Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Responding to reports that American Airlines will enact numerous cost-cutting measures that will make flying even less pleasant, including charging $15 for the privilege of checking a suitcase, Kevin Drum wonders where it will all end.
Airlines have spent years trying to bully passengers into reducing their carry-on luggage — with TSA pitching in to help in recent years. Now that they’ve finally broken us (I finally caved in and started checking everything several years ago) they’re going to charge us for checking luggage. Lovely.
I don’t know anything about airline economics and obviously the American Airlines executive team does. Still, the kind of sleazy pricing practices they and the rest of the domestic industry are adopting, where advertised fares mysteriously rise 20% by the time you actually board the plane, seem like exactly the kind of thing designed to wreck their long-term business.
It has been noted for years that international carriers bend over backwards to make flying family-friendly whereas American carriers cater to the business traveler. (Those who’ve flown overseas on KLM or Lufthansa or Virgin will have noted that those flying with babies get the bulkhead seats, complete with snap-in bassinets that allow infants to sleep most of the way.) This is just a continuation of that trend.
Among the less-heralded changes American is making is “weeding out money-losing flights and limiting the number of low-priced seats in coach.” Clearly, the ideal passenger is the business traveler who books at the last minute, thus paying full fare, and travels with only a briefcase and a laptop because he’s flying back that evening, also at full fare. He’ll have his head buried in his paperwork or his eyes glued to the laptop screen the whole flight, perhaps consuming a bag of cheap snacks and a half can of Coke. No checked bags, no screaming kids, no annoying requests for pillows and headphones, etc.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I despise flying despite having done it routinely since I was 6 months old. And it’s getting worse rather than better.
The problem, I think, is that flying has become a commodity. Aside from frequent flier programs and other incentives, most of us book our travel based entirely on cost and scheduling convenience. Carriers that offer better service (larger seats, decent meals, more generous baggage allowances, friendlier waitresses, and so forth) simply can’t pass on the costs in that environment, leading to a race to the bottom. Those who truly want — and can afford — a good experience fly First Class. Otherwise, you’re essentially on a flying Greyhound bus.
Only vaguely apropos to anything above, I found this odd vintage ad whilst Googling for art to illustrate the piece:
Not only has airline travel changed rather substantially in the intervening years but so, apparently, has the conception of motherhood. In more ways than one, frankly.
Image: Clayton Barrel