It was all just as I had left it. I flew for the first time in nearly two years this week. During that hiatus, I had avoided air travel first because of the pandemic, and then because of the subsequent, behavioral pandemic of airline passengers being violent and mask-averse s—theads. I didn’t care to expose myself to either of those things. But you can’t stay home forever, and I had strangely missed the rituals of domestic flying. So I packed my roll-aboard and surrendered myself once again to the wonders and horrors of the American airport. Apart from masks, everything about the process was exactly the same as before COVID-19. 

The question, though, is why? Why is America returning to the exact same air travel experience? Why didn’t the pandemic force the country to reckon with how awful flying is and want to fix it? During the early onset of the pandemic, I was desperate to get back to the way I used to live. Once I did, I suddenly asked myself why I ever accepted life as it was prior. I’m hardly the only person to have this epiphany. The Great Resignation was birthed when Americans — particularly white-collar Americans — looked at the commute-to-an-office-for-underwhelming-pay model for work and realized that it was inherently flawed. 

And if you want flawed concepts in desperate need of being reconsidered, holy s—t is flying near the top of the list. Shoddy airports, bodies packed tighter than a morgue, food fit for a dog kennel, etc. Flying is designed to make Americans angry, and it’s more successful at that job now than it’s ever been. The worst part is that, thanks to a pitiful national rail system that’s poised to become only slightly less pitiful, there are few options outside of it. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to take it anymore. Flying doesn’t have to be like this and it shouldn’t be. While you can’t quit air travel, you can make it an issue that both politicians and the airline industry have no choice but to reckon with. Allow me to make a few suggestions — actually, let’s call them demands — to get started.

1. Let me keep my goddamn shoes on. 9/11 was 20 years ago and we still have the same overly cumbersome, relentlessly paranoid TSA experience at every American airport: a security apparatus that is uniquely ours and aggressively useless. That experience includes taking off your shoes and scuffling through the checkpoint like a hospital patient instructed to start putting on their gown. This is all because Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane using a shoe bomb in 2001 and, because of that attempt, ended up having more of a direct impact on my life and yours than the average American president has had. 

Keep in mind that Reid didn’t even SUCCEED in blowing up a plane with his wack-ass shoes. But that hasn’t stopped every gunhumper in national law enforcement from keeping the threat of a repeat offender alive and forcing you to disrobe from the ankle down. If you wanna be spared this indignity, you gotta pony up for TSA Pre-Check, which’ll never go away because it’s become such a valuable source of revenue. Meanwhile, those TSA scanners have foiled, to my knowledge, exactly zero shoe bombs since their inception (although one enterprising fellow did attempt an underwear bombing, which also failed), ironic given that I very much WANT my plane to explode after suffering through all of the TSA’s indignities. Let me keep my shoes on, and lemme finish my goddamn bottled water in the gate area if I want to.

2. Pay travelers to check their bags. This system is bass ackward. Airlines charge you a fee to check bags, so what happens? You and I bring ALL of our s—t through security and to the gate area — causing an even longer blockade than security might normally produce. Then the gate agent testily reminds everyone that overhead bin space is at a premium and that if you’re in Group J for boarding, you may as well check your bag now before they incinerate it right in front of you. When they make that fun announcement, I scheme to get my roll-aboard into the bins before every other sucker can: stationing myself close to the jetway so that I can jump ahead of the rest of my group, zooming right past the dreaded bag measuring apparatus while avoiding eye contact with the gate agents, and then cramming my suitcase into the first open crevice I see up above. 

If you airlines are so desperate for all of us to check our bags and then strand ourselves at a baggage claim for half an hour after landing, why don’t you pay US for that privilege, motherf—kers? Our time is valuable, too. Spot passengers $20 to offload every roll-aboard, garment bag, violin case and novelty-sized Hershey bar they bought in Times Square, and suddenly life on board won’t feel so cramped. To that end …

3. Regulate seat size. Three years ago, Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to set minimum requirements for airplane seat width and pitch. This was a matter of not just passenger comfort, but passenger safety as well. Hard to evacuate a plane when your legs are tucked firmly under the seat in front of you. 

As of this October, the FAA has still yet to comply with this order. Your current FAA lead administrator is Stephen Dickson. Oh, he’s a son of a dick all right. You listen to me, Stephen Dickson: You better enforce more legroom on flights or else I’ll make you eat 500 paper boarding passes, you filthy vermin. This is a law now. This isn’t something that got held up in governmental turnaround because Joe Manchin wanted everyone to smell his diaper first. This law was passed, and yet it’s going ignored. DO YOUR JOB.

4. Free edibles for all passengers. It would really take the edge off. You can bring back liquor on board, too, but we already know how that makes fliers behave. Half a Sour Diesel gummy would chill them out without tempting them to defecate on the drink cart.

5. From now on, all rental car lots are at the airport. Looking at you, LAX.

6. Rethink the American airport entirely. Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure bill contains $25 billion for airports that will, in the words of the White House, be spent to “address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion and emissions near ports and airports and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies.” In other words, that money is going to essentially preserve the same airports you’ve grown to hate over the past 20 years. 

I just walked through the new terminal at LaGuardia the other morning and was pleasantly surprised by it. But that airport’s infamously overcrowded airfield brought me back to reality once I boarded and had to sit on the tarmac until I was among the undead. The current airport model is a series of gauntlets. You go from the parking lot to the baggage check, to security, to an endless line for coffee in a weird central terminal mall, to a gate area that has either 100 available power outlets or zero, onto a plane whose arrival time may as well be drawn out of a hat. This is a broken model. 

A friend of mine flew to Hong Kong a while back. When he got off the plane, he jumped onto a train stationed right by the gate and was in central Hong Kong within minutes. Now if you’re some goatee who’s like, “Well that’s just Hong Kong; America is much bigger,” since when did you decide that America CAN’T do things? Who told you to be so meek and uninspired, Chad? Piss off. I want direct transit to gates. I want the TSA and its machines dismantled. And I want my bags off-loaded AT the gate, thank you very much. This will all cost money, but me and every other liberal just saw that defense bill get passed. We know the money’s there. Don’t bulls—t us. In fact …

7. Nationalize the airlines. My whole life, the government has spent billions to bail out airlines that then show their gratitude by starving coach passengers and packing them into seats tighter than the back of a Yugo. As of last week the market cap of Delta, one of the biggest airlines in the country, was just over $24 billion, nearly the exact same amount that Biden earmarked for our crumbling airports. He should’ve bought Delta with that money, plus some Fritos Flavor Twists. He should have bought all of the airlines, folded them into one efficient agency and formally ended the patchwork quilt of shabbily run airlines with competing interests that get five stars from customers anytime they merely land the plane on time. 

Instead, I’m back in the air flying those same airlines, eating the same lousy food, jockeying for armrest space with the same awful passengers. Despite my gripes with the system, I actually missed all of that so much, and do you know why? Because I’ve never known anything better. It’s time I asked for more. Everyone should.