President’s Message: A Necessary Evil, Airline Travel

— story by Jason Fogelson

Airline travel. It’s the bane of our existences as automotive journalists and public relations professionals. If you spend any time at all on Facebook, you’ve seen the photos and read the rants from your colleagues. Long security lines, delayed flights, shrinking seats and ever-changing rules bring tempers to a boil. I’d bet that we spend almost as much time sharing airline preferences, upgrade strategies and horror stories as we do talking about cars during launch trips.

Most MPG members live in Southern California, where we have a choice of airports, but major trips almost always begin or pass through LAX. Los Angeles will never be a world-class city until we fix LAX. Even though there are sections of the airport that have been upgraded or patched up in the past few years, the vast majority of the place is an outdated dump, run by surly, unfriendly and downright nasty people who hate their jobs. And that’s on a good day.

Not only do we have to suffer the depressing environment of LAX, we have to get there and back. I live in the San Fernando Valley, about 25 miles from the airport, door-to-door. On a good day (and there are very few of those), I can make the trip in 45 minutes. On a bad day, it can take three hours. Seriously. So, I have to take a gamble every time I commit to a trip out of LAX. Do I leave my house two hours before my flight, leaving a 15-minute cushion to assure my arrival one hour before flight time? Or do I leave my house four hours before my flight, in case of a traffic event? I usually compromise and roll the dice, leaving about three hours before my departure time and traveling with only carry-on luggage. I often wind up wasting an hour or two in the gate area, bemoaning the horrible state of LAX and wishing for faster Wi-Fi. If there was a public transportation option available that guaranteed consistent arrival times, I would take it – but the only one I could choose is the FlyAway Bus, and it uses the same clogged freeways I am forced to use myself.

I envy my colleagues who are real airplane nuts. Guys like Michael Harley, Aaron Gold, George Notaris and others love commercial aircraft and spend their airport time looking at the planes, soaking in the details and doing their best to “accidentally” bump into pilots and navigators who share their enthusiasm in the minutiae of planes. I recently sat at a dinner table where several of these plane fans spent half an hour debating which direction the turbine rotated on a jet engine versus the propeller on a turboprop, or something like that. I realized that I was just like most consumers at that moment – listening to experts drone on and on about details, when all I wanted was to use the product. I don’t care which direction the prop goes; I just want to get to my destination. Some readers don’t care how much torque is directed to the rear wheels, they just want to drive through the snow.

Maybe if I try to develop a real love of airplanes, my travel time will be more enjoyable and less of an endurance test. I doubt it, though. I’ll always hate LAX.

Rubber parts down,

Jason

photo credit: Reed Saxon/Associated Press via LATimes.com

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