Leaving On A Jet Plane (Air Travel and the Sequester)

Last week’s speedy Congressional action that gave the FAA more flexibility to deal with sequestration-imposed cuts was hailed by many as a great example of government functioning at its best. But I’m feeling a little like the little kid who insists the Emperor has no clothes; after all, wasn’t the pain of those cuts supposed to be the point?

I thought the idea was that if the impact were felt across the board, constituents would complain and Congress would act to find a less extreme way of resolving the budget disputes. But apparently that doesn’t apply to frustrated business travelers or Congresspeople who want to get out of DC as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, do a Google search on “heartless sequester cuts” and it takes 0.41 seconds to get 5,310,000 results. (I was going to write, “And you’ll get thousands of results,” but that sounded like an exaggeration, so I did the actual Google search – yes, the truth can be even more ludicrous than my imagination.) But of course kids in the Head Start program, homeless people, elderly cancer patients, furloughed federal clerical workers, etc., don’t have the political pull to get the pain of their cuts alleviated.

Don’t get me wrong – I travel frequently and I have spent many frustrated hours in airports coping with flight delays and missed connections, and it’s horrible. It also reminds me of how plane travel has deteriorated. I still remember the first time I went on a plane as a 7-year-old, flying with my family to see grandparents back east. My sister and I had new dresses for the occasion, white patent leather mary-janes, and matching little purses. Everything about the experience felt so glamorous and chic. I’m not advocating going back to that – I still remember how itchy my dress was, and I’d much rather fly in yoga pants and sneakers than in the skirt suit, pumps, and girdle my mom probably had to wear. And before my teenagers chime in with, “Was that in the 19th century, mom?” I’m not THAT old, people dressed up for air travel even in the late 1960s. Just watch Mad Men.

But these days only a few privileged business travelers get anything close to a luxurious experience, and the rest of us shlumps have to suffer cramped seats and nonexistent service. And then we get our noses rubbed in it because we always have to go through business class on our way back to steerage, adding insult to injury and fostering class resentment. (I’m always thrilled when I see a whiny toddler as I go through business class.)

Of course, you could claim that travel delays are the big equalizer, since even a first class ticket can’t help you if the flight is cancelled. But if the point of the sequester was to make the cuts so painful that everyone would suffer and we’d have to find alternatives, this latest Congressional move seems completely wrong-headed. Although it does at least show us that Congress IS capable of quick, decisive action; what’s more, it’s great fodder for comedians. Granted, making fun of Congress is as easy as making fun of the Kardashians”¦ and I’m not above either!

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