The popular author and blogger BikeSnobNYC occasionally waxes eloquent about his road warrior experiences in posts titled "The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle." I always delight in these posts and can't help but share his opinions about the state of travel in general, and its unfortunate indignity. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was doing the same thing when I wrote about how today's emphasis on fares had shrunk the role of cabin staff from the once lofty status of Sky Ambassadors of Fascinating New Destinations to what they are today: Passenger Wranglers. Forgive my incipient cynicism, but it seems the business model of air travel has devolved from the romance of transoceanic clippers to a commoditized value proposition in which the challenge is not in delivering even a hint of fresh white linen service, but rather in navigating what now seems like unruly livestock from Point A to Point B without damaging the cargo.
On a related topic that we have discussed in these pixels before, I was inspired recently by a post over on the Art of Manliness blog about travel wardrobe choices. Blog contributor Antonio Centeno had this to say about travel style choices: "Finally, dressing well while you travel shows your respect for others and the places they call home." I couldn't agree more.
Finally, over at the must-read Tnooz site I caught a mention of JetBlue's sponsorship of the live Broadway show adaptation of "Catch Me If You Can," which harks back to the glory days of the jet age. "JetBlue's mission and brand essence [is] to bring humanity back to air travel, resurrect the glamour and joy of flying in the 1960s, the industry era created for the Broadway show," says Lisa Borromeo, the airline's manager of brand and partnerships.
We're all trying to do the same thing here: maintain our dignity during travel. We just want to be treated properly. I like to think that most of us make a stab at acting appropriately during what has increasingly become an undignified process. So let's not kid ourselves: road warriors are finding themselves shoehorned into ever smaller seats and digging deeper in their wallets to pay for basics like carry-on luggage. Sometimes we get yelled at or forgotten on tarmac buses. Admit it: these types of regular occurrences do beg the question of whether or not a gentleman should reach for the sports jacket.
I really don't think it's going to get better, but I'm not blaming it on the airlines, either. They satisfy a public desire (low fares) and (somewhat arguably) resource their businesses accordingly. Likewise, Geffen or Polydor Records can't be blamed for the fact that people enjoy listening to insufferable drivel masquerading as music — they are merchants, not arbiters of the cultural good.
Nor do I really have much of a solution, except to persevere in my own obsolete and "counter(passenger)culture" ways. I'm going to be pleasant and cooperative with cabin staff and other travel providers. I'm going to follow the safety rules and procedures. I'm going to check out of my hotel on time, and abide by Mr. Centeno's style advice above because I agree it shows respect for others and their culture. I do it because this type of stuff goes along with delivering a firm handshake, speaking frankly and clearly, bringing an appropriate gift, and knowing a few good knots.
If other people want to prance around the hotel lobby of a foreign city in sweatpants, then fine — no one will stop them. But in my experienced opinion, the way to avoid being treated like a head of cattle in your travels is surprisingly intuitive: stop acting like one.
Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com