Let me make this prefatory remark up front: I take absolutely no joy in writing this or in making these criticisms, but someone has to tell you how it really is. If you disagree, fine, but back your disagreement up with something more than a mindless assertion that “‘Murica is the best.” Why? Well, for starters, chances are I’ve forgotten about more of my travel experiences than you’ve ever had travel experiences. Second, I have observation and experience on my side. Third, well, do you really want to have a pissing match you’ll lose? Just trust me, I know what I am talking about.
I say this each time I am at IAH (Houston Intercontinental) airport: it’s a filthy pit. And I’ve seen some in my time. While I was waiting for my last flight to San Antonio (having flown from Istanbul to Munich to Houston) a man said in Spanish to his wife, “this airport is filthy.” I was embarrassed. But then I looked around even more closely. The paint on the walls was peeling, the blue carpet was filthy, the chairs were leaning at angles and the fabric was torn or stained. I expect this in an Uzbek airport or one in some other post-imperial shit hole. But in America, the so-called greatest, richest, most awesomest country in the entire galaxy?
We should be ashamed of shitty air travel infrastructure.
Second, American airlines are fast approaching the quality of Russian airlines. United, Delta and American are and should be a national disgrace. Turkish National Airlines is better than all three and there are many airlines in the world better than Turkish. The point is that our domestic airlines are pathetic and now equal post-Soviet Russian planes in decrepitude, discomfort and cost. The food is not much better, either. I now do everything I can to avoid flying American airlines internationally. They are that bad. Domestically? Hell, I will sit on a bus for ten hours to avoid a three hour flight and the subsequent TSA bullshit involved.
Oh, you don’t believe me when I say the quality is as terrible as Russian airlines? Well, have you ever flown on a Yak-40 from Bukhara to Tashkent? Or a Tupolev 154 from Amsterdam to Moscow? Or an Ilyushin-96 from Tashkent to Moscow? Well, I have and they aren’t much different than the crap planes Boeing is now making. Airbus Industries in Europe simply makes a better quality and comfort plane.
Added to original post and edited at 5:07 pm, June 9: As reader Rodd noted, accurately and fairly, on Facebook, “[I] take umbrage with you asserting that Boeing makes crappy, low quality airplanes. It’s the carriers that set up the insides and is responsible for seating, food and refreshments and service, Sean Paul, not Boeing.”
My reply: That’s a fair criticism on your part to make of me but allow me to elaborate in a better manner. Why? Well, most Americans wouldn’t understand. They are trained by propaganda to believe that Russian planes just fall out of the sky, whereas in reality Russian planes are excellent. (So were there space stations, and apparently their rockets as good enough to shoot our satellites into the sky). The Tupolev 154, especially. It’s like a Volkswagen Bug of the sky. It never quits. However, the service and seating and food is terrible. So, Americans have this idea that Russian planes are terrible, when in reality, they are exactly as you describe, “It’s the carriers that set up the insides and is responsible for seating, food and refreshments and service.” So, point taken. I should have communicated that better.
This should be a national disgrace and scandal.
Furthermore, I’ve crossed at least sixty international borders, passport control and customs posts. Only three nations are more difficult, time consuming, aggressively bureaucratic and rude (read: hostile) than the USA: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia. That’s quite a stand up list. Seriously, it was easier and less intrusive as an American getting into Iran than it is being an American citizen getting back into America. The ICE/TSA are a bad joke. Moreover, after comparing multiple international airports with the “best” American airports, which are really decrepit dumps, our US airports flat out resemble more and more the post-Soviet Russian airports and infrastructure I saw traveling in Russia in the late 90s and early 2000s. As my friend Alexi replied to my tweet on the subject, “Weird to look back and see the future, ain’t it?” No doubt.
But there’s more: it is always sad to come home to America and realize how far behind the rest of the world we are falling. I love my country and want to see it succeed. But what I see saddens me. Our decline is now accelerating. As I already said, our TSA/ICE security theatre is a grotesque farce compared to real security procedures in places like Europe. US security procedures resemble the bureaucratic heavy-handedness in places like Russia, Uzbekistan and Nepal before the revolution. And can someone explain to me what exactly the purpose of APC is? It seemed a redundant disaster that only aggravated citizens returning from abroad than any time saving measure. What’s worse is that if you are flying business class you get to go through the speedy line. Except, there are now so many elite award card holders it really makes no difference. The only difference is you don’t have to take your shoes or belt off. Lastly, you can apply for TSA pre-check to avoid all this. But it’s pricey.
Of course, less than 1/3 Americans have a passport so I don’t expect this to change. America will soon be a second class country. But in the scheme of time, comparing Asia to the US during my first trip to Korea in ’95, is there a difference? Back then South Korea, Japan and just a little Chinese infrastructure was better than US infrastructure. Port facilities, airports, roads, etc. but y’all know this. Here’s what you don’t know: today Singapore, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and about 1/4 of Chinese infrastructure is superior to that in the United States of America.
That means better than ours, by the way.
What’s worse is that the differential is now accelerating and we’re rapidly falling behind.
But hey, I’m just a pointy-headed academic. What the hell do I know about the real ‘Murica?