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I’ve been flying for a number of decades. I’m a happy flyer, no nerves really. I’m always happier flying back than there, but I think that is because at least I’ve had my holiday by then, though that is an aside.

I was thinking the other day, on a flight, about how much has changed over those decades. Now I’ve never flown anything except economy. The work I have had has never involved travel, though lots of business travel now is in economy anyway, and I can’t really afford the much higher prices of business or first for just a leisure holiday. Therefore I am just talking about the economy experience.

What set me down this thought line was a recent flight. I’ve flown on a number of airlines and airplanes, from small 15 seaters through to Concorde, and both long and short haul.   I’m also due to fly on two of the newest commercial planes in the air, the Dreamliner and the A380 which I’m looking forward to in relation to seeing how these planes compare to other long haul planes.

Flying in today’s economy can be a very mixed experience, a lot will depend on the carrier you are using and the distance you are travelling, however in researching flights sometimes the distance travelled doesn’t count for much as some research I have done into long haul flights before booking has discovered.

I recently flew short haul and was, for the first time, genuinely shocked when I sat down.  At what is considered to be an average height, for the first time ever, my knees were actually touching the seat in front.  When I looked up in a reasonable sitting position the head rest in front was noticeably closer that I had been used to.  A crouched brace position would have been an interesting challenge, and looking down to watch a film on the iPad with the tray down created a very odd angle.  The seats themselves seemed thinner, or at least less padded.  I understand a company’s need to maximise profit, but at the same time there has to be a certain level of comfort, even for a shorter flight. I know the plane I was on is used for much longer journeys so I’m very glad I wasn’t signed up for one of them. Interestingly as a populous we are getting taller, however it seems, almost as if in protest of that, the leg room is getting smaller. I won’t be using that carrier again, not solely from that, but also from other issues. I doubt that they will care though.

With the long haul I know I’ll get more leg room.  I may not be able to get the ‘stretch out with nothing in front of you’ seat as I won’t pay the extra to book the seat early, but I know I won’t have the seat in front up against me. However for me the surprise is more in the technology on board. A key factor for me on a flight is whether there is an AVOD (Audio and Video on Demand) system on board for economy. This might seem like a small or even petty thing to consider important is that I like to be able to choose what entertainment I want, can pause it to take a ‘nature break’ and adjust it to a good viewing angle.  I also like the fact that I can pick something that I might not normally watch to see if it is any good.  I’ve discovered a number of good films that way and I hope to do so again on future flights. Just having a single screen to stare up at and even then having only 2 films on a 9 hour flight with a few tv shows thrown in for good measure doesn’t quite hit the mark for me, especially as you are likely to miss bits when you leave you seat.

I understand that there are planes out there that were fitted before AVOD systems became feasible, but there are planes out there that have it fitted for just certain classes, economy of course being the class without it. This I understand less as although I realise such systems aren’t cheap, it certainly stops me from flying with them. They may offer a slightly cheaper flight, however if I looked at things in a very materialistic way then once you build in the cost of watching about 10 films and possibly a more extensive catering service, the difference is not that great.

I also had another thought as I was thinking about the changes in flying over the decades and realised I missed, at least on short hauls flights, something from my early days of flying.  I have no idea why it stopped, but in days past just after take-off and just before landing, the cabin crew would come round with boiled sweets to help counter the pressure changes on the ear drums.  Now it seems all they can do is suggest the ‘hold your nose and pretend to blow’ technique (which does work to be fair).

Flying today does have lots of advantages and is available to far more people than previously. I don’t, though, think that it’s too much for some of the positives from decades ago to be maintained or reintroduced to ensure that it doesn’t become an ordeal to endure.