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Air travel is going to be very bad, for a very long time (theatlantic.com)
62 points by smacktoward 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments



No matter what the topic, there seems to be no market for writing articles about minor changes or slight adjustments. The world is always ending, there is always an impossible deadline, and the worst possible projection is absolutely the most likely one. This state of affairs is a consequence of the usual culprit: advertising. Society/the media needs to develop a new business model, and fast.

In reality, airlines will probably have a tough year or two, airports will adopt some new health measures, and things will mostly continue as they were before.


I think this is overly optimistic. I used to fly regularly and I have no intention of getting on a plane anytime in the next couple years. Maybe we will take a road trip in a year or two, but the idea of getting in a plane is completely out of the question for the foreseeable future.


I think this is overly pessimistic. I used to fly regularly and I have every intention of getting on a plane soon. I’m booking extra trips so make up for the travel I’ve not been able to do for the last few months and to make up for missing things in the past.


This is completely dependent on how the public health situation develops over the coming months and years.

If the outcome is there needs to be six-foot distancing aboard planes, that's not going to mean a 150-seat plane takes 100 passengers, it's going to mean a 150 seat plane takes 20 passengers. That would mean everyone paying first-class fares.

And if some countries have different infection rates, different rates of testing and tracing, and some less trustworthy reporting of those numbers? If every international flight is subject to a mandatory 2 week quarantine in a hotel, say goodbye to 98% of international business travel and vacations.

On the other hand, if there's 'herd immunity' or a vaccine, things could be largely back to normal. I certainly know a lot of people who've been saving up money and vacation days during the lockdown.


Me too! Good to see some people voicing both sides


This is what a bunch of people said on 9/11.

And very soon after that, everybody was flying again (although, after that, they got groped by security, and had to buy expensive airport drinks)


Great point. I hope the drinks don't get even more expensive!


Nah... the 0.5l bottle of water will still be 3EUR.

But the mandatory 'bottle steriliziation fee', will be 5eur more.


IIRC, in the US many airlines have eliminated the in-flight beverage service. Maybe in the future there will be no alternative to the overpriced drinks if you want to drink anything during the hours you're in transit.


Lol this might just happen


but terrorist attacks on flights seems more controllable than a virus and also more rare. Granted that it's true that there is a lot of sensationalism there are also events that will disrupt an industry for a while


We are in the same boat. Had a _lot_ of plane travel plans that are basically all on indefinite hold now. We are likely going to accelerate plans to purchase a more road-trip worthy vehicle (minivan, either with tow package or hybrid, can’t have both).


Btw, as an owner of a PHEV - benefits of a hybrid rapidly approach zero on very long journeys, potentially dipping into a negative past a certain point. If you're looking for a vehicle to take on road trips then skip the hybrid. It's absolutely fabulous if you're driving around 30-60 miles between charging though.


The specific vehicle we'd be getting is a PHEV Pacifica. The pricing can actually come in lower than the equivalent non-hyrbid version depending on the exact incentives in play.

Our primary use case is moving kids and groceries, all of which is less than 30 miles round trip. On the highway it still gets ~10mpg better than the gas version.


What if you want a vehicle for daily commuting, plus occasional road trips?


Then yeah, I guess it works fine - I mean that's exactly what I'm going to do with mine, I drive on pure electricity for my commute, but I'm planning a 2000 mile round trip once the entire lockdown ends. I'm just saying that I'm well aware that on that longer trip the hybrid system will do exactly nothing to improve my fuel economy, or in fact make it worse because I'll be carrying around a quarter tonne battery pack that sits there and does nothing.


I drive a regular hybrid and it's great on hilly terrain with many ups and downs.

I would buy a PHEV just so that it wouldn't switch from regenerative to engine braking mode so soon.


You don’t have to buy one vehicle to do everything, and that’s difficult if your tasks are so different. Buy a commuter, and rent a van for road trips.

Otherwise, you’re taking a road trip sized vehicle to work every day, or a commute sized vehicle on a road trip.


Yeah and I was living in Manhattan on 9/11 and everyone said they were leaving. People tend to have pretty short term mentalities for how they will react to news events.


