Sunday, August 6, 2017

And nobody’s kicking your seat

The airline industry’s future is up in the air, in more ways than one. People getting dragged down the aisle, being challenged to fistfights and suffering body-slams—and that’s just what happens to the employees. If you’re a passenger, your odds of reaching YouTube before your destination are greater than ever. And don’t even mention that poor rabbit.

You might be thinking it couldn’t get any worse…unless, for instance, the TSA’s website starts posting hi-def images of travelers’ full-body scans. But you would be wrong. As surprising as this might sound, the airlines have been taking notice of their customers’ dissatisfaction. And they’ve been putting the best technical minds money can buy toward, in their words, “reimagining air travel.”

Before you start shrugging about the return of the in-flight meal, leg room that accommodates human legs, and overhead compartments that actually holds reasonably sized carry-on baggage, stop right there. You are on the right track, though, in that the industry is looking toward the past for its embrace of the future.

How far into the past? Think Star Trek.

Any Trekkies reading this important news feature have already figured out where the industry is heading: teleportation. Haven’t heard of it? You have—in the form of “Beam me up, Scottie.” Scientists in the past few years learned how to do a full scan of an object, transmit it elsewhere and recreate it using a 3D printer. But that’s only for objects. The airline industry’s aim: to teleport you, your luggage and any carry-ons from one destination to another.

You get to avoid the TSA’s security gate, the wailing children in the waiting area, the incessant delays and everything else you hate about air travel. The airline saves on fuel, peanuts and attorney fees. What’s not to like?

Here’s what. It might look like a win-win, but remember what companies we’re dealing with. Leaked documents of a few airlines’ “Conditions of Carriage” offer a glimpse of what’s really in store—with quotes from the actual pilfered documents.

“Wardrobe malfunction” redefined. Teleportation sounds pretty spiffy, but it apparently has limitations to consider—especially if you plan to go directly to an important meeting from the airport. Take, for instance, this contract stipulation:

“Not responsible for mutations in clothing worn during transport that may result from our circuitry’s occasional inability to reconstruct snaps, straps, clasps, zippers and garments manufactured using complex fabrics such as polyester, elastic or rayon.”

That dress looks like you—oh, it is. Airlines promise to get you from one airport to another, but mutations in the clothes you’re wearing aren’t your greatest concern—especially if you’ve seen The Fly. In fact, since the very molecules that comprise you, your clothing and other belongings are dematerialized, transported and then reassembled, you can’t be absolutely sure that those distinct entities of human, clothes, cellphone, laptop and other personal effects will properly recompose:

“Passengers using the TPortTM system no longer need to remove shoes, belts, phones and other personal effects for TSA personnel. Prior to transport, however, passengers must sign a waiver indemnifying TPortTM and [this airline] from any amalgamation of clothing, electronics, and personal effects that might occur in the recomposition of items transported. Melding of personal items with passenger warrants a full refund and a coupon to be applied toward the first $100 of medical care.”

I’m doing what I do best, why? One benefit to bypassing traditional air travel is avoiding the myriad ads that bombard us in the waiting area, before takeoff and upon disembarking. But sorry, somebody has to pay for all this brilliant technology. “TeleSkyTM reserves the right to implant video and audio content into passengers’ cerebral cortexes during recomposition,” reads one policy.

Who cares if you get to your destination more quickly, right? It might get a bit annoying, though, when you can’t say the word “skies” without speaking the word “friendly” before it. At inopportune times, you might break out in song, specifically airline jingles. (Attend no further funerals.) Worst of all, you might repeatedly use the word “southwest” when giving directions, even if you intend the person you’re instructing to go the opposite way.

One of you was too many. Some smarty-pants passengers double-book—that is, reserving seats on two flights to a destination at similar times—and cancel one before the flights depart. Teleportation, though, could make things complicated for anyone inclined to game the system:

“In cases of multiple booking, no such last-minute shocks to our reservation system need occur. Our de-/rematerialization protocol enables us to duplicate a passenger’s molecular structure upon request. This enables us to teleport a single passenger more than once, in parallel, such as to fulfill conflicting engagements. We reserve the right to multiply fares in accordance with a given number of replications per passenger.”

You might soon be longing for a return to the way things were, but sorry—even the airlines couldn’t afford to keep up such service forever. Traveling by jet will eventually become as much a memory as the stagecoach, which shook up their passengers but still dropped them off in one piece.

One positive note is that you no longer need worry about lost luggage. In one form or another, it will arrive with you. Weren't you wishing for a new set of wheels?