May 15, 2014

THOUGHTS ON THE DECLINE OF FLYING COACH:

You know who suffers most from these changes in airline policy? Upper-middle-class people with very good jobs.

Let’s recall that back in the good old days of flying, most people didn’t. They couldn’t; it was far too expensive. An airline flight was something you might do once in a very long while, for a special occasion like a honeymoon or a graduation.

As deregulation pushed prices down, more people flew. After the invention of travel websites, a lot more people flew — and based their flying decision entirely on price.

The result is what you see today: To stay price-competitive for tourists, airlines have ruthlessly slashed services so that the headline price they see on Expedia will be as low as possible. They’ve crammed as many seats as they can into the back section, where those tourists sit. And they’ve used increasingly sophisticated software to make sure that the planes are always as full as possible. Meanwhile, the airports haven’t really gotten much bigger, and the security screenings have gotten much more onerous, which means that unless you have elite status on your airline, you can count on waiting in an interminable queue just to be allowed to walk to your gate. The result is a miserable travel experience, but who really cares if you only take a flight every third August?

The answer is “business travelers,” and they care because a lot of employers are not as generous with the airline bookings as they used to be. Forget business class — now they won’t even let you book on your preferred airline if someone else is cheaper. Farewell, elite status; farewell, upgrades and expedited screening. Hello, fellow cattle, and would you mind getting your elbow out of my eye?

Like Meyerson, I find it all intensely irritating. But I can’t really work up a justifiable rage because too many people are being allowed to fly. After all, takeoff slots are limited, so if the planes had fewer seats, some folks have to stop flying — probably the least well-off, who give up on well-earned vacations or family visits so the business travelers can stretch their legs.

Maybe I could do a Kickstarter for an Insta-Jet?

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