My best guess is that it will end up somewhere between the extremes. I don't expect to get on a plane this year if only because I don't expect any business events I'd normally be traveling to will be on. I certainly hope they're back next year and, if so, I'll be traveling.

That said, I don't expect there will be a vaccine by then and of course there's no guarantee how effective a vaccine will be. Not all vaccines are especially effective.


Bit dramatic.


"Bit dramatic" encapsulates 80% of the reaction, analysis, and projections of this whole pandemic.

I'll be flying as soon as work allows it. Once the consultants start flying you'll see big upticks in flights as workers demonstrate it can be done safely. I'm not saying instantly back to 100% but I expect decent recovery later in the summer.

In the winter my opinion is air travel will drop as flu season complicates things and covid19 surges again. Then, once again, when flu season subsides, it will pick up again and that's when I believe we'll see a much larger air travel recovery.


What’s the problem flying has to do with the virus? It’s a single strain of virus across this planet.

You’ll just have to prove somehow that you’re not infected, by a certificate of vaccination, or a 15-minute fully automatic PCR test, or at worst case by staying days to weeks in quarantine, but there’s no problem in the mode of transportation itself.


You don’t think “days to weeks in quarantine” will put people off?


What if a vaccine is developed, wouldn't that make flying more palatable again?


I don't know about you, but while flying may start to be come more palatable over time once a vaccine is developed, my priorities have changed a lot over this situation that I'd put casual, international travel somewhere below my list.


If I were confident that I wouldn't catch it, and wouldn't pass it on to others, I'd have no trouble flying just now.

I suspect most airlines are going to go through bankruptcy, but those which emerge may get back to flying normally next summer, it depends how the disease progresses this year and what treatments are devised.


the timeline for a vaccine lines up with his time estimation, "next couple of years"


In reality, airlines will probably have a tough year or two, airports will adopt some new health measures, and things will mostly continue as they were before.

Wearing my most cynical hat, I think the UK is only a few months away from the government attempting to mandate that enabling the official government contact-tracing app on your phone, and keeping it active for the duration of your trip, will be a requirement to leave the UK through an airport. I also think they'll fail in court, but they're going to try.


"This state of affairs is a consequence of the usual culprit: advertising. Society/the media needs to develop a new business model, and fast."

Isn't this also the "business model" of Google, Facebook and hundreds of thousands of other "tech companies" and websites that aspire to generate revenue by catering to advertisers.


The low cost airlines, maybe this is more of a Europe thing, can’t afford to block off some seats. This will affect American companies, Delta owns half of Virgin which complicates Virgins access to UK government money.


In general, I would agree but in this case the twin threats of virus and climate change make me skeptical over the future of air travel


I understand this is asked every time, but honestly in the 2 months of Covid19 and 20 years of post-9/11, I still haven't seen an answer that makes sense:

Why are we obsessing over airplane security so much, but completely ignoring ground transportation?

Never mind Metro/Subway/Underground, which we can claim not every city has (I'd still imagine total number of subway passengers daily outweighs airplane passengers or is at least comparable) - what about buses? Trains? Street cars and trams?

Any airplane I've ever flown had better filtering and circulation, more spacing and better hygiene, than any bus I've ever ridden in. Every airport terminal was more spacious than every indoors bus or train terminal. Across countries and continents this ratio has held true.

So why this obsession with airplanes as the vulnerable part of the equation? Is it all just... human inability to calculate risks and our focus on the "flashy"?

I've done 50-75 flights a year over last 10 years; none last 2 months obviously, and I don't foresee any soon; but I'm DEFINITELY not going to take our friendly neighbourhood Toronto subway if I can help it, as much as it's the key to fighting traffic and pollution.

This should be throwing our entire transportation industry into disarray and restart fundamental discussions about urban planning and urban landscaping of the future... and yet I only ever see the airline industry mentioned.


> Is it all just... human inability to calculate risks and our focus on the "flashy"?

I think this ^

Plus, on the ground we think we have control... someone sick comes on the bus, we think we can 'escape' from the bus on that (or next) station. Same with general safety.... if you drive a car, you think you're invincible, and that your superpower reflexes and supersenses will predict anything happening around you, and you'll be able to avoid any accident... but on a plane, engines stop working, and there's literally nothing you can do, sometimes for many minutes until you (probably) crash and die.

