A tale of two trips


Some days ago I came back from a visit to a friend that lives abroad.

While canned in the plane back I started to compare the whole travelling experience to what it was some not so many years ago.

Not so long ago...

...or so we all like to think. Let me tell you what my experience used to be.

One would have to physically go to a place to buy plane tickets. One would usually go to the local (that is close to where you happen lo live) travel agency or one you know it consistently offers cheaper prices.
Once there, one would tell a human being where one would like to travel and when. The broker would type on a terminal (sometimes not even a computer but an actual dumb terminal) and tell you about the different options and prices. Once decided, you would usually give real money to the broker and him or her would give you a real plane ticket printed in some sort of cardboard.

The day the travel takes place one would take some sort of transport to the airport and be careful to not forget the cardboard ticket that needs to be shown to the airline ground staff who would ask you where do you want to seat and try to satisfy your requirements of not being too far behind or getting a window seat because there is a chance of flying over a pretty city.
That staff would tear part of your cardboard ticket and provide you with a paper boarding pass with your seat on it.

In-flight one could probably push one's seat back and "enjoy" some low-quality meal and the worst coffee ever brewed by man or beast, but one would drink it because a) you were offered it and b) it is complimentary (that is, you already paid for it).

After landing one would have to find ones way to the ground transport that takes you to the city. Since this happens years ago, that would be the cheapest mean of transport: bus or train or a shared cab ride.
If gone for the public transport one would have to queue to get a paper ticket and struggle to make oneself understood, riding the transport amongst doubts that the paper ticket one carries would be valid at all or a theatrical "no comprendo" would be needed.

In the city, one would have to queue again, struggle with communication again and to purchase another ticket for the transport that would hopefully take closer to your final destination.

Last weekend

One has to still physically move to get your ass in front of the computer if old school like myself or hunch to do the job of searching for the cheapest fare in your phone. In any case, there is no human contact, just filling in some input controls and a myriad of mostly useless results appear in front of you. Pick the least annoying amongst the cheapest, punch in your credit card number and you'd receive an email confirmation that everything is alright and you would be traveling the desired date.

The day of travel is taking place no one is going to ask you which seat you prefer, because previously you have checked-in online and your boarding pass (a humble scannable code) has been delivered to either your email or your airline app.
Furthermore, the seat has been allocated randomly, that is in the worst possible spot to bump up the chances of you coughing some more money for an equally terrible seat inside the plane.

Once in-flight your seat won't recline, nor you'd like to, because that would mean even more pain in your already pressed knee-caps. You are likely not to receive anything to eat or drink unless you spend five-fork prices for plane food. At least there is no inner pressure to drink terrible coffee.

No need to queue for the ground transportation because you got another ticket delivered to your phone and, in the case of my destination, I would only have to either top up a contactless transport card or I could have used my contactless credit card to pay my local fares.
Either go public or book some cheap-er private transportation that'll take you from A to B and you would not have to even have any cash on you.

Is it any better?

Nostalgia aside, no doubt about it.

It is one of those silent evolutions that improve your experience one order of magnitude at a time:

  • e-tickets instead of cardboard
  • price comparison "virtual" mega-portals instead of visiting a "real" business and trusting the operator
  • printable boarding passes and then paperless QR codes
  • digital train tickets and contactless transport payments
  • credit card everywhere instead of exchanging paper money and expending the remains in the airport on useless souvenirs

The only thing I miss about the old days is complaining about the terrible coffee, because, I am too cheap to pay for the right to complain gratuitously.

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