James Fallows: Flying Will Never Be the Same

James Fallows: Flying Will Never Be the Same

“As of right now, May 20 is when I drop out of currency,” Patrick Smith told me. “My carrier’s training center has been closed for a month. With so many of us facing currency issues, the logistics of how they’re going to run people through training is going to be a challenge for sure.”

Another pilot said, “There’s going to be a huge rush on the simulators—if they ever call us back.”

On the other end. For passengers, there will likely be more temperature checks on arrival, and you’ll want to wipe down your bags when you receive them. From there, you’re on your own. For flight crews, it may be a more complicated process. One pilot for a non-U.S .carrier said that he expected crews on international trips to be subject to a kind of air-lock quarantine. “They will take us in a bus from the tarmac to the hotel, check us in, and be sure we stay in our rooms until they collect us for the flight out.”     

“In every way but one, this is the absolute dream world if you’re an airline manager,” Aboulafia told me. The big four costs in aviation, according to Aboulafia, are: aircraft, interest payments, fuel, and the crew—and each of those costs is plummeting. “It’s the cheapest time—ever—to lease or buy aircraft,” he said. (Many airlines lease, rather than own, the planes that they fly.) “The poor aircraft are there like rabbits in an adoption center, saying ‘Please, take me! Take me!’ Interest rates are practically zero. With the oil glut, people are practically paying you to take their fuel. And the crew’s interest in joining unions or arguing has also disappeared. It would be the best of times …” Except that no one wants to fly.

And from the passengers’ perspective? The people I spoke with all said that the airline system so many of us complained about just two months ago was as good as things were ever going to get.

“Commercial air travel has never been safer than it is today,” Smith said. “Airfares are a fraction of what they were decades ago. Younger people especially have no memory of how expensive flying once was. First- and business-class cabins are more luxurious than ever, and even economy class, for all the griping people do, is often packed with amenities that didn’t used to exist.” From a technical standpoint, airliners are much quieter than they used to be, both for passengers aboard the plane and for people on the ground. While carbon emissions from aviation obviously remain a crucial concern, aircraft engines are significantly cleaner and more efficient year after year.

“Whether you’re talking safety, affordability, convenience, or even comfort, if ever there was a ‘golden age’ of air travel, I’d say it’s right now,” Smith told me.

“Or, well, at least until two months ago.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to


Leave a Reply

Close Menu