Of course, statistics show different safety numbers, but for most people, statistics is about "them" and not "us".


Probably because airlines go bankrupt constantly, and are begging the government for cash handouts right now?

Whereas busses and metro systems and roads are often city-owned, and them being given taxpayer cash is just business as usual.


Also, all the outbreak games, animations, and simulations show planes flying everywhere spreading disease and not packed subways and buses.

finally, like you said, the airline industry is always living on the edge and in the news.


Inter-regional disease vectors. Air travel is a pandemic engine.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23142043


I agree we should have more/better ground transportation but:

> Any airplane I've ever flown had better filtering and circulation, more spacing and better hygiene, than any bus I've ever ridden in.

And most modern trains I've ridden beat a plane on all of those metrics.

> Every airport terminal was more spacious than every indoors bus or train terminal.

Airport terminals have to accommodate planes, which are enormous, inconveniently shaped, move slowly between the runway and the terminal and spend at least ~1h exchanging passengers and cargo. This means there's a large number of very large vehicles sitting around that need space and infrastructure, which means the airport terminals have to be huge.

Since they're required to be huge and large amounts of real estate are needed, airports are also usually located far from the center of the city they serve.

And finally, people are forced to spend a lot of time in an airport, so there's a lot of opportunity to make a lot of money from passengers, which means incentive to spend a lot making the terminal a nice place to be.

Trains and buses are much easier to accommodate and typically sit at their station for minutes at a time, which means the station can be much more compact. The stations are usually located throughout the cities they serve, which means real estate is expensive and should be kept to a minimum. Passengers usually pass through a train station in a matter of minutes and don't have a need to loiter and be captive to the shops there, so there's not as much in the way of opportunity for profit.

> So why this obsession with airplanes as the vulnerable part of the equation? Is it all just... human inability to calculate risks and our focus on the "flashy"?

Because airlines can go bankrupt relatively easily. It's exciting when a big, well-known company dies.

> This should be throwing our entire transportation industry into disarray and restart fundamental discussions about urban planning and urban landscaping of the future... and yet I only ever see the airline industry mentioned.

I think because there's not a whole lot that can be done there. Cities are already there, they've already been planned. You can't easily take a city built around roads and rebuild it around trains, trams or a subway, especially in America, which is what you'll see most of on HN.

The most I've seen is a city that already has trams and trains replace roads to expand their already mature train or tram network.


A plane costs 200mil and a bus costs a few hundred k. I don't think it's "flashiness" ... It's cost.

Also, arguably we over fit tragic experiences. Because we lived through 911, we made sure the exact same thing would be hard to repeat... We didn't make it much harder for that type of thing to happen


[flagged]


I think there's truth here too.

Given how likely the NYC subway is responsible for the disproportionate illness and death why hasn't it been shutdown?


Because the city cannot function without it.


What I can't wrap my head around: how is being packed with 100s of people inside of a plane a few times a year seen as more dangerous than being even more packed with even more people in the metro every day during commute? I feel like the risk of getting infected in public transport is undermined comparing to planes/hotels/restaurants.


I don't know about you, but on a plane I'm definitely closer to other passengers for longer periods of time than I am on most metro rides. It also exposes you to people from a geographically wider spread, and many of those people have likewise been exposed to people from even more different places earlier in their trip.


That really depends. Many many people live in world cities where public transport is cramped and people from all over the world come and go in a constant stream.


And how do those people from all over the world get there?


There are many ways. Boat; train; bus and, yes, flying. International commerce will not stop forever and as long as that's true people will travel.


And border crossings by mode are?


Not every city has a metro so this is apples vs oranges? You’re right, it’s just not clear who you’re talking to.


Oh that's right, what I meant is that probably a huge part of people traveling by plane comes from big cities where there is little to no way to avoid being squeezed with other people on a daily basis


Inter-regional spread is a major factor. Subways, busses, and taxis largely move people around within an existing interchange are -- metropolitan regions. Aircraft move them across and between continents.

