Business of flying has become plane crazy

We went to Tassie for a few days last week. It was wonderful, as usual, but the flights were memorable for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t the airline’s fault – well, except for the hour delay coming back, and the irony of thIs was a message on the check-in ticket which warned us not to be late: “Don’t be late because we won’t wait!”

No, the problem was the mass herding and cramming of passengers into long, flying metal tubes and into seats so close they would challenge even Paralympian Kurt Fearnley. A lack of any food or drinks except those on sale from the trolley at eye-watering prices. And no on-board entertainment – apart from watching your fellow passengers and making quiet, sarcastic comments to Mrs Whacked. What the hell has happened up there? I’ve done a little backgrounding on this and I believe I have discovered whose fault this is – YOURS.

I have loved aviation for many years, since I first went to London 38 years ago on the one-way backpacking/pub working/old motorcycle thing so many of us experienced.

Since then, I have flown on hundreds of planes, thanks mainly to an exciting stint as the aviation correspondent for the old Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial in the 80s. It seems, in hindsight, that I was flying in line with the paper’s motto: Daily at Dawn.

On my first trip out of Oz in 1979, the fare in today’s dollars would have been more than $3500 calculated at 36 cents per mile. It is now below 10 cents a mile, meaning you can fly to London for less than $1000. The driving force behind this 75 per cent slash in the cost of flying is public demand. You keep demanding and expecting cheaper and cheaper flights, and the last time I looked, no airline was a charity.

In 1979, we’d saved for years to get the airfares, and planned it for as long. It was a huge deal. We had a massive bon voyage party and some passengers – even then – dressed rather stylishly for the flight. The food and drink was copious and included in the fare. There were no fees for this, charges for that. You could take on as much luggage as humanly possible without taking on another mortgage.

And, I am now ashamed to say, I was allowed to chain-smoke the whole way. There is a flip side to this. Research is showing that less people picked up viruses on long flights back then because the air was changed so frequently to get rid of the fog of smoke.

Now, it’s changed about one-third as much and we share the space with others’ bugs for longer. You might die of cancer, but by heck you’d feel tickety-boo up to then.

Planes used to have exotic names such as Comet and Caravelle. Now, they are accurately called Airbuses.

Flight attendants were glamorous and made you feel special. No-one frisked you. On my way to Tassie last week, I was electronically scanned for traces of explosives.

Your luggage wasn’t treated as a Trojan Horse for drugs, firearms, contraband. Nowadays, everything is potentially going to blow up the plane until it’s proved safe. I still use my late Dad’s old Gillette safety razor, and the last time I foolishly took it on a flight it showed up on X-Ray as a dismantled pistol because of the chrome tube handle.

My dirty laundry attracted three armed men at Tullamarine a couple of years ago because I’d stepped about 10 metres away to put something in the rubbish bin.

The glamour of aviation has been grounded. You demanded flights so cheap you can pay for them out of a single pay packet, which means everyone can fly and does. Half of them crossed Bass Strait last week.

WAYNE GREGSON