The Only Way to Fly

I recently flew coach to Minneapolis. My seat space was small for a reason that may outrage you: I was not willing to pay for a bigger seat.

I ate a sandwich on board that I packed myself before hand, for a reason that may make your blood boil: I was not willing to pay the cost of the food served on the plane.

I took less luggage than I might have, for a reason you may want to refer to the International Court of Human Rights: I was not willing to pay the costs of checking a bag.

But in fact I am not angry at all and you don’t need to be either. The only way to fly, which eludes the people who issue a sea of complaints about the flights that they freely choose to take, is this: (1) Accept responsibility for the choices you make and (2) Don’t act oppressed when in fact you are incredibly privileged.

The reason airline seats are small is not because you are being persecuted, or that airlines are mean, or because they are raking in big bucks at your expense. We get the smallest, cheapest seats because that’s what we are willing to buy. American flyers care about pricing more than anything else, and a large proportion of them wish that even smaller, even cheaper seats were available for purchase. Airlines that expanded the size of seating throughout coach (like American Airlines) or offered 100% no frills business class flights priced between economy and typical business class (like Maxjet and Silverjet, both of which went bankrupt) lost money because flyers prefer cheapness above all. Airlines today have learned to sell us the product we actually want (Yeah I know, the nerve of these corporate fatcats…).

Also, for those of you who are upset that you got an owie on your knee during your family trip to Paris, remember that for over 99% of human history, our species was Earthbound. Even today, most people don’t get to fly anywhere, ever. If it feels unjust that your pillow wasn’t big enough, tell it to the billion human beings who live on less than one percent of your ticket price a day and they will quite rightly shove said pillow down your entitled piehole.

If you have privileges and define yourself as oppressed, you will be unhappy. If you make choices with perfectly predictable consequences and then resent those consequences, you will be unhappy. So don’t do those things and instead enjoy your flight. My seat to Minneapolis was very small. So what? For two hundred dollars I got to safely fly through the air like a bird, visit an interesting city and see dear friends. That’s a technological miracle and a gift to be grateful for. Thank you Sun Country Airlines!

Louis C.K. says all this better than I just did. Play this whenever you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself at 35,000 feet.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.