In 2003, James Burke revisited his 1978 series "Connections" in a 1-hour interview session, "ReConnections". Asked to describe how he would continue the original series' ending inventions forward, for the jet airplane his answer was immediate: pandemics. Beginning about 47m30s here:

https://archive.org/details/JamesBurkeReConnections_0

Critical to realise: SARS-COV-2 isn't the only, and won't be the last new, virus (or other infectious agent) out there.


s/interchange are/interchange area/


It's probably less dangerous (planes have HEPA ventilation systems, most metro systems don't).

But plane travel carries infected people long distances. There's going to be a bunch of countries insisting on 2 weeks quarantine for any new arrivals.


There are a lot of extremely common myths about how the air on airplanes is "recycled", stale, full of germs, even so far as "they lower the oxygen level to get people to sleep" and stuff like that. https://www.askthepilot.com/questionanswers/cabin-air-qualit...


>even so far as "they lower the oxygen level to get people to sleep"

Is that really a bad thing? My experience on long haul flights is that most people sleep. Some people even voluntarily take drugs so they fall asleep sooner/easier.


Is anyone packing into metros anymore? I doubt this pandemic will be good for public transit.


When businesses and stores are even partially open in transit-centric cities, what choice do people have? Even if more walk/cycle, that can involve a lot of crowding too. There's no way that people somewhere like Manhattan can maintain separation from each other indefinitely--other than moving out of the city.


They will be once things open back up.

In non-car-centric cities there simply isn’t any other realistic way to get to work.


Bicycles, for many.


Yeah. See the pictures of the tube in London, today - people crammed in like sardines, as per usual.


If transmission on the air plane is the risk you worry about, I agree that it doesn't appear that different compared to other risks associated with going outside.

However, travel obviously takes you to a new place, where the every day risks might be much greater or at least less well known than the ones you have to accept by virtue of just staying alive where you live.

Further, you also have the risk of being stranded due to local outbreaks closing borders at some point during your trip, making the duration of the trip itself uncertain. Not many people take lightly the risk of not knowing when they can get home from their vacation.


I'm wondering this too. Air on planes is recirculated every 5-10 minutes. I doubt train cars gets anywhere close to that.


Genuine question: Is that better or worse? I’m assuming the air gets filtered before its recirculated but can the filtering process catch respiratory droplets?


http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34708785/ns/travel-travel_tips/t/a...

>On most aircraft, air is also circulated through hospital-grade HEPA filters, which remove 99.97 percent of bacteria, as well as the airborne particles that viruses use for transport (many regional jets lack these filters). Additionally, cabins are divided into separate ventilation sections about every seven rows of seats, which means that you share air only with those in your immediate environment and not with the guy who’s coughing up a lung ten rows back.


First, flying is usually an optional thing. Commuting is not.

Also, I have flown maybe 50 times in my life, but only been on a packed subway maybe once? Not the same for most people.


> but only been on a packed subway maybe once

Can you explain your situation? Naively that sounds like an incredible feat!


Why? Subways are found in larger cities, airports are everywhere. Live and work in the countryside, travel to holiday destinations and you're done. Also, just because there happens to be a subway doesn't mean you need to use it. The times I've been to Washington DC I've managed to avoid using it entirely. The place is fairly compact and lends itself to walking to where you need to go.


Well, sure, if you don't take subways then you're not likely to be on a crowded one.


People are treating the pandemic as over where I am. They are having friends over, booking cruises, ignoring distancing in grocery stores, etc. Plenty of social media chatter about bargain air tickets for August. Carnival is reporting a 200% surge in bookings over August 2019.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90503385/what-pandemic-carnival-...

You ask them about it and they say that the pandemic is an old person's problem. "if I get corona" guy has lots of friends it seems.


> Carnival is reporting 200% surge in bookings over August 2019.

These are optimistic bookings to take advantage of sales. Booking a cruise doesn't mean they're going on a cruise on that date.

Travel companies have gone all-in on deals and flexible rescheduling to keep money coming in the door. They offer deals to book now with the explanation that you can rebook at a later date. The catch is that you have to book now, and August is among the first dates that they allow you to book.

In fact, the article you linked to buries that point in the very last line:

> Of course, the fact that you can also book a Carnival Cruise for as low as $28 a night might have something to do with the high number of August bookings, too.


