Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

21 July 2011

A reflection on Air Travel.

Flyvbjerg’s discussion of mega projects lends itself nicely to my independent study. When I decided to travel to Karlsruhe, I had to think logistically about how I was going to get there. I had two options:

1.Take a train down to London, then take the Chunnel over to Paris, then another train to Karlsruhe From London, This route would have cost me a thousand dollars, and would have taken me 6 hours to complete.

2.I could fly from London to Karlsruhe, directly, and then take a bus from the airport to the city. From London, This route would take an hour and a half, and would have cost me 129 USD.

How is it that flying internationally has become cheaper than taking the rail? Simply put, post-industrialism; the way we travel, our mobility, is a sign of our society.
In the height of industrialism, rail travel was important not for people, but for goods. Raw materials could travel all over a country to a factory, and the final product could reach the consumer. Here in Dundee, you can see the remains of this power by the waterfront: there are multiple tracks that can be seen, which were competing lines to transport Dundee’s jute. But, these have fallen into opulence, to make way for more current means of transportation, like the car and bus, which transport people, because there is no need for the mass transportation of goods. Even today, there are competing rail lines in Scotland (Firstrail, Scotsrail, etc.) but still: they are mostly people movers.

Many airliners have latched onto the fact that people simply want to get to their destination efficiently. It is for this reason that airline companies like EasyJet and Ryanair have come into existence. These companies do not have cargo routes, like Delta or Continental; they are simply people movers. Sure, I hate Ryanair and their general lack of customer service, but I can’t stop using them because of how cheap—cheaper than rail—it is to use. As these services become increasingly popular, more auxiliary airports are being renovated in order to be able to handle the increase of flight traffic. The development of the infrastructure supports the post-industrial economy, and what the future is for travel.

This is clearly illustrated by the Baden-Baden airport, which was built in the early fifties. Originally a military port, it did not have commercial traffic until 1997. Now there are several flights a day to Spain, Portugal, Italy, and other European, quite literally, hotspots (Palma de Mallorca is the most flown route). But fear not, Frankfort and Stuttgart airports are just an hour away, giving a traveler many options. This is similar to New York City, where one can fly in and out of EWR, JFK, or LGA, or even here in Scotland where one can fly in and out of EDI, DND, or GLA.

As air travel becomes increasingly cheaper, it makes it easier for the middle-class citizens to afford the luxury of international travel. What is coming in for approach (pun-intended), is a globalized world, where borders are fuzzy, language means access, and people interact with the spaces they are in. Although Leicht argues that post-industrialism has hurt the middle class and has made them lose their independence, I beg to differ. In the article “Post-Industrial Peasants”, a man is quoted saying that he doesn’t connect with his neighbors; I would say that he is the outlier and not the norm. After traveling more than fifteen thousand miles, I have learned that not only are neighbors friendly and talkative, but also warm and inviting.

The best representation of the neighborly factor is Strasbourg, France. It is a small city in the Alsace-Lorraine region, in close proximity to Germany. The area in and of itself has been passed back and forth between the two countries, which gives it a distinct “brackish” culture. It is hard to discern which influenced the other. The merchants speak both German and French; The food is both savory and filling, while still light and sweet; the architecture is confused. The town is a main attraction for people in both countries because it has so much to offer. For the French, it is a point of pride that the European Parliament sits there. Additionally, it is seen as a city of innovation due to its large university and houses the largest collection of modern art in the entire country. With the Schengen agreement, which allows citizens of the EU to pass freely through the borders of countries, all of Europe will become much like this region.

Industrialism did a lot for the world. It got our gears turning (both literally and figuratively) on how to problem solve. It begot mass transportation, capitalism, and gave us a set of problems to solve in the future. As we emerge in the wake of the industrialists, repurposing old technologies and creating new ones, it is important to remember that we are not in this alone. The struggles of one nation, one neighbor, affect us all, and the ingenuity had in one place benefits all of us. I think I’ve seen a glimpse of the future: It is well connected.

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