The Death of the Mile-High Club
Speaker's Corner: Rolf Potts says it's official: Planes have become flying buses, and air travel is no longer sexy
07.25.07 | 11:45 AM ET
I want to take this opportunity to declare that the Mile-High Club is, for all practical purposes, defunct. Much like the practice of phrenology or the fad for goldfish swallowing, the notion of having sex on commercial airplanes is no longer worthy of serious consideration.
Before I get inundated with angry e-mails accusing me of being a prude, let me be clear about one thing: This is not about sex. For die-hard Mile-High Club practitioners, I’m sure there’s still nothing more arousing than the heady scent of disinfectant and sewage as you wedge yourself against a paper towel dispenser to consummate your passion with the person you love (or as many Mile-High Club tales seem to imply, with the person you met at the boarding gate).
In reality, the death of the Mile-High Club is tied to the decline of the commercial air travel experience in general. Back in the late ‘60s, when the advent of the Boeing 737 began to make jet travel affordable for the masses, I’m sure everything about the experience of flight was somewhat of a thrill. Nearly four decades later, however, a couple generations of travelers have known nothing but air travel for long journeys. We’re still flying in those same 737s (and comparable aircraft), yet the level of comfort and service has actually declined: Security lines are longer, seating schemes are more cramped, in-flight snack services are disappearing, and—in a startling development—some aircraft manufacturers have reportedly considered maximizing passenger capacity by installing standing-room seating, wherein you are strapped, like a mental patient, to a padded backboard during takeoff.
In short, commercial air travel has become hopelessly mundane and unpleasant—and aspiring to have sex on a commercial flight is now as tacky and pointless as aspiring to have sex in a Wal-Mart.
Mile-High Club purists might argue, with some indignation, that the increasing discomfort and impersonality of air travel only heightens the allure of airborne sexual dalliance. This is an interesting argument, but it also happens to be delusional: Just as ogling gourmet hot dog-toasters and solar-powered paddleboats in your in-flight mail-order magazine doesn’t really count as shopping, squeezing into an economy-class lavatory for close-quarter coitus doesn’t truly count as an erotic encounter.
Indeed, regardless of how you try to sugarcoat the flight experience, planes have functionally become flying buses—and the only people who would consider having sex on public buses are invariably on their way home from serving 18-to-24-month prison sentences for crystal-meth possession. In such a setting, it’s far more dignified to just bide your time and disembark before you get your freak on.
Sex aside, the question at the heart of this issue is why, nearly 40 years after it revolutionized transportation, commercial jet travel has become not one iota more convenient or enjoyable.
The answer, quite simply, is that this is my fault.
Odds are, it’s your fault too, if you’re a budget traveler. Like me, you’d rather pay $200 than $800 for a New York-to-Los Angeles flight, regardless of whether or not the snack is free. Like me, you’d rather suffer eight hours of compromised legroom on a Paris flight than suffer an extra $500 on your Visa bill. Like me, you consider air travel a necessary evil required to reach a destination, and you’re not willing to pay extra for what is invariably the least memorable part of your travels.
For this reason, the commercial air travel experience will continue to be somewhat miserable, and the Mile-High Club will languish as a relic of an era when buses traveled only on the ground.