Expectations are everything. When one is happy with a friend, spouse, movie, dog or football team, it’s because that person or thing met or exceeded expectations (the reader will kindly place the “spouse” reference in the “person” column; thank you). But in order for the happiness thing to work, expectations must be continually adjusted. How else can you explain the legions that turnout to support the Cubs?
When I was in college and lived in an apartment, the phone company provided all necessary phone equipment (i.e.: a single, 5 pound phone). The modern, push button phone I rented was hard-wired into the wall and I could push a few numbers and in short order speak to anyone who had a similar device. Flash forward 35 years and in my pocket I now have a phone that weighs a few ounces that can present, in seconds, up-to-the-minute aviation weather for any city I can think of. I can not only look at the stock market ticker with it, I can also use my phone to trade stocks. It’s a video camera, movie player and juke box that at the moment contains 2,131 high-fidelity, digitally stored, indexed (by title/album/artist/and genre) songs. I can use my phone to get on something called the “internet” and find any fact I desire. And if all that weren’t enough, from virtually any location I can also use it to make a “phone” call (the device is named after its least amazing utility)
Am I disappointed when a single feature of this marvelous device doesn’t work? A little. But fortunately, there always seem to be a sufficient number of features that continue to work to distract me and provide reassurance that technology is still righteous. (By the way, I get all these features and convenience for about the same monthly dollars I spent in 1975.)
The changes and expectations for things aviation have also undergone a revolution. Now it has to be pointed out that due to the laws of physics, aircraft can’t affordably fly faster than they did 35 years ago. Back then, airliners were designed to cruise at about 85% of the speed of sound (cheap gas); today, most jets cruise slightly slower, around 80% of the speed of sound. The good news: because of improved engine technology and airframe design, today’s jets use only 50-60% of the fuel used by the older jets for a given flight (and they’re much, much quieter). And because airliners have increased seating densities, the amount of energy required to transport a single passenger is a fraction of what it once was. Though fuel prices and operating costs have risen substantially, efficiency has offset much of the passenger’s expense.
In the cockpit, technology has also changed the capability of aircraft. Aircraft systems are presented on synoptic displays and flight information and navigation is no longer based on this planet, but rather in space and an aircraft’s location is no longer a matter of degrees and miles, but rather a matter of a few feet. Routings are more efficient and pilots better trained. Technology has changed the quality of flying and made it the most reliable and safest form of travel. Ever.
So when we fly, we expect a “glitch-free, on-time departure, smooth ride, in-flight movie, boring approach” type of flight. All that and a fair price, of course. Unless something goes haywire (and it eventually will). Then we step back a few years, reset our expectations and revisit our friend the dial telephone as we process the news that our plane has just been pulled into a nearby hangar. Literally.