Maybe I’m just getting bitter, but I used to really enjoy flying. Admittedly I have flown a lot, and anything loses its luster when you do it too much, but I really think something has changed with the whole experience of getting on an airplane.

I recently took a trip to Denver for a two-day gig. Despite the fact that nothing really went wrong, the portions of the trip that involved airplanes and airports were incredibly unpleasant. I drove to the Cincinnati airport, and easily found the remote parking lot. In fact, the shuttle bus was waiting for me as I closed my trunk. The parking people did a great job and were very efficient, but I was a little worried that I was going to get hassled about my carry-on hat box not qualifying as a “personal item”. I was also a little preoccupied with dealing with my new fold-up mini luggage cart that I bought in order to avoid the $25 fee for a second piece of checked luggage. Neither thing was a big deal, but they added a little stress to my life.

Check-in went smoothly, and there was no line, but I had to futz with my new cart (that I only bought to avoid airline fees), and that took a little time and added a little stress. The flight out was uneventful, but I was feeling especially crammed-in for some reason this time. There was a small touch screen in the back of the seat in front of me that allowed me to watch movies for free, and that was awesome… the high point of the flying experience for sure.

Once I got into Denver I had to find my rental car. Despite the fact that my car reservation said that I should check in at the rental car desk in baggage claim, there was no desk. I went out and waited for the shuttle, and had to wait for the second one since the first one couldn’t fit everyone on it. After getting off the shuttle and walking into the rental car office I was reminded of how crushingly sad those places can be. I intentionally didn’t go with the cheapest rental car company I could find in the hopes of avoiding exactly this scene. Everyone was unhappy. The floor was dirty, and matched the unimpressive decor. The line moved at a snail’s pace, and the cloud of black sadness hung over everyone’s heads. There was a bit of a bright spot at the table where they were giving away free hot dogs and water, but it didn’t have the power to light up the whole place. When it was my turn, I went up to the desk and tried to chat with the woman behind the counter, as I always do in a service situation, but she wanted nothing to do with me. I even cracked a lame joke in the hope of making our exchange a little less depressing.

“When I made the reservation online I asked for a big yellow school bus. I assume that won’t be a problem.” I said with a straight face.

She acknowledged my joke without smiling or laughing. As she continued to work we both stood there in silence in the thickening haze of oppressive sadness. Ordinarily, even if your joke isn’t funny, people appreciate the effort. Not this time. Maybe she had heard it a million times, but I know that I laughed at many an unfunny joke when I worked in customer service. It was an intense relief to get out of there. I can’t imagine the toll it would take on you to actually work in that kind of environment every day.

The trip home was more of the same (but this time without the awesome movie screen in the back of the seat in front of me). This flight was filled with an unusual number of very active, very loud children. Most of the time I really don’t mind kid noise. I work as an entertainer who often performs for children. However, there are times when it is not appropriate for a non-stop yell fest. One of those times is on a three and a half hour flight with 200 of your closest strangers. The father behind me had no control over his children. He would shush them, and 1-2 seconds later they would be yelling again. I know it was that long because I counted. As a result, I wore earplugs from the moment I sat down, to the moment I got off the plane. The trip to the remote parking lot was reasonably pleasant, but it did take about 45 minutes to get to my car. Once again, not a huge deal, but it all ads up.

What really drove the point home was when I finally got to sit in my own car again. I still had a six hour drive ahead of me so you wouldn’t think I would be happy to be in my car… but it was fantastic. It was quiet. There were no strangers sitting too close to me. I could sit with my legs apart if I wanted to. I could get things out of my pockets or my bag without having to contort my body in strange and uncomfortable ways. I could play my own music. I could talk on my phone. But maybe most importantly, I could leave right now, on my own schedule, and I could drive directly to where I was going. There would be no overly-loud announcements, the temperature would be just right, and I could actually relax. I never would’ve expected that the beginning of a 6-hour drive, after having already been traveling for 6 hours, could feel like vacation. It did. And let me tell you, it was a great drive home.

All of the things I have complained about here are really small annoyances, but for me on this trip they added up to an incredibly unpleasant experience. I guess I finally reached my limit. I disliked it so much that it actually made me reconsider flying in general. I travel a lot, and it is very easy for me to book a ticket for a distant trip or gig. Generally I hop in the car if it’s within about an 8 hour drive, and I don’t really want to try to drive more, but I certainly don’t want to fly more. I think it’s time to really focus on getting local work, and to try to stay off the airlines as much as I can. I don’t know what has happened to the air travel industry, but I am fairly certain that I’m the one who has to modify my behavior, because the industry isn’t going to change.