The promise of travel has always been transformation: we go away and return changed, more broad-minded, more enlightened about the world. In ‘The Case Against Travel’ (non-paywalled archive view here) Agnes Callard argues that not only does travelling rarely change us, we’re the ones changing the places we visit:
“Touristic travel exists for the sake of change. But what, exactly, gets changed? Here is a telling observation from the concluding chapter of [Hosts and Guests, the classic academic volume on the anthropology of tourism]: ‘Tourists are less likely to borrow from their hosts than their hosts are from them, thus precipitating a chain of change in the host community.’ We go to experience a change, but end up inflicting change on others. …
“We already know what we will be like when we return. A vacation is not like immigrating to a foreign country, or matriculating at a university, or starting a new job, or falling in love. We embark on those pursuits with the trepidation of one who enters a tunnel not knowing who she will be when she walks out. The traveller departs confident that she will come back with the same basic interests, political beliefs, and living arrangements. Travel is a boomerang. It drops you right where you started.”
I believe a certain type of travel can have positive residual effects. However, the majority of touristic travel has what Callard calls a ‘locomotive’ character: Go to Paris. Go to the Louvre. Take a photo of Mona Lisa. Next. In this way, tourists seek not life-altering experiences, but proof to shape their personal narrative for friends and followers.
So why is the appeal of travel so strong? In Callard’s view it’s because we seek escape from the monotony and banality of our everyday existence:
“Imagine how your life would look if you discovered that you would never again travel. If you aren’t planning a major life change, the prospect looms, terrifyingly, as ‘More and more of this, and then I die.’ Travel splits this expanse of time into the chunk that happens before the trip, and the chunk that happens after it, obscuring from view the certainty of annihilation. And it does so in the cleverest possible way: by giving you a foretaste of it.
“You don’t like to think about the fact that someday you will do nothing and be nobody. You will only allow yourself to preview this experience when you can disguise it in a narrative about how you are doing many exciting and edifying things: you are experiencing, you are connecting, you are being transformed, and you have the trinkets and photos to prove it.
“Socrates said that philosophy is a preparation for death. For everyone else, there’s travel.”
It may be harsh and perhaps a bit dark, but Callard hits a nerve. Especially in the age of social media, whatever virtues we used to assign to the traveller are mostly gone. Travel is now often a means to curate one’s personal brand – seeking validation, not transformation.Via Kai & DD
“Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic,” the airline said. “Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.”Source: BBC
It’s worth asking how come (European) airports were unprepared for this rebound. I’ve travelled quite a bit within Asia1 the past few months, and I fail to see any of the same problems Europe is facing.
It seems like the big airports are affected most (AMS, LHR, FRA, MUC), whereas regional airports have long queues but due to lower loads are not affected as much. But then again, information is not super transparent, and it’s hard to figure out how many flights are cancelled in Brussels or Copenhagen as opposed to Amsterdam.
And Iceland seems to have plenty of staff… 😉
Stockholm airport a couple of weeks ago was a disaster in terms of massive queues (the only reason it was smooth for us, was because we had priority lane and were lucky to be able to skip the hour-long queues).
We can’t blame the sudden opening/dropping of Covid regulations either, as Europe has been significantly more lax and easy going than most Asian countries that basically went from lockdown/full test regiment/quarantine to opening up in a matter of days or weeks.
One could also argue Asia does not have the same workers’ protection/unions/training/safety standards (which may be true in some cases, not sure about training for example) and generally salaries/costs are lower (i.e.: you could hire four for the price of one).
It’s also unfair to shove the costs back to the airlines (that need to rebook or refund passengers), while having to fly empty planes during Covid to retain their airport slots…
Note that most of the problems seem to affect departures (transit/arrivals are generally smooth).
Maybe having the entire ground-staff exist out of (underpaid) immigrations/interim/temp workers was not a sustainable model to start with, and that’s finally showing.
Do better, Europe.
1: Bali seems to be the exception: customs had super long queues, and their new visa regulations (i.e.: many people now need to buy a visa-on-arrival, when that wasn't needed before) added to confusion and people being sent back to buy their VoA.