I recently bought plane tickets, thus setting off my usual dread of flying. I dread flying for two main reasons. First, I am terrified of heights. Second, American airlines are, to use the technical phrase, “sucking bad” this year.
The fear of heights thing is, of course, my problem. This fear brings great shame along with it because my great grandfather was a Mohawk and Mohawks have a reputation for being unafraid of heights. In fact, they are famous for working the high steel in construction. My father also doesn’t do well with flying and he is, of course, even more Mohawk than I.
Fear is, of course, a difficult thing. When it comes to such feelings, people feel what they feel (obviously). However, as Aristotle argued in his Nicomachean Ethics, we can consciously modify how we feel by conditioning. Or rather, to be more accurate, we can shape how we deal with how we feel. I’ve never been able to shake my fear of heights. Even buying tickets for a flight brings sweat up on my palms-that is how extreme and pathetic the fear is. However, when I fly I show absolutely no sign of concern and have, on occassion, helped other passengers deal with their fear. The fear doesn’t go away, buy I can control how I respond to it. To use an analogy, it is like being stuck on a plane with a screaming child. There is nothing you can really do to stop the child from screaming. But, you can control how you react to that. In the case of the fear, it is like having something screaming away on the inside. I’ve found that I can simply ignore it and thus prevent it from having any impact on my conscious actions. Naturally enough, this inclines me to accept Aristotle’s theory. I am also inclined to accept some of the classic views of the will-that a person is free and the master of her own mind. Naturally, there are forces that push against the will, but it seems a critical part of our being people and not just things. But, I could be wrong about this. In any case, even though I am terrified of heights, I have no problem functioning just fine while running about on top of tall objects or being on planes. I actually enjoy climbing and suspect that the fear merely adds to it.
The airlines sucking badly is, of course, mostly their problem. While some airlines enjoy sterling reputations, most of them are outside of the United States and, of course, none of them operate out of Tallahassee, Florida. I don’t fly that often, but almost ever time I’ve flown since the 1990s I’ve run into some kind of problem ranging from lost luggage to lengthy flight delays. Luckily, the longest I’ve been stranded in an airport has been about 7 hours, which is actually fairly minor these days.
Since there are some very good airlines, the main problem lies with the way the poor airlines are managed. After all, the airlines have to deal with the same basic problems so those that do it better must be better run. Or perhaps they are just lucky. Naturally, since the American airlines have to rely on the state for air traffic control and have to deal with Homeland Security, the state has a clear hand in making most American airlines suck.
Passengers also have a role in this as well. Making things go well requires money and it is hardly shocking that airlines that focus on providing more high end services (and higher end prices) tend to do better. The same is true in almost all industries. Compare, for example, your experience at a 5 star restaurant with that at McDonalds. Passengers tend to focus most on price and this means that airlines have to offer lower prices, which limits their resources. Also, when passengers pick cheap airlines, they will tend to have that McDonalds sort of experience.
Like many, these days I’ve lowered my airline expectations. I really just expect to 1) get to Maine from Florida in less than 12 hours and 2) survive the flight.