In a world where seating space is shrinking, flights and trains are booked to max capacity and the land of “haves” and “have nots” is loosely separated by a thin curtain between first class and domestic, it stands to reason our stress levels and anxieties are on the rise. One only has to look at the recent meltdown of a Chicago flight attendant in mid-air to see that both travelers and the professionals that serve them are losing their ability to cope with even the smallest inconvenience.
But is it the fault of the corporations that invite us to “fly the friendly skies” or come “all aboard,” or is it something deeper, buried within the fiber of our unique genetics? If one were to examine the similarities between humans trapped in temporary captivity and our chimpanzee cousins, it stands to note that mental illness and abnormal behavior is a common issue.
In a recent study conducted by the Public Library of Science, researchers discovered that zoo chimps demonstrated some of the same negative or repetitive behaviors as their lab animal counterparts despite having better meals, larger space and access to socializing. “We conclude that the chimpanzee mind might have difficulties dealing with captivity,” noted co-author and researcher Nicholas Newton-Fisher, a primate behavioral ecologist at the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology & Conservation. (It should be noted similar behaviors have been observed in gorillas and other species like polar bears, horses and even giraffes.)
While it might be a stretch to say that the plight of the average spring break college student stuck sitting next to an overweight man on an eight hours flight is anywhere near as traumatic as being trapped and forced to live in a cage, it stands to reason than any deprivation of natural resources and food, loss of territory and the inability to engage in our daily migration patterns leads us to a flight (no pun intended) or fight instinct — or worse. While Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater and his wild ride down the emergency slide in 2010 is an extreme example of this, seeing altercations at the airport help desk, disagreements at baggage claim and dirty looks and aggressive behavior traded between passengers and personnel has become somewhat par for the course.
Think about it; slowly but surely our ability to access three square meals a day, to stay in contact with our loved ones, and seek comfort within our own personal space has been whittled away until it’s now a luxury to travel like a human being— not a right or prerogative. These are the very things that drive animals to the brink, yet we’re told for security and business reasons we must suffer with a smile on our face…even if we ARE stuck idling on the tarmac for three hours with a crying baby behind us and seatmate whose idea of a pillow is our very own shoulder.
There’s a reason why traveling by car and mini vacations close to home are on the rise, and it’s not just a financial one. In these scenarios man is the master of his own domain and isn’t forced to forgo the very things that quantify us as an advanced species: the power of choice.
Ponder this the next time your airline offers up free cookies (but no meal), or your favorite train or bus line announces price hikes complied by a slash in service. Is that bargain ticket really worth your mental health, or are you prepared to give yourself over to the very animal instincts that could mean the difference between a happy trip away from home and one spent being questioned by the TSA?