Yes, we were meant to travel, but not this way. A couple weeks ago, I made a trip to see family in Seattle. I did that because we have a son, daughter-in-law, and grandson there. I got to see that grandson play a whole football game! We had fun visiting and eating out. My son and I went hiking in the mountains and saw the remains of an ancient glacier. I also visited an old friend who is in his 90s. We have relationships that make life worth living. Yes!
But I had the opposite experience traveling. You probably know about this kind of thing. It’s enough to send you back into the pre-language age. Economical air travel has become dehumanizing. I was in a row with five other people, three plus three with the aisle between. None knew one another, nor had any desire to get acquainted. Under what other conditions would I ever agree to sit still, buckled into a narrow seat, pinned between two other stiff passengers, with only the slightest room to stretch my feet? And do this for five hours? That was the price I paid for a cheap ticket. My flight was from Seattle to Washington, D.C., where I changed planes to come to Grand Rapids.
But this inhumane situation isn’t unique. People do this all the time. It was the same on my outbound flight a few days earlier. The only relief is a trip to the restroom. That allows you to walk down the narrow aisle and perhaps stand waiting for a few minutes which you don’t mind unless your personal internal pressure is uncomfortable. Otherwise, it feels like a privilege to get around. Oh, yes, there is that thrilling moment when the staff offers you pop and pretzels, peanuts, or a cookie. The airline’s consultant psychologists must know these treats are necessary to keep people from going completely bonkers.
All right, it might be my own fault. I wanted it to be cheap. But I am sure that the people who paid more than I get the same treatment, except for the elite few who travel first class. You know, airline fares are all over the board depending on which day you made your reservation, whether you want to sit by an emergency exit, and a dozen other parameters. Every detail is now “monetized,” a wonderful word that says, “We make you pay.” So for 200 people sitting in a flying tube about 120 feet long, we all had a similar experience. The only exceptions might be a family or two who were traveling together.
More and more we operate as if we don’t care about anyone else. And we are alone. The airlines’ strategy matches our human desires. We want cheaper tickets, so they cram more of us into less space. And we appreciate our computers or phones more then we appreciate meeting a stranger. So we become stranger and stranger. I did speak to my seat mate a couple times. He removed his ear buds so he could hear what I was asking about. He responded politely, and then went back to the music or movie he was enjoying. That is normal. I’m sure he’s not a bad guy. It’s the way people live now.
But I will still protest because I think it’s the way we die. We give up opportunities to meet someone and visit, talk about our experiences to build a relationship, even for a short time. To show compassion and enjoy the wonder of traveling across the country in a few hours. I wonder if I will have the bravery to make it different. I wonder if I can be courageous to take interest in the neighbor sitting by me on my next flight in this strange world that otherwise makes us nonhuman.