I recognize it may signal mild mental illness, but I don't mind 12-hour flights. I built up to this, of course, starting with 4-hour flights from Chicago to L.A. when I was a kid and growing into almost daily flights during a particularly annoying part of my career as a consultant. These days, Chicago to London (7 hours) isn't too long for a weekend; and Chicago to Tokyo (12 hours) only requires dumping a few frequent-flyer miles to ensure that I do the overnight flight in a premium class.
That helps, of course. Twelve hours in first or business is a lot more tolerable than 12 hours in coach. Ultimately, though, I'm engaged in an activity that was totally inaccessible to all of my ancestors, even my parents: cheap, convenient air travel to almost anywhere on the planet in less than a day.
"But wait," you cry, "they had airplanes 30 years ago." Yes, but before the Boeing 777 and Airbus 330/340, all three of which entered service only in the mid-1990s, fuel costs made cheap tickets to Europe or Asia impossible. When I first went to Europe in 1992, the ticket cost in nominal terms about what it would cost today: $600 or $700 for the round trip. Only, in 1992, $700 went almost 50% farther in real terms.
Also in the last 25 years or so, visa regimes have relaxed throughout the world. For all that politicians worldwide complain about illegal immigration, in reality citizens of the U.S. can visit almost anyplace in the world without a pre-arranged visa. As recently as 1985, most Western European countries required Americans to get visas from their consulates before visiting; now, Americans can get a stamp at entry in 173 countries, which includes all of the OECD, all of the Americas (except Brazil and Venezuela), all of Europe (except Russia and Belarus), and all of Oceania.
None of that, of course, makes the actual flight more fun. For that, I have:
- A Kindle, with two novels I've yet to read;
- An iPod, with the last 10 episodes of This American Life; and
- A laptop, with three projects I can work on, two of them billable.
Still, thirty years ago, the idea of spending a week in Japan, posting photos of the trip in near-real-time, and keeping in touch with people by text and phone for pennies—all of this would have seemed like science fiction.
Welcome to the 2010s and cheap travel. I wish more people would take advantage of it. I'll have more thoughts on that point when I land.