How Pointless Travel Gave Pandemic a Free Ride

“Like desperate aardvarks snorting up ‘points’ through one actually pointless trip after another, these guys were complicit in a catastrophe.”

Of all the convulsions the world is going through as result of the coronavirus pandemic, the least consequential may prove to be the fate of the self-styled blogger-cum-‘influencer’—the ultimate fake job. Fashion blogger? Forget about it. Meanie Anna Wintour is lollygagging about the Hamptons in sweatpants. Foodie porn stars? You’ll never eat the same way in a restaurant again.

And then there is the “points and miles” blogger. You know who they are. Those self-indulgent navel-gazing millennial doofuses who by methods strategic, duplicitous or some odious combination of both deem it their life’s mission to rack up as many frequent flier points/hotel bonus points as subhumanly possible (because a self-styled influencer is, face it, kind of subhuman and generally they are guys…perhaps they’re short on satisfaction in some other aspect of their superficial lives?) in order to fly in first class or super premium first deluxe class or maybe even just (sniff! the indignity!) business class and as often as possible because uh, that’s pretty much all they do.

How relevant is that now?

How relevant was it then?

Should it have taken a global pandemic to turn such ridiculousness upside down?

“Air travel is ‘a major vector for COVID-19,’ say Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.”

It’s pretty boring stuff actually, sitting in a big seat on an airplane; the guys (who are usually guys, often gay, or maybe straight with a history of failed relationships) and Insta-signaling it is even worse: like a Dutch whore who turns tricks, it might have been something worthy of a Facebook post the first time, but after a while it’s just another day on the (in this case) phony job.

Moreover, there is a universe of difference between chronicling one’s travels and posting pictures of the latest faux leather lie-flat seat in a first class airplane cabin. You want to know what it’s really like to wander a foreign land? Read some Mark Twain: Travel with the Innocents Abroad is a great place to start. (Millennials might find the timeless classic to be a bit dated, but then they also “discovered” Toto’s Africa). Pick up The Great Railway Bazaar by a guy named Paul Theroux. Maybe not as good as sex, but guaranteed to last longer.

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Self-styled ‘points’ bloggers were often in cahoots with both cabin crew and airline marketers.

People. Is there anything more obnoxious than flipping open your Instagram only to see some ankle-socks-in-sneakers-wearing dork posing like a pale imitation of Kim Kardashian in a first class seat zooming over to nowhere in particular whilst clutching a flute of Champagne for dear life at 30,000 feet? How is that interesting or special? It isn’t. What makes Champagne interesting or special, for that matter? So not. Coke Zero and lemon, please.

But to my point: to nowhere in particular. As fate would have it some of the most outrageously outlandish first class cabins belong to airlines who serve some of the world’s least interesting cities: think Dubai (yawn), Singapore (ugh), Auckland (I mean). You could hawk tickets on a goddam rowboat to Paris and they would still sell out. Paris has star power because she’s earned it. There’s nothing to see in Dubai except an absence of LGBTQ rights and Lindsay Lohan, so the airlines have to turn to glaring extravagance to pile on passengers. Remember when Jennifer Aniston took a shower in one of those Emirates First Class Shower Suites? She took the money and probably ran—to a more credible destination than the Gulf states ever were or could possibly hope to be.

But for these narcissistic airhead pismires who never knew any kind of hardship other than lifting their stupid AMEX Delta Gold or whatever card from their wallets, for whom Vietnam is synonymous with street food and not machine guns and memorials, for whom the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are an abstract thought or inconvenient footnote on Wikipedia, it all became a silly game of airborne one-upsmanship at any price and if the price could be paid in points well hell, so much the better!

But no, so much the worse—for all of us, and that includes you. The points and miles racket was ludicrous from the start. It simply encouraged people to travel for the sake of Facebook likes and Insta selfies as opposed to traveling with any kind purpose. Ozone destruction be damned, it was all about slurping up that last revolting drop of caviar (fish eggs belong in the momma fish, period) before that perfumed descent into Hamad International and pretending to be sophisticated for your legion of probably mostly fake Instagram followers.

Yikes.

And what did the airlines do in response? They just ate it up, because the social media publicity was free publicity and if you think your boss is a cheapskate, then you really don’t know the airline industry very well. Like Marie-Antoinette who got hooked on frosting and fancy cakes while the French peasants could barely pin down a crust of bread to nibble on, the airlines prioritized the outfitting of the very front of the cabin—whether it was an A380 or lowly Embraer—with every conceivable luxurious accoutrement from needlessly over-the-top multicourse meals to first class lavatory attendants to pouring Krug like it was tap water.

And doing all that while cramming as many non-pointchasers into the main cabin as possible. Sanitation distancing was never a part of that economic equation.

Doing all that while failing to give planes even a cursory cleaning in between flights.

Doing all that while germs were spreading.

Enabling and even glorifying the germ spreading, airport club lounge-hopping, amenity-kit comparing a-holes at everybody’s expense, including their own.

Food for thought, isn’t it, as the world stares down what one aviation insider in the U.S. is now calling “the most steep and potentially sustained decline in air travel history.”

Funny though, how the points poobahs and serial perk-chasers have gone mysteriously silent as the pandemic that their own pointless travel helped propagate continues. Oh,  some post a picture of themselves sitting in an empty plane with a mask on (selfie porn is a hard habit to break) or go the extra half-mile by issuing a platitude-laden couple of paragraphs about how sad they are and how they just can’t wait until the day when they can make yet another beach run to the Maldives (and get more points! Gal Gadot was there!) because bitches, Mexico (for them) simply won’t do.

The points bloggers are sitting this one out because they’ve been forced out, but don’t kid yourself—they are just waiting to strike.

Don’t let them.

Through their callous disregard for the pollution they caused and the toxic Internet clutter they generated, by dint of their fixation with the most superficial aspects of the travel experience, the points junkies out there—and they know who they are—helped bring us the low point we are today.  They traded authenticity for vanity, and in so doing they hurt travel for everyone. Badly.

And like China, if they cannot be held to account, they must not be allowed to hijack this transformative moment in modern human history for their own gain. Their piggishness has already resulted, one way or another, in far too much loss.

So do not reward pointless travel with your time, loyalty or attention. Invest in something that matters, like having a genuine interest in a place before jumping on a plane to cross it off your “bucket list” (horrible term).

Invest in meaning. Authenticity. Unfollow the practitioners of pointlessness, for it has proved to be positively lethal.

Have I made my point?

Free market, take it away.

 

ADDENDUM for a faceless commenter:

…who bemoaned our apparent lack of contrition for the money that so-called points travel poured into the global economy (and that has now presumably been withdrawn from it) as if only anonymous Internet trolls are aware that travel involves spending money and giving people jobs. That reminded us of Miranda Priestly’s dressing down of her intern Andy in The Devil Wears Prada: quips are cute but yes, you can make too much fuss over a color. And again, while pointless travel was not the cause of the pandemic, it remains a demonstrably boneheaded, irresponsible way of travel, it birthed a terrible caste system in the sky and was absolutely complicit in spreading the pandemic around the globe.

Coda

…and to think that just a few short months ago the biggest concern United Airlines had was figuring out how to censor 1983’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun video from its in-flight entertainment system with nobody really noticing (except for us, apparently).

United’s flight network has now shrunk to what it was in 1983.