It seems that every week the airline industry tries another add-on charge in a desperate reach for cash. Check luggage: $50. Want three more inches of legroom: $28. Now one airline even wants to charge for carry-ons, and has increased passenger loads by installing non-reclining seats!
This nickel-and-diming attitude has caused many air travelers to reach for the motion sickness bag. United States senators have weighed in to protect the public's constitutional right to salty snacks at 30,000 feet. The add-on charges are pretty frustrating, though I chuckle at the oddity of people complaining that they don't get airline food—I don't remember it having been much of a treat.
Maybe the airlines are greedy, or maybe they're incompetent—or maybe they're actually onto something. Think about it: There have long been luggage charges in taxis in many cities, and you can't stretch out on the New York subway. Why do we expect air travel to differ fundamentally from other forms of travel?
There was a time when the flight itself was part of the adventure, something to look forward to. People got formally dressed up to fly. Now, because it is so common, the airline flight is seen only as a means of getting from here to there, and nothing more. The average 15-year-old has been on more planes than trains. In fact, a trip on the Chicago elevated tracks would be more novel for many local teenagers than an airline flight.
So the airlines are dropping the Queen Mary Yacht mentality and embracing a new-millennium "public transportation" persona. They are trying to compete with Greyhound, Amtrak, and driving—promising to get you there as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. That's it, no frills. Thirsty: that will be $4; hungry: $5; need to bring along luggage, want better seats: like anything else in life, if you want more, you pay more. Simply want to be in Philadelphia by 6:00 pm: here is the ticket price.
There is a significant lesson here about differentiating between what we are doing and why we are doing it. Think about your day, all the steps that lead you from point to point—where are you going? Why are you doing it all? Does your destination get lost in the process of getting there?
There is a dangerous risk that we get so enwrapped in what we are doing that we forget that it is only the means to the an end. Couples date interminably, forgetting that they are supposed to be creating a home. Perpetual students are too sidetracked to finish their degree. Fathers so focused on winning the Monopoly game that they forgot that they are really spending time with their children.
We, the Jewish people are also susceptible to having our attention diverted. We have been in exile for a long time. But "this" – our current exiled, dispersed lifestyle – is only a precursor, a warm-up for the objective of creation: the time of Moshiach, when we will apply all we have learned. We mustn't get so busy stretching, that we forget to exercise; so busy getting there, that we forget where we are going.
So stripped down transportation has a message: Get from point A to point B as efficiently and as fast as you can; reaching the destination is the objective. We are supposed to transform this place we call home into a place in which G‑d is at home.
Don't be distracted by whether there are tiny bags of peanuts.