Airplane Travel is So Last Century
Let's face it, over the course of the last 25 years air travel has gone from being glamorous, to not even remotely comfortable. After scooting shoeless though airport security praying we didn't leave any liquids in our carry-on bag, we strike a pose for the "full body scanner" that would make George Orwell proud. We then board ourselves onto dinosaur aircraft originally constructed to shuttle far fewer passengers, cram our carry-on luggage into overstuffed bins, and wedge ourselves into narrow seats with almost zero legroom. Once we are at last somewhat settled in, the idea of getting a complimentary snack, let alone meal, is almost unthinkable. And don't even get me started on those "standing room only" lavatories.
While the threat of terrorism in a post 9/11 world has certainly increased the stresses of air travel, another factor which has contributed to the discomfort and inconvenience of flying is the rising price of fuel. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Jet fuel prices have tripled since 2004, forcing airlines to cut services and perhaps worst of all legroom, to offset the cost. IATA recently cut estimated profits for major airlines almost in half due to the rising cost of fuel, leaving some passengers to wonder, what will they cut next?
That's why increasing numbers of travelers are looking for alternatives to air travel, such as Amtrak's Acela service on the east coast, but one thing the airlines do have going for them is that with few exceptions, they're still the only game in town. There really just isn't any other way for most Americans to travel long distances in a short amount of time. However, all that may be about to change if the Obama Administration has its way. That's right, President Obama, along with 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, are backing investment in a little-known form of travel called "high-speed rail". The first time I heard about a high-speed train was in the spring of 2001 when I was studying abroad in Seville, Spain. The AVE, which is a high-speed train that connects Seville to Madrid in about one hour, seemed unbelievable to me at the time, considering Seville is about a 6 hour drive from Madrid. I recall wondering, if that sort of technology existed, why didn't we have super-fast trains like that in America?
The answer: cheap oil. Fuel prices have historically been much higher in the European Union than in the United States, forcing European countries over the past few decades to find alternatives to using massive amounts of fossil fuel for transportation. Sadly, we haven't had the same incentives here in America. However, with global fuel prices continuing to rise combined with ever increasing tension in the Middle East, it appears that at least some of our lawmakers are realizing that it's finally time for us to invest in alternatives to
fossil fuel ourselves.