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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.

Observations:

  • 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.

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    Many people have observed that if private warp ships are anything close to common, it would be pointless for Star Fleet to try to follow the Prime Directive. The amount of cultural interference and abuse being undertaken by private parties would be too vast to contain or counterbalance. The existence of the Prime Directive implies that private warp travel is rare.
    – tbrookside
    Mar 13 at 20:38
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    There's a Klingon passenger transport mention in DS9: Rules of Engagement
    – Valorum
    Mar 13 at 20:42
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    One of the many problems with the idea of a money-less society. Why would a competent ship pilot, spend their days ferrying passengers back and forth along the same few inter-planetary routes, a la a modern day airliner pilot? They (airline pilots) do it mainly for the money (and presumably the girls). What do 23rd century pilots get out of it?
    – Darren
    Mar 14 at 20:07
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    @Darren they work to better themselves, obviously. Why does anyone in the Federation do anything except hang out on the beach, make love, and play video games? It's established many times that the majority of Federation citizens are reasonable people who actually want to bear their "fair share" of helping society function. Even without pilots, we know that there were automated cargo ships as early as 2265 (stopping at the lithium cracking station on Delta Vega). Maybe those were not certified for general passenger use, but tech can improve and regulations can adapt to practical realities. Mar 15 at 1:54
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    A long (interesting) discussion about the implications of the Prime Directive for private citizens' intersteller travel (inspired by @tbrookside's initial comment) has been moved to chat. Please continue the conversation there.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 16 at 5:04

4 Answers 4

24

I think we can immediately dismiss your third suggestion, that interplanetary travel is limited. We do see civilians occasionally discussing vacation plans to go to other planets, or specifically not doing so -- for example, Joseph Sisko (Benjamin's father) is specifically noted to have never left Earth, and this is treated as unusual. (I believe that was in DS9 episode 4x11, "Homefront".)

Deep Space 9 itself seems to get relatively regular passenger transports. While most of the DS9 passenger vessels are coming up from Bajor, it's not that uncommon for us to see the crew go to a docking port to greet an arriving visitor. Sometimes it's just the visitor in question, implying private transportation, but often they'll come out among a crowd of debarking passengers in what is clearly supposed to look like passengers coming off an airliner.

I think the implication is that there is something roughly equivalent to airline service, at least between relatively important planets. Getting to less-traveled worlds may indeed require charter service or getting a bunk on a freighter.

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    All those Bajorans coming from the planet can't possibly be just planning a day-trip to DS9. While many may come to see the worm hole open in hopes of getting a glimpse of the prophets, some of them have to be planning on going elsewhere.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 14 at 15:44
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    @FreeMan Or hoping to get a glimpse of Sisko, a.k.a. The Emissary. How many people turn up to try and see the Pope every week? Mar 14 at 15:54
  • It might also be the case that many would-be visitors to DS9 might have to go to Bajor first, and then catch a small-hop ship from the planet to the station. Much like the hub-and-spoke system we have with air travel on Earth - you can fly direct to most major cities, but smaller towns require a secondary trip. Mar 15 at 14:13
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    @DarrelHoffman I have a feeling it would be the other way around; a Federation-run starbase is a more likely transport hub than an unaligned planet recently out from under occupation by a foreign power. (But how many people are really taking vacations to Bajor at this point? Maybe in ten or twenty years. The only real reason Bajor is suddenly important is the wormhole, which applies more to DS9 than the nearby planet.) Mar 15 at 16:30
  • @DarthPseudonym It's apparently a beautiful place to visit - people talk about taking vacations there quite a few times on DS9. Granted many of those people live on the station (e.g. Keiko), but I'd have to imagine it's a nice vacation spot for other people as well. There's also botanical expeditions, archaeological sites, and other destinations for academic/scientific types without necessary ties to Starfleet. Mar 15 at 17:07
19

There are civilian ships with warp capability that operate within Federation controlled space. For example, the civilian freighter Odin from TNG episode Angel One. Cassidy Yates (DS9) is a human captain of a civilian freighter. Getting berths on a cargo ship was (and still is, though unconventional) one way to get around the oceans and seas of Earth - it is likely that the same is true in 24th century Federation space.

We also see "private traders" (smugglers) in their own warp-capable ships - showing that, with money, it's not too hard to get these and presumably register them as legitimate ships given that Starfleet trade with them (ST:TNG The Most Toys).

Starfleet also run their own transports - such as in ST:TNG Relics. However, since the only known passenger was Captain Montgomery Scott, it's unknown if any other passengers were civilian.

Finally, the Enterprise itself has been used to transport colonists (ST:TNG Justice).

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    If anyone is curious about modern cargo ship travel, see this question on Travel.SE
    – Bobson
    Mar 14 at 19:45
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The technology to build a warp-capable ship seems to be not terribly uncommon within the Federation itself by the TNG era

  • Federation citizens of the TNG era seemed to have little trouble sourcing parts to build warp-capable vessels. The Marquis (Federation dissidents who lived in in or near the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone) were able to easily build warp-capable raider ships that were close in functionality to Federation Runabouts. Nobody ever expresses shock that these ships are warp capable, only that they are heavily armed.

  • From the TNG episode Final Mission, there is a scene where they are crash-landing in a shuttle that seems to be jury-rigged and finally suffers a near-fatal malfunction. The statement the pilot makes seems to reinforce the idea that better ships are more commonplace within the Federation than they are for outsiders (emphasis mine)

    PICARD: Mister Crusher, reconfigure working thrusters to manual input.
    WESLEY: I'll try, sir but, this grid looks about a hundred years old.
    DIRGO: We don't have the Federation's resources. Captain, take the helm. I'm rerouting the deuterium flow. Hull temperature seven hundred degrees.

  • From the linked question, Jack's answer notes that it's probable some private citizens were able to source ships from ship depots

    Given the extreme age and outdated technology, it is possible Cassidy acquired her ship via some kind of depot.

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  • I always got the impression that the engine is mundane, but the dilithium to power it is not.
    – frеdsbend
    Mar 16 at 20:20
  • @frеdsbend We don't know much about the dilithium market prior to Discovery S3 (where it's super rare)
    – Machavity
    Mar 16 at 20:23
-3

First thing to remember when asking questions like this is: how Federation is organized politically and economically. According to all tidbits of info within the canon this is (as I'd like to call it) post-basic-scarcity system. That is, no one is denied basic (or even not so basic) needs like food and shelter. It is possible due to two developments: human society moved from accumulation of material wealth to (broadly interpreted) accumulation of intellectual wealth and easy access to energy. UFP is based on energy, which is very, very cheap, making it possible to provide everyone with what they need. But since the societal pivot there are people who do what they do because they want to and they share that with others.

So, if there's a Joseph Sisko who loves good food and shares that with others, I bet there's a Ron Cha who enjoys travelling in deep space and wants to share that joy with others, so he's cruisin' in his liner offering people fare to a lot of different places. Or there is a family which operates its own transport ship, ferrying cargo to and fro (ENT: Horizon)...

I acknowledge there will not be much in way of confirming my extrapolation, but it is not far fetched. If we also take into account that humanity "slowed down" a bit, I would add to all that that our dentist should be really easily getting to where he wants by simply "hitchhiking" - that is, boarding ships going in his chosen direction and then changing them at some waypoints.

I would not be me not to spoil that scenario a bit - Risa is but one planet, and UFP is big. I do believe you need to schedule that visit well in advance... I did mention that it's a post-basic-scarcity setup, didn't I?

1
  • What is this "UEF" you mention twice?
    – T.J.L.
    Mar 15 at 12:21

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