Carnival is reporting 200% surge in bookings over August 2019.

Looking at the problems cruise passengers have had over the last few months I think you would have to be nuts to book something like that right now.

In fact I wonder if it's even true. I could imagine Carnival putting out news like this in order to encourage people to book. Look, everybody else is doing it so it must be OK. Hurry before we sell out.

You ask them about it and they say that the pandemic is old people's problem.

It's not if you can't get off the ship because no port will allow you to disembark.


> Carnival is reporting 200% surge in bookings over August 2019.

Aside from everything else, this is insane. I’d never ever go on a cruise. Some people were held on cruise ships for a month or more weren’t they?


> Some people were held on cruise ships for a month or more weren’t they?

Depends on when you start counting, but yes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_on_Diamond_P...


> You ask them about it and they say that the pandemic is an old person's problem. "if I get corona" guy has lots of friends it seems.

Technically, if we could isolate/protect the old/risky people, this would be great for herd immunity. The "if i get corona" guy would probably just have flu-like symptoms, and contribute further to herd immunity by infecting other people, same age as him at same parties as he's going.


My understanding is that a lot of what's driving "new" bookings is all the previously cancelled ones are being rescheduled and they're counting them as new. Perhaps that's no longer true but that's what was driving past stories of a cruise booking surge.


True. This might all be statistical fudging.


Meanwhile, I know someone in his late thirties who died of a stroke from covid as we're starting to see a lot more of.


Meanwhile, "If I get Corona, I get Corona" guy is fine.


Hopefully it won't mutate and this is just overblown: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/10/new-york-mys...


Mutation is held in check with immunization and herd immunity. We have a bunch of politicians who couldn't pass a highschool biology course acting as contagious diseeases experts.


Where are you located?


Calgary, in Canada. My social network is heavily out of Toronto, Canada.


People are treating the pandemic as over where I am.

People are idiots.

I mean I know this, and yet the stupidity and callousness shocks me. "Old person's disease" where they are the ones killing them.


Contrarian opinion. Air travel may actually get better for the first time in decades.

Ever since 9/11, there was a steady decline in comfort of regular passengers. Now airlines actually have to court those few remaining passengers. I fully expect to see of the room to come back ( even if it is with a fee ).


I agree with this - fares should increase by 3x at a minimum, more room given to passengers, and way way way more focus on customer service.

While what’s going on is terrible, personally I’m much happier that I don’t need to get on a flight every couple weeks. We’re finally realizing that being in the same room for certain meetings offers little value when compared to the cost of personal and environmental health incurred by a flight.

Remember 3 months ago when everyone was worried about global warming? We really need to take this as a forced opportunity to actually do something about it. We should not return to “normal” because normal was disastrous for the environment.


What you say sounds more like "to hell with those beggars who can barely afford current fees. Air travel should become a luxury as it used to be in the past". Go buy a ticket in business class if you want a better service and leg room. It also goes with that warm "I'm better than the tramps several rows behind" feeling.


Flying on planes isn't a right.

If planes are going to be empty anyway, and the ticket prices have to go up anyway, the airlines may as well differentiate themselves with better customer service.

Sheesh. I'm a lefty too but not everything has to be class warfare.


Food isn't a right. Let's produce only organic super healthy food for 3x the price and save the planet from the global warming, pollution and everything. Everyone would win, right?


No, that's stupid and does not follow from the above discussion.


No, that's not what I'm talking about at all. I'm talking about the fact that most flights are useless or vain. Global warming is real. Increasing the fare would discourage needless trips, while also improving customer service for those who need to get on a flight.


Who's going to decide which trip is useless and which is not? The market has clearly decided that it is more profitable (hence useful) to offer cheap flights in not-so-great conditions for mere mortals than elite service for few. And those with money can get better service if they need it anyway. Mass killings of useless people would help stop global warming as well. Why don't do that and leave only those worthy of living. Great idea, isn't it?


>I fully expect to see of the room to come back ( even if it is with a fee ).

Is that really a good thing? The market has spoken: people clearly prefer money in their pockets than a few inches of extra space for a few hours.


