Anyone who whines about airplanes should have to take the Oregon Trail

Source: Book cover of “Oregon Or Bust: True Short Stories from the Descendants of Oregon Trail Pioneers, Prospectors, Trappers, and Settlers in the Great Northwest Hardcover” by Gentry Ward Cutsforth (2012), XLibris.

[ In addition, I recommend the Louis CK rant about airplane whiners here.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Sarah Lyall whined about traveling on airplanes in the leading story of the Business section in the New York Times on Sunday June 9, 2017 (Lyall).

To gain some perspective, let’s consider what traveling was like on the Oregon and other migrant trails.

The odds of dying were 1 in 5 (10,000 of 50,000 migrants died) from cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, diphtheria, smallpox, firearm accidents, and Indian attacks (400 people).  The odds of dying in an airplane crash are just 1 in 11 million.

It took migrants up to six months to reach their destination.  A jet travels that distance in 4 hours.

Source: Flight attendant,

Migrants often had to jettison most or all of their possessions to reach a safe place before winter.  Just 3 bags are mishandled by airlines per 1,000 passengers.

Migrants suffered from hunger, malnutrition, dehydration, lack of water, bad water, and lack of fuel to cook and heat with.  Airplanes have food, water, and comfortable temperatures.  Lyall has this to say about airplane food:

  • It is perpetually dinnertime at the airport, but I do not want the food.
  • On the flights, those of us sitting in the back tend to avoid buying from the snack cart, making do with the tiny free packets like Savory Snack Mix, blobs of cracker-like material coated with unpleasant flavoring.
  • The lady by the window, who had raised our mutual armrest so as to better squeeze over the line into my seat, whipped out a Chick-fil-A fried-chicken sandwich. The distressing scent of dill pickles and processed chicken wafted through the air.
  • The yogurt had spent the flight in the seat pocket, building up internal pressure. As I removed the top, it exploded, spraying blobs onto me
  • As the flight attendants dole out our sole free snack on this flight of six and a half hours – the aroma of something delicious wafts in from the front.

Lyall  whines about being in the middle seat, delayed flights, cramming luggage in overhead compartments, paying for once free services, crammed into small seats like sardines, a cast system like the Hunger games – jostled and fretted into lines staffed by overburdened agents, the envy of elite status passengers, eyes irritated from too much flying, independence taken away, having to affix your own bag-routing tag, boarding lines, A passenger attempts to use the first-class bathrooms but is ordered to the back of the plane, and broken entertainment systems. Plus a great deal more using 4059 words, which takes up over 6 pages in a word document that’s entirely single-spaced.

Don’t even get me started on the hardships of the 1620 Mayflower voyage and thousands of other voyages, or the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” where 5,000 of 15,000 native Americans died.

So instead of whining, remember that for most of history nobody flew — not even kings or queens. Instead of whining, be grateful.  Think of yourself as a God or Goddess flying above the earth through towering clouds over sparkling water, forests, and cities lit by hundreds of billions of kilowatt hours of mostly fossil-fueled electricity.

Airplanes will never be electrified with wind and solar power charged batteries.  A 200-seat airplane weighs about 115 tons at take-off. About a third, or 38 tons of that weight is the kerosene fuel. The other 77 tons are the passengers, their luggage, and the airplane itself. An electric, battery-powered airplane would require nearly 3,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries.  The batteries would weigh 39 times more than the plane, passengers, and their luggage. Nor would fuel cells do much better (Schrope).

This is a temporary privilege.  Enjoy it.   We’re burning through finite fossil fuels exponentially. Our descendants will daydream about what it must have been like to fly.

Source: National Archives at


Lyall, Sarah. June 9, 2017. Paying a Price for 8 Days of Flying in America. New York Times.

Schrope, Mark. November 6, 2010. Fly Electric. New Scientist.


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3 Responses to Anyone who whines about airplanes should have to take the Oregon Trail

  1. Ken Barrows says:

    We’ll fly using biodiesel and consume pills for food. It will make that Chick-fil-A problem disappear. Onward and upward!

  2. Joe Clarkson says:

    I have flown many times, although my longest flight has only been about 9 hours, and I love it. I still marvel at the miracle of sitting in an airplane cabin for a few hours and ending up thousands of miles away. People who can’t appreciate the fantastic power and total energy being expended for their convenience (at so little cost) should walk across the continent as penance.

  3. well i have flown many times, and I love it. People who can’t appreciate the fantastic power and total energy being expended for their convenience (at so little cost) should walk across the continent as penance.