Fossil Fuels, Flights, and Finding Normal

Fossil Fuels, Flights, and Finding Normal
Portrait of young Asian tourist woman with mask for protection from corona virus outbreak social distancing at the airport

I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear as many planes flying over as I used to hear. Many countries are still restricting international travel. And, in the age of Zoom meetings, even domestic travel is at a sustained low never before experienced. Are full planes what we want? Would you want to board some of the few fully-booked flights? Even airline executives have to admit that social distancing on an airplane is downright impossible. 

The Future of Flight: Less or More?

The typical airline seat is around one and a half feet wide. Many airlines blocked the use of the middle seat in a row of three. In a six-foot perimeter world, does that one and a half foot empty seat do anything other than make a person feel less crushed? Banning that middle seat is putting airplanes at about 60% capacity. Most airlines need a plane to be around 70% full to break even. If you happen to fly on middle-seat restricting airlines, you will see one of two things in the near future: that seat will soon be back in use, or you will be paying more for your ticket.

Many airlines are going high-tech quickly these days. Facial recognition software is going into more and more use. Yes, even with a mask on, it knows who you are, and your face will be your boarding pass onto the plane. Sensors will most likely monitor crowds and then act accordingly. Like sheep in line to be sheared, gates will open and close allowing only so many to move through at a time. You can’t be socially distant on the plane, but airports are going to try their best to keep the six-foot perimeter throughout the airport. 

No one cares even to guess when air travel might return to something close to 2019 numbers, but everyone in the aviation business does seem to agree that health screenings are coming, and they are coming to stay. Scanners resembling metal detectors are even now being put into use to measure your temperature, blood/oxygen level, and all your other vital statistics before allowing you to proceed to your gate. I foresee a few health-privacy lawsuits on the horizon. 

BYOS – Bring Your Own Snack

If you usually get a little peckish on a flight, you will be out of luck. Many airlines have done away with the mid-flight snack and drink on trips under two hours and twenty minutes. They are encouraging passengers to bring their own snacks and drinks. On flights exceeding two hours and twenty minutes, passengers are handed a sealed snack pack upon boarding. This pack includes a wet wipe, a bag of pretzels, and a bottle of water. That’s a plastic bottle of water. All glassware on planes is a thing of the past — no glasses of alcohol, no mugs of coffee. You get a plastic bottle of water. Plastic, of course, is brought to you by the fossil fuel industry. But that isn’t the only way is helping.

Plexiglass: brought to you by fossil fuels

If you haven’t been to an airport lately, there is plexiglass everywhere. Wherever there is the possibility of human interaction, it’s there. But you don’t have to go to the airport to notice. Plexiglass is the reason most businesses have been allowed to reopen. Every cashier, every help desk, every counter is shielded. Plexiglass, also called acrylic, is a petroleum-based thermoplastic. Unlike glass, it is shatterproof, lightweight and less expensive. 

No one knows what the new normal will end up being. But I think we can agree that what we once called normal is most likely gone for good. I, for one, am glad that fossil fuels are still here helping us to stay safe