I honestly do not recognize MBA business decisions as a market decision. It is hard for me to accept that the imposition of those decisions on a captive audience qualifies as 'market has spoken'.

So to answer your question. I don't know. Time will tell.


Are you suggesting that many/most people don't buy airline tickets primarily based on price? Airlines would be happy to fly all business class planes if that's what customers wanted. (And it's been tried but mostly isn't what people are willing to pay for.)


Price has always been a factor. It is a non-trivial amount for any international travel. The old country business travel can easily reach beyond what is reasonable. And I evaluate my trips based on cost and comfort ( I am way too old now to travel 12+ hours squashed ).

But you are, overall, wrong. The goal is, and always has been, milking. Extracting maximum of milk with a minimum of moo. The current breed of travellers are docile and compliant ( I honestly don't know my parents would have been able to pull some of things they did today ).

Consumers are idiots. I sometimes wonder if they even saw how things could be.


The success of Ryanair is the market decision.


I am willing to give you that. My opinion might be tinged by Frontier experience ( never again ). That and I don't really want airlines approach something along the lines of New Delhi and Rajasthan train. It is possible my personal preference is blinding me a little. Would you accept that Frontier and Ryanair lower the bar and make decision makers at 'established' airlines wonder why can't they do the same?


>Frontier and Ryanair lower the bar

Absolutely. Over the past few decades budget airlines have made it obvious that there's a certain (fairly large) class of passengers who will endure significant inconvenience and discomfort is it saves them a couple of dollars.

The traditional airlines certainly have the option to say "Nah, we're not going there." But, for example, business class-only airlines and routes generally haven't worked out for airlines.


There are going to cut routes and make us drive further to fly. Consumers aren't going to accept higher prices to fly and airlines aren't going to continue to fly at a loss.


I flew last week. Except for airline lounges being closed and a lack of beverage/snack service on the plane, it was one of the most pleasant trips I've taken.

There were no lines at security. Three of the 4 airplanes I was on were nearly empty, there was a minimum of crowding around the boarding area, and due to middle seats being blocked there was plenty of overhead bin space on the one flight I had that wasn't empty. All in all, it was fantastic.


I really wish as consumers we could just pay the actual cost for air travel, rather than it being hid in smoke through all sorts of subsidies.


To "pay the actual cost" you'd need to get rid of subsidies and the financial instruments/overhead that airlines have.

without these things airlines would go out of business even more often than they already do


The article mentions Zoom, but a major change is going to be in on-site sales, contracting, and representation.

Much like commercial office space, companies have just paid all of the fixed costs for remote work, their employees have adapted their home offices.

Before, you were paying a global consulting firm to fly to your office to have an occasional meeting with your employees up to 3 days a week; now you get 5 days a week, no flight or hotel expenses, and 60+% of your employees are happier and more productive.


I feel like there's a huge amount of delayed demand. A lot of people I know are pretty desperate to travel as soon as it's safe to do so (without quarantine after each leg).

I don't think demand will take such a huge hit. It just depends on whether the airline industry can ramp up supply again quickly or if it will take a long time.

But I could just be in a bubble of people who still have jobs and I suppose that might all change as the true economic effects settle in


I honestly think there are 2 ways this can go. Either very badly, or very nicely.

If the airlines insist on running full planes, then things are going to suck, and its going to take a long time for them to recover. Nobody is going to want to be smashed up against a stranger for seconds, much less hours on end. And if people fear this, no amount of procedures are going to change there minds.

If the airlines decide to continue blocking off the middle seat and raise prices to compensate, then this could wind up making flying much more pleasant.


Seems like an obvious time to invest in long distance passenger train infrastructure. Speaking for my self personally I would rather take a longer more comfortable train ride, then a plane ride anyway. Construction of train system would help the economy, emissions go down, less cars on the road. Everyone wins. This is another area the US is behind the rest of the world on.


A mile and a half of road/rail takes you a mile and a half. A mile and a half of runway takes you anywhere, including over oceans.

I don’t see rail as a particularly viable replacement for air in the US. Intercity Europe for 200-300 miles? Sure; it’s great. 2000 miles across the US? No thanks.


