28 June 2012
Today I was supposed to begin my journey home, departing Lima for Mexico City, but I missed my flight. The LAN representative at the counter told me that they closed the flight two minutes before I arrived at the counter, so that because I arrived 58 minutes prior to departure instead of 60 minutes prior to departure, they refused me a seat on the plane. Of course I know that there is no excuse for being late. I could have started out earlier for the airport. Many things in the day might have made the difference that put me two minutes beyond the cut off time.
That being said, and accepting my full portion of blame without hesitation, I know the difference between people being helpful and people being unhelpful, and the LAN ground staff was about as unhelpful as anything I have ever encountered. There are other times that I have been late to an airport to catch an international flight, and the airline representatives made an honest and earnest effort to get me on the plane. And they succeeded — until now. The LAN representatives shrugged their shoulders and referred me to the sales counter, where the representative offered to get me a flight the next day for a mere $2,500 (or there abouts). At this point I pushed back a little harder, and they found me the same sequence of flights two days later for the same price as my original ticket.
It is entirely possible that if I had made a dramatic scene at the counter for the first LAN representative who refused to issue me a boarding pass for the flight, I might — certainly not certainly, but again I might — have gotten my seat on the plane. This is did not do. It was not my first reaction, and I am not good at making a scene. If I had tried to make a scene, it would have appeared forced and artificial. I know. I have done this in the past, and it doesn’t go over very well. When one goes this route one enters into an absurd game where you see how far you have to escalate the unpleasantness to pass the threshold of the representative who is all too familiar with dealing with angry customers. In other words, you need to be prepared to escalate to the limits of our ability, and this carries with it a risk, as illustrated in the airport scene in the film Meet the Parents.
For these reasons, I accepted their spectacularly bad service at its face value, which has only confirmed me in my hatred of flying. But flying is a necessary condition of travel unless one has the time and the resources to take a ship or drive the entire distance if the distance is drivable (and usually when I travel the distance is not drivable). So I fly in order to travel, but every flying experience confirms me in my low opinion of the airlines.
Some time ago I wrote a piece about when computers will become completely useless — since the “updates” that are forced upon us by the industry often reduce the functionality of our computers, it seemed to me a reasonable speculation that successive updates will eventually lower the functionality of computers to such a level that we are better off without them and people just give up trying to negotiate the impossible labyrinth jointly constructed by hardware manufacturers and software vendors.
I remembered this that I wrote about the devolution of computers when I had this experience of unhelpfulness with LAN, and I found myself asking the parallel question: will there ever come a point at which airline service becomes so bad, and the security lines so long, and the security procedures so invasive, and the plane ride itself so uncomfortable, that large numbers of people simply give up on the airlines as no longer worth the effort?
Perhaps you think I am being facetious. Perhaps you think that this is a “privileged people problem” (other posts I have written have been explicitly identified by others as such). Perhaps you are right, but, within certain constraints, a high speed rail service could largely replace intra-continental air travel and change both the practices and the expectations of the industry. The airlines can afford their attitude of impunity because they have no competition in terms of mode of transportation. The airlines compete with each other, but this seems to have been a race to the bottom in which they all offer the same awful service.
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29 September 2011
By the primitive expedient of a jetliner I am on my way to the 100 Year Starship Symposium, which will be held this weekend in Orlando, Florida. I will be making a presentation on “The Moral Imperative of Human Spaceflight,” and will also write about whatever else I happen to encounter at the symposium. The symposium has a comprehensive agenda (I suspect that most will view the “religious and philosophical track” as a sideshow), so I looking forward to hearing what others think about the future of spaceflight, and especially the ambitious agenda of travel to the stars.
I expect the other participants will be as eager as I am to see the expansion of life and civilization in the universe, and no doubt there will also be something of an air of impatience with living in a time when this dream is yet beyond our capacity. I would suggest as a motto for the symposium a famous line from Bobby Burns:
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
What’s a heaven for? Heaven is a receptacle into which we pour our dreams and visions and ambitions and prophecies. It is a warehouse of hopes… but not merely hopes and dreams. Now, the heavens are more concrete — and more concretely accessible — than ever before. Whereas the heavens were once nearly exclusively the province of mystery, now the skies are an object of knowledge.
For classical antiquity, and possibly before then back into our prehistoric past, the heavens were a place, one place among other places. It was an inaccessible place, but it was a home of the gods who lived more grandly than we do, but still they lived recognizable lives in a recognizable setting. Then western civilization entered its long twilight in which all knowledge was organized theologically, and much that had once been concrete became abstract, ethereal, and almost unimaginable. The heavens were lost to us. All things solid had melted into air.
After the scientific revolution, and especially the work of early cosmologists like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, the heavens once again became solid and concrete. The heavens were still a realm of hopes and dreams, but they also became in addition a real aspiration that was to be fulfilled in the fullness of time. This process continues today, and so it is with concrete hopes and dreams that we can look to the starry heavens above as our future abode.
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There was an article in the New York Times about the 100 Year Starship Study symposium: Offering Funds, U.S. Agency Dreams of Sending Humans to Stars
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