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Christine Negroni

Christine Negroni

Posted: July 13, 2010 01:41 PM

In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, journalism has taken on aviation in a remarkably ill-thought out article called 20 Reasons to Hate the Airlines. I read about this silly little piece of writing in Time from another aviation blog, Airline Nightmare.   So I find myself once again in the odd position of defending commercial air transportation, a business I do not hesitate to criticize when deserved, but which in this