The majority of flights in the US are relatively short distance. The top ten most popular flights in the US are [1]:

1. LA to NYC (2800 miles)

2. SF to LA (350 miles)

3. NYC to Chicago (800 miles)

4. LA to Chicago (2000 miles)

5. Atlanta to Orlando (440 miles)

6. LA to Las Vegas (270 miles)

7. LA to Seattle (1100 miles)

8. Denver to LA (1000 miles)

9. Atlanta to NYC (850 miles)

10. Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale (640 miles)

Many of those flights would benefit from a high speed rail connection. Modern high speed trains can travel at around half the speed of passenger planes, and save around 2~ hours traveling to/from the airport, checking in, security checks and boarding. That means the break even point in terms of time is around 800~1000 miles. Anything below that and a modern high speed trains are faster than airplanes.

That means that high speed trains are a competitive (and for many, faster) alternative to 8 of the 10 most popular flight routes in the US. On those lines alone, they can replace ~200K flights per year in the US. They are also generally much more comfortable, because space and weight is much cheaper on trains than it is on airplanes.

Another very important consideration here is that we know how to make sustainable train travel; we have no idea how to make sustainable passenger air travel.

[1] https://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/44259160/these-are-the-...


Keep in mind that, because of the hub and spoke route system, that the most popular flights don't match the most common tickets. 6 of the top 10 routes touch LAX and 3 are from ATL. I haven't been outside the airport to Los Angeles in over 35 years, but I've been through LAX probably a dozen times since then.

I wouldn't be surprised if more pax buy tickets from NYC to the Miami area (FLL above) than originate in the Atlanta area and fly to Miami area. If that's true, they're not likely to be happy with high-speed rail replacing their NYC3-ATL-FLL travel.

I agree with you on the sustainability point, but it's not at all clear to me that rail is the answer.


That's a good point, but airplane transfers are pretty bad in terms of time efficiency. Every transfer adds at least another 1.5~2 hours to your journey, and is very uncomfortable because you need to get out and switch airplanes.

For your example, NYC to Miami, the distance is only around 1200 miles in total. Once you add in the extra time taken to travel by airplane and extra hours to make the transfer, the total time taken for the trip easily reaches 7 hours. And those are not a very comfortable 7 hours, with many stops, a lot of waiting in lines, etc.

A high speed train could make that same trip in 6 hours, and it would be 6 hours you can spend working in relative comfort. I know which option I would heavily prefer.


How long until you realistically believe we could have actual track in place allowing a 6-hour city-center to city-center NYC to Miami journey?

I think the answer is "not in the next 50 years".


This attitude is very common in the US, and it surprises me. The US has done magnificent things. When did the US become a country that couldn't, rather than a country that could?

Building a rail network of that size is also not unprecedented. China is the same size as the US, and is a country with much fewer financial resources. They started construction on their high-speed rail network in 2006, and now that network covers almost half their country.

Another interesting thing I found, apparently they are now prototyping trains that run at 400 mph [1], which is 75% of the speed of a passenger airplane. I wager we will see trains that are as fast as airplanes long before we see functional sustainable airplanes.

[1] https://asiatimes.com/2019/05/chinas-600km-h-train-set-for-2...


Well, for the NYC to DC corridor, that passes through some of the most built-up areas of the country and someone already owns all of that land. Some of the best land for placing a rail network there already is owned by freight lines and has rail installed.

It's not that hard nor expensive to put 400 miles of new rail across Nebraska. It's quite a bit harder and much, much more expensive to buy all the land needed to put 400 miles of new rail between DC and NYC.


You mean it was good at some point?


Honestly, pre the current situation, it wasn't bad if you spent the money. Enrolled in whatever priority security and immigration is available, airline clubs, business/first class seating. It's (mostly) unpleasant if you're trying to save money.

And, yes, if you go back a few decades, planes were generally less crowded, there was less security, etc. Though, in some respects, travel is actually more comfortable today if you spend the money.


Well when you get a whole row to yourself and sleep through an entire overnight international flight you were expecting to be hell.


If the post-9/11 hysteria is any indication, it will never get better.


