Today we ponder an ageless mode of transportation; well, so far ageless. It provides a beautiful panorama of our country that cannot be captured in flight. We take a look at the “unfriendly skies” from the point of view of one of America’s top consumer advocates. And finally, we look at a generational change where going online via an iPhone is taking the place of escaping from the discipline we used to know.

The Coast Starlight is the most beautiful train ride in America

trains flying growing upFriends swear that the best way to see the USA is by a long train ride. Personally, I’m not so sure. I can’t stand being in one seat for so long. I prefer the stop and go of car travel or the short blast of flying. However, for some trips, trains can’t be beat.

Starting in Seattle and ending in Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight train trip takes passengers through Washington, Oregon, and California, allowing them to see stunning views of the West Coast’s mountains, forests, valleys, and Pacific Ocean. Passengers can take in the sights from the observation car, which is decked out in floor to ceiling windows and comfortable swivel chairs. And here’s the best part — tickets for the spectacular journey start at just $97.

The entire route takes 35+ hours and travels through 30 destinations, including Olympia-Lacey, Portland, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay area, and Santa Barbara. On the trip, riders will see the Cascade Range, Mount Shasta, the Santa Barbara Channel, several national parks and forests, and, of course, the Pacific coastline.

Unfriendly Skies

One of our sister organizations is FlyersRights.org. We work closely together. They are staffed with lawyers and Travelers United has non-legal advocates. Our efforts together have resulted in most of the pro-consumer changes in the airline industry. The article provides a good snapshot of airline passenger rights today.

What should the U.S. Congress be doing to improve the situation for the flying public?

We’ve had an airline passenger bill of rights since 2013—it has about 30 proposals. With recent events, we’re up to about 50 proposals. There are 535 members of Congress and so far, not one has been willing to introduce any part of it. So that gives you an indication of where they are. I just reviewed some legislation that’s been drafted after the Dr. Dao incident in the last six weeks or so. Some of it has some good points, but they also have just inherent weaknesses that make it very unlikely you’ll see much difference.

For instance, the typical bill that is being introduced calls on the Department of Transportation to issue new regulations. Well, the DOT is not issuing any new regulations. They are repealing regulations—especially under the Trump administration. Even when they do that, it takes anywhere from two to five years. And then they have a very weak record of actually enforcing their own regulations. If an airline violates a regulation, the most that can happen is they get a small fine and the person or persons that were affected get nothing. Because the courts have ruled that unless there’s a federal cause of action, you cannot sue airlines. You can sue them, but the only way you can effectively sue airlines now with the laws that are in place is if you’re physically injured or killed in the course of their operation.

Have smartphones destroyed a generation?

We have all gone through generational changes. Your parents had a very different upbringing than you did. Then, your kids were brought up differently than you were. When I was a kid, heading to the “teen club” was a time for me to have independence. When I got my car, a bit more independence. And, I watched as younger friends smoked, did drugs, and hung out, just to get away from discipline.

Today, with smart phones, teens are going through another generational shift. They do not have to go out to be alone or to explore the “forbidden world.

…Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans.