, mind you) expecting to get some work done. Maybe it is the sound of the Windows chime that triggers this reaction, but invariably the person in front of me decides to extend their seat. Whonk, thank you for the warning. On a few flights, I have thought about offering cash by the hour so I can get work done.
Crying babies and/or toddlers. I know this one will get me in trouble. Honestly, I get it – babies are people, too. I’m pro family. I have kids. But for some inexplicable reason there is always an infant within earshot when I fly. I think someone in row six needs to do more coddling or find a diaper. That’s one reason I enjoy the flight to Vegas – every passenger is either a prepubescent young adult or elderly. Few of them are crying.
(Before you send me any hate mail about the baby comment, let me be clear: I believe humans are engineered to respond to a crying baby as an early warning mechanism, and that’s a good thing. My mechanism just appears to be slightly exaggerated. Also, the babies are not to blame.)
So, here’s the burning question: why do we put ourselves through this? I often wonder if the benefits of travel are worth it. You know, I’ve been to San Francisco about a dozen times, it hasn’t changed much. There are times when I think it would be more effective to cover CES by phone.
But then there’s this really annoying perk: it isn’t so much that the travel is fun, but there is a payoff. On every trip, I meet people who have amazing insights. I engage in conversations that spur article ideas. I discover brilliant advances in technology, even when I visit Microsoft.
I remember the first time I met with Google. I went solo on that trip. (In a few cases, I have brought along my son or a photographer.) As I walked past the volleyball courts and open-air hot tubs, and eventually sat down to chat with some awkward engineers (are there any other kind?) to talk about search technology, I realized that geography – where you work, where you live – plays a major role in spurring creativity and innovation. When I camp out at a coffee shop or in a crowded mall (or on an airplane, given enough space), the words flow faster and the fingers dance quicker. As much as my job is about testing metal objects to see if they work, it is really about testing the innovation of people in disparate regions.
And, airplanes get me there and back faster. The pain is worth it.
Now, I really need to get back to some real work here. Enough blogging for one day! I’ve now commandeered the armrest. These Princess Leia headphones are going to block out the noise. I slipped the guy in front of me ten bucks to move his seat forward. I’m ready to rumble.
Addendum: As a personal note to a friend of mine, we both know there is proof the airlines know me by name. Before our flight left to Vegas last month (I am not making this up) the flight attendant came over the loudspeaker. She said “Is John Brandon on board?” and I waved. Then she closed the hatch. Neither of us have any idea why that happened.