Pilot and author Patrick Smith points out that air travel is so much better than it was even 20 years ago, it's hard to see how far we've come:
People often talk about a proverbial “golden age” of air travel, and if only we could return to it. That’s an easy sentiment to sympathize with. I’m old enough to recall when people actually looked forward to flying. I remember a trip to Florida in 1979, and my father putting on a coat and tie for the occasion. I remember cheesecake desserts on a 60-minute flight in economy. Yes, things were once a little more comfortable, a little more special.
One of the reasons that flying has become such a melee is because so many people now have the means to partake in it. It wasn’t always this way. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a ticket has declined about 50 percent over the past 35 years. This isn’t true in every market, but on the whole fares are far cheaper than they were 30 years ago. (And yes, this is after factoring in all of those add-on “unbundling” fees that airlines love and passengers so despise.)
I could mention, too, that the airplanes of decades past were louder — few things were more deafening than a 707 at takeoff thrust — and more gas-guzzling and polluting. And if, in 2017, you’re put off by a lack of legroom or having to pay for a sandwich, how would you feel about sitting for eight hours in a cabin filled with tobacco smoke? As recently as the 1990s, smoking was still permitted on airplanes.
As for legroom, there’s that conventional wisdom again, contending that airlines are forever cramming more rows into their aircraft. Except it’s not necessarily true. The spacing between rows, called “pitch” in the business, is, on average, less than it was 20 or 30 years ago — and yes, passengers themselves have become larger on average — but only slightly. Remember Laker Airways, whose “Skytrain” service ran between the United States and London in the 1970s and early ’80s? Sir Freddie Laker, the airline’s flamboyant founder, configured his DC-10s with a bone-crunching 345 seats — about a hundred more than the typical DC-10 at the time.
Sure, air travel is a pain in the ass. But it's safer, cheaper, more accessible, more convenient, quieter, and faster than it's ever been.