As a longtime germophobe, who is quite sure I have caught trip-ruining flu's and colds on multiple occasions from inconsiderate passengers on flights, hysteria could lead to some real improvements this time. Screening of sick passengers, extreme filtering of recirculated air, roomier airports rather than packing a dozen gates 12 feet apart at the end of the building (LAX), and while I'm dreaming, some social distancing between seats.

They can make everyone wear full-on gas masks the entire trip. Still working on how to deal with bathrooms.

At the very least, airlines can change those shitty change/refund policies that keep people from delaying their trip when they get sick.


That's what I don't get. 9/11 caused us to embark on a 20 year war effort.

This is like a 9/11 every other day, but it's over and we should all get back to work to keep the economy going - what?


Who would you declare on? Nature for evolving new viruses every few years?

Some people really want to blame China, but it's not as easy to invade a global superpower with a permanent seat on the UN security council, nuclear weapons and super intricate ties to the world's economy as it is to invade a few underdeveloped countries in the middle east with barely any air force.


If you apply the principle of "assuming good faith", then the GP is clearly taking about spending and mobilization of effort. And I agree. The US government has been negligent in their response to the pandemic.


I don't think that comment is a call for war or anything like that.

They are expressing amazement at those saying "it's all fine - lets go back to normal". The "9/11 everyday" is referring to the daily death toll (it's slightly lower now, but the point is well made).


Yeah I definitely wasn't calling for war or anything of the sort.


Just copy 9/11, invade a country that borders China /s.


It might be that we respond more rationally to health crises than we do to terrorism.


I stopped flying about 18 years ago, mostly because I was taking too much business travel but also due to the environmental impacts and general unpleasantness of it all. I've never regretted that decision.


Yeah shit's fucked up and stuff.

When will we just start telling people "deal with it" ?


The simple answer is, enclosed spaces breathing strangers exhalations are going to be very risky till we hit vaccine / herd immunity.

Will your business insurance cover that?


I wrote this just as got distracted by kids / life etc - was meant to be a little more ... something.

What I am trying to say is that enclosed public spaces are going to be very risky for a long time - airline cabins, High rise elevators etc.

And someone is going to have to offset that risk - someone will need to pay for insurance such that if I catch Covid on your airplane and I sue the airline, they are covered.

Similarly the firm that employs me will need insurance to protect itself for 'forcing' me into an elevator in order to work.

These insurers will set the baseline - maximum occupancy, levels of pre-boarding tests etc. Whatever it is what will drive the occupancy rates will be determined by insurance premiums.

In airline terms that's almost certain to drive up ticket prices. It is also likely to put nitro into the tanks of NetJets etc - if you can afford first class you won't ever dream of getting on a Jumbo jet again.

SO I agree with the thrust of the article. What does strike me is that if you work somewhere that requires an elevator to get to it, you almost certainly can work from home.


Herd immunity is an illusion.

It would require that around 70% of people had been infected already. Using the USA as example: 70% of 328 million would be 230 million people. At a rate of 20000 new infections a day, as it currently is, it would take approximately 11000 days to reach that. That's 32 years. Let us assume ten times this rate was possible and this would still mean over three years. We do not even know yet if people will stay immune for an extended period of time at all after having gone through the illness.

All this still ignores that even in a country like Germany that dealt pretty well with the situation so far, the death rate is at approximately 4%. 4% of 230 million people means 9.2 million would die.

This also ignored any lasting damages to lungs, heart, nervous system and kidneys as they have been reported.

There will be no herd immunity as long as the disease progresses as it currently does.


The low rate of spread is due to lockdowns. Once things start opening back up, herd immunity will happen quickly.

I don’t understand the rest of your post. Why does the fact that herd immunity will cause deaths and other health effects mean that it’s not going to happen?

(Edit: also, I don’t think it’s relevant, but FWIW that 4% number is CFR, not IFR. The best estimates of the true death rate are under 1%.)


The rate of infection you refer to is probably the rate of detected infections. The true infection rate is probably higher. What else do you suggest than herd immunity? The only other solutions I see is containing the virus, which is very hard at this point, or developing a vaccine, which will also take some time.


Well, perhaps flying should be unpleasant, given its negative externalities.


germaphobery in overdrive...




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