(CNN)When it comes to air travel, the stories never seem to stop. Whether it's over a brawl, a dead giant rabbit or a pie in the face, airlines are taking a drubbing these days. CNN Opinion asked our well-traveled contributors to weigh in on the good, the bad and what they think should change about air travel. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors.
Our love-hate relationship with air travel
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Flying today is worse than going to the dentist, even for a root canal. I hate flying. Gone are the days when air travel was a fun adventure, a chance to get work done, or catch up on much-needed sleep. For me, the stress begins at the airport security line, and doesn't end until I reach my destination.
When I hear a TSA agent say: "I love your hair," I know the hair war is on. That's become code for "search this woman." Nothing has caused me more consternation, or missed flights than the "extra" security that's become protocol for black women with big hair: braids, dreadlocks, or, a big fluffy afro like the one I proudly sport today. Despite what the TSA says about changing this policy, this black hair profiling still happens every day at airports across the country.
Usually, my hair is searched by at least two agents, and X-rayed multiple times. The agents comb their gloved hands through my hair, wand it repeatedly and yank my head around, asking: "Are you carrying anything in your hair?" Then all of my hair products are opened and searched. First class, business class, back of the plane, doesn't matter -- the drill is still the same.
As I stand off to the side in the hair detention area, I watch other women pass by with big hair -- sprayed up Dolly Parton do's, giant bouffants, Hasidic women in wigs, or Amish with women wearing bonnets. Never are they hair searched.
I'm traveling again soon. And I sure hope I see the friendly American Airlines agent I met two years ago at JFK. Not only did he compliment my hair -- he had dreadlocks -- he upgraded me to first class, helped me condense my bags so I wouldn't have to pay extra and gave me one bag free. Thanks, dude, people like you give me hope.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, writes frequently for CNN Opinion.
Not so very long ago, air travel was widely viewed as a comfortable -- even glamorous -- mode of transportation in the United States. For sure there were occasional problems. I remember someone once warning me that you should never fly on major holidays because the "B" team was in charge on those days.
I never believed this until I was flying out of Worcester Airport in Massachusetts on one of those puddle jumpers that used to fly from Worcester to New York City. The pilot suddenly terminated the takeoff run, explaining that someone had left the cargo door open and it would just take him a moment to close it. He got out of the plane himself and did so and we then took off. He may have been on the "B" team, but he at least knew how to fix the problem. Everyone was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, particularly when the flight attendants gave us all free drinks as an apology for the unscheduled stop.
The passengers were willing to forgive that mishap because in those days, airline passengers were generally treated very well. You didn't have to be in first class to enjoy reasonable leg and elbow room. Snacks and meals were often free and the flight attendants treated passengers with respect. No one was getting beaten up or dragged off airplanes. There were no stories of passengers being trapped on runways for hours at a time because of unexplained flight delays. No one had to be bribed to give up their seats because if you paid for a seat, the airline provided a seat.
I was going to close by saying airline travel is as bad as the subway these days. Such a comment, however, would be unfair to the subway. In New York, at least, the train I take to the plane is likely to be the most civilized and comfortable portion of the trip.
Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York City homicide prosecutor and currently is of counsel at the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan.
I fly a lot. I spend more time in planes than cars and passed the million miles flown a while ago. For the most part, I've had very good experiences flying. And when I haven't, it's either because of something the airline can't control -- like turbulence; or something that's just as hard to control -- turbulent attitudes of other passengers.
The best experience I have ever had? Simple -- it's anytime the captain comes out of the cockpit, stands at the top of the aisle and greets us over the loud speaker before we leave the gate. There's nothing better than a funny, relaxed and optimistic pilot to put you at ease. Even if his or her debrief includes a warning about turbulence, it puts everyone at ease to see and her from the person who's in charge of flying this metal tube.
The worst experience? Other passengers being selfish, loud or unkind to the airline staff or other travelers. It's not cool. We are all in this together. Delays are frustrating. Weather is a factor. No one is trying to screw you. Can't we just agree to be kind to one another when we fly. Oh and leave your shoes on and bare feet on the floor. Seeing someone's bare, scaly feet on a plane...yuck.
What would I change? Two things. All pilots start with that in-person welcome from the aisle and checking luggage would be free. Why? Simple, it would change how people board. Right now, we try to drag it all on board so there's a huge surge and rush to get on a plane because of the limited overhead space. Check a bag for free, and charge people to bring more than one carry-on on the plane. I think it would solve a lot of problems and seasoned travelers like me would pony up the $25 to bring my carry-on aboard.
Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker.
Ah, air travel! Yes, it's often irritating, even infuriating. It's also occasionally terrifying. But if you don't find it sublime, you're not paying attention. To me, boarding a plane, gliding across the sky and arriving in a different land has never lost its magic.
But the adventure is not always one I would choose to repeat.
There was that trip to Somalia, back in the days of "Black Hawk Down." The country was in chaos, the population starving and warlords stealing food supplies. I hitched a ride aboard a Canadian military C-130. There were no civilian flights. To leave the country, my colleague Gayle Young and I spent hours running from one airplane to another, asking the pilots of we could have a lift to Nairobi. At long last, the pilot of a tiny South African plane working for an aid organization said, "Sure, come along!" When he saw we had luggage, he shook his head. The plane was already overweight. But they took us anyway. The next day, flying from Nairobi to Cairo, the strange doings continued. Our plane made a mysterious, unscheduled stop in Sudan, where another brutal war was raging. The crew offered no explanation.
But perhaps my most memorable flight was in the US, in Atlanta. As my Delta flight took off and we immediately heard a small explosion. All of us on board became very serious and quiet. The plane started listing. I waited for the pilot to announce, as in "Airplane," the movie, that there was no reason to panic, so we could all panic. I looked out the window and saw a dark stream coming out of the wing. We were flying at 4,000 feet, the pilot later told us, dumping fuel in preparation for an emergency landing. Turns out a tire had blown on takeoff, sending chunks of rubber into one of the engines. We were flying with a missing tire and a broken engine!
I don't know how long we flew before that emergency landing. It felt like hours.
I'm here to tell the story. Nobody was hurt.
And an hour later I was back in the air. Since then, no takeoff has ever been the same. I notice more vibrations, more sounds. But when the plane finally reaches cruising altitude, it's still as magical as ever.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review and a former CNN producer and correspondent.
I have to confess: as fun as it is to bash the airlines, when flying works, most of the time it is not all that bad. These days, airports have become theme parks, food courts and shopping malls. Paradoxically, while the airports have gussied up, the passengers have given up. Completely. Though there are plenty of savvy, efficient, respectful travelers, it only takes one shirtless nudnik and his carry-on steamer trunk to jam up the works.
Here's one huge improvement airlines could make for free: they could drop the condescension and the profiteering. Why don't airlines treat us like we have common sense? The seat-back-up-for-landing rule is absurd. My own back can't even detect the negligible difference between recline and up anymore -- if we go skidding off the runway, will it really make a difference that I'm 1 inch fore or aft in my seat?
As if that's not bad enough, now the crew is also blaring pitches for credit cards and rewards programs at 90 decibels. It's why passengers lose their cool: They go from being treated like adult humans outside the airport, to being treated like schoolchildren ... and marketing targets ... who might want to sign up for a low-interest credit card. Oh, and don't drag passengers off planes if you can help it. But the airlines probably already have learned that one.