It's a common plot in Star Trek series for the Enterprise to be tasked with transporting various VIP's to destinations where they are needed urgently - an ambassador to a treaty ceremony, a doctor to a quarantine center, or a hostage negotiator to an active crime scene. The nature of the crisis and/or the social standing of the passenger requires nothing less than Starfleet's finest ship, and it's almost guaranteed that the voyage will be nothing less than action-packed with phasers, core breaches, Borg raids, Klingon spies, and other plot drama. It's implied, however, that ordinary citizens have some way to get around the Federation and even beyond, even if not as glamorous as having the flagship of Starfleet personally meet and pamper them.
Considering that not every person can necessarily obtain their own starship, how does civilian interstellar transportation work in a broad sense for people who don't have their own ship? For example, if I am a mild-mannered San Francisco dentist and I suddenly get it into my head to take a vacation on Andoria, can I simply waltz over to the starport and catch the next transport to whatever planet or starbase or is it more complex? I'm not a VIP, but then again I'm not a notorious fugitive either who would be specifically banned from travel. Is there a network of rickety old cargo ships plying their way back and forth between various planets and starbases on weekly schedules that have extra berths for passengers? For example, this could look something like, "OK, I'll take the Q-33-D transport to Risa, transfer to the V-81 heading to Starbase 332, then wait two days for the B-AA-444 ore ship to set out for its weekly trip to Andoria. That will take me, uhh, three weeks. I'm going to enjoy my vacation!"
- Is there a regular network of non-VIP transports plying their way across the Federation on regular or at least semi-regular schedules in a way analogous to modern-day trains, aircraft, and ferries?
- Do wannabe passengers have to scrounge around social networks looking for a captain with an extra berth who is willing to let the person on?
- Is interstellar travel actually banned for most Federation civilians without special permits that are extremely difficult to obtain for non-VIP's, so the presence or absence of available transportation is pretty much irrelevant?
In response to comments, I am not talking about potential Prime Directive issues regarding civilians trying to book passage to pre-warp civilizations or even unexplored space (yeah, just drop me off next to that quasar). I'm talking about major Federation worlds like Vulcan, Andoria, Risa, or Betazed that presumably have warp drive and are not in need of active cultural protection.
In response to a comment by FreeMan, the airline metaphor is a good way to put it. I'm asking whether some random citizen (not a Starfleet officer or Federation VIP) can just go online and book a passenger ticket from Andoria to Betazed with layovers on Vulcan and Tellar Prime. If modern-day freighter travel is a better analogy, that's fine too.
In response to a comment by Darren, I'm aware of issues with the post-scarcity society shown to be present in the Federation and how it calls into question why someone would want to pilot a rickety old passenger ship between Point A and Point B when they could just hang out on the beach all day and make love. It's established many times that the majority of Federation citizens are mature, reasonable people who actually want to bear their "fair share" of making society run, so the presence of a few people willing to be their century's equivalent of commercial airline pilots or bus drivers is plausible. There's also the possibility of automated passenger vessels, plying their routes according to their programming without the need for a living crew who might get bored and quit. We know that there were automated freighters as early as 2265 that serviced the lithium cracking station of Delta Vega (TOS: Where No Man Has Gone Before). Moving from an automated ore freighter to an automated passenger vessel isn't a huge step.
In DS9's Change of Heart, Jadzia and Worf consider taking a vacation on Andoria together, but it isn't clear if their status as Starfleet officers grants them special passage or whether our hypothetical civilian dentist would qualify too.
Quite a few Starfleet officers have mentioned visiting the "pleasure planet" Risa on vacation, notably notorious horndog Riker, but it is again unclear if visiting Risa is a privilege reserved for Starfleet officers (or even high-ranking officers only) or whether it is available to civilians too.
In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Spock as a young man (not yet in Starfleet or even university) moves from Vulcan to Earth in disgust after experiencing racial prejudice, but it is unclear if he has special permission to do so due to his partial Human heritage or if any Vulcan who wants to go to Earth can just take the next transport out to San Francisco.