There's a theory that this is all intentional. The stress you feel in the airport; the anxiety that you won't get through security in time, that you won't make it through customs, that your name will be called over the loud speaker and you'll be publically shamed as you make an undignified dash for your gate.
The stress you take onto the plane with you. The fact little things begin to annoy you: the armrest hogs, the chair recliners, the people with too much carry-on. The air rage. This could all very well be the product of something that's entirely intentional.
Airports are designed to stress you out. The theory is that they have to work this way; that they could only work this way. In order to make the whole industry of air travel run smoothly and punctually, to ensure millions of people move through the world's airspace in an orderly fashion, hour after hour, day after day, passengers have to be stressed out.
They have to feel the tug of anxiety, otherwise they'll dawdle. Passengers will turn up late to the airport. They'll hang around out the front saying goodbye to relatives, or getting another coffee, or doing whatever it is people do out there. They'll wander the shops aimlessly post-security, not paying attention to the time, not really sure where their gate is.
In other words, they would be relaxed and comfortable, which sounds lovely for the passengers, but a nightmare for those trying to get all of these flights away on time. No one would turn up when and where they should. People would be scattered. Flights would be late.
Airports need everyone to be stressed and anxious. That's why you're told your flight will be boarding an hour before its departure time: not because it actually will be boarding then, but so everyone will have turned up by the time it really is. The airlines need you to be worried that everyone else will get on board before you and take up all the space in the overhead bins, so that you hustle through security and whip through the shops, only to sit around at the gate for half an hour waiting for something to happen.
If they didn't do that, people would be late. Flights would be late. Airports would be disaster zones.
I've worked as a tour guide, and I know what people are like when they're relaxed and comfortable: they're a nightmare. I was only looking after groups of 20 or 30 people in my guiding days, and at least one person at every scheduled meeting would be late. Often several people. These episodes would snowball over the course of each day, too, making us five minutes late, then 15, the half an hour, then an hour…
And that was with 20 or 30 people. Imagine applying that to a planeload of up to 500 passengers. The fact that these planes actually do, usually, leave on time with a full complement of people and luggage is nothing short of a modern miracle. Airports and airlines should be congratulated.
And the secret to their success is keeping you stressed. That's the price we all have to pay for efficient air travel. It's just unfortunate that one of the knock-on effects of that efficiency is a little thing called air rage.
It isn't just airport stress that gets people worked up, of course. It doesn't help that the travel experience strips you of all power, leaves you at the mercy of airline staff and customs officials and the bloke who's taking forever to make you a $6 coffee. It's also not fun being crammed into a metal tube with hundreds of strangers for hours on end.
However, it's interesting to think that one of the causes of air rage – the state of anxiety we're all in as we get on the plane – is probably an intentional ploy by the people who organise air travel to make sure it all runs smoothly.
Being anxious isn't fun, but it does get you where you're going on time.
Do you think air travel is intentionally designed to make passengers anxious? Do you think there would be less air rage if people were relaxed and comfortable?
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