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

airplane cabin bathroom signI 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.

Photo by spcoon, via Flickr (Creative Commons).


Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


19 Comments for The Death of the Mile-High Club

Richard Havers 07.26.07 | 3:48 AM ET

The troble with travel, as you say, is they’ve allowed too many people to do it. As Groucho Marx said - any club that would have me as a member isn’t worth joining.

http://airlineconfidential.blogspot.com/

RJ 08.11.07 | 5:51 PM ET

You are clearly not having sex with the right people on planes.

Miranda 11.06.07 | 8:18 PM ET

Do you have any empirical evidence for your claims regarding the Mile-High Club what-so-ever or are your observations somehow better than the rest of ours in predicting the truth?

David 02.12.08 | 9:26 AM ET

The Mile-High Club has declined simply because the installation of smoke detectors in the washrooms has made it impossible to have that cigarette afterwards.

travel guy 02.16.08 | 10:33 AM ET

Having sex in plane is seems become a sport for some people.

Recently, a celebrity in my country says that she always having a real thrill when doing that in an airplane.

What really happen to this world??

Jack the Mack 02.21.08 | 2:55 PM ET

What can I say after an exhausting flight from Miami to Boston with a kid coughing continuously and the heavyset guy who takes up almost two seats and has gas… Who wouldn’t enjoy a daliance or two. The pungent odor of sex while at cruising altitude is alluring. Who cares if the meatball is constantly banging on the door… Today’s Moses undoubtedly would say “Let my people Blow…!” When the divorcee is hot and had a few drinks and wants some personal attention? What can a divorced guy do? Not provide any comfort?

CBR 03.03.08 | 6:34 AM ET

Give me a good meal and a sleep any day, I hate flying and jets are not in any way a turn on in my opinion. I would rather my luvin at sea level!

capn_curmudgeon 03.06.08 | 12:34 PM ET

Having sex in the lav doesn’t count. It has to be in the cockpit, and with someone who is flying the plane.

Furthermore, a proper position report must be made.

It’s not dead by any means.

Auction 03.11.08 | 6:55 AM ET

I think it was Ralph Fines that brought this subject back into the news recently.

Jack the Mack 03.11.08 | 1:22 PM ET

The Mary Tyler Moore show once had a contributor called ‘Chuckles the Clown’ who had a philosophy of life… I believe that also has some bearing on this topic. He said, ‘A little song, a little dance… a little seltzer down the pants…!’ When flying @ 35,000’ isn’t it is a great time for letting sexual sensations soar as the lights are turned down low… The blood levels rise and the hormones know no limits… When the mood strikes… will you be ready? This is your captain speaking…

mska 04.20.08 | 10:29 PM ET

little seltzer down the pants…!’ When flying @ 35,000’ isn’t it is a great time for letting sexual sensations soar as the lights are turned down low… The blood levels rise and the hormones know no limits… When the mood strikes… will you be ready? This is your captain speaking…

Jamal 04.21.08 | 11:35 PM ET

Yes I think too it was Ralph Fines

Drew 06.01.08 | 9:40 PM ET

It isn’t dead yet, I joined a couple years ago on a transatlantic flight.  I’d do it again given the opportunity.

A Guide to Singapore City 07.19.08 | 7:20 PM ET

In my opinion, the expensive seats are better owing to their confort,unless you are flying on a daily basis. Also, regarding the mile high club, that aspect of flying will always be fun irrespective of the kind of seat that you are in.

Black 08.06.08 | 2:46 PM ET

Thank you, this material is brought to favorites - my wife is very interested in the topic, she is now on leave as the return be sure to read this post. It will be very interesting.

ContosQuentes 08.15.08 | 12:02 AM ET

Great article, very well said :-)  I definitely need to pass this on to a few folks…

Inga 08.25.08 | 2:53 PM ET

Very interesting to read these articles. Not often vstretish on the Internet that pleasant and interesting read. Thank you very much and writemore interesting articles. Good luck.

eve isk 09.09.08 | 6:52 AM ET

Really nicely done. Great article. Thanks

Jeff 11.08.08 | 9:27 PM ET

This is why it’s important to own an aircraft of your own.

However, the airlines should do an about-face. By requiring everyone to join the mile-high club, you can weed out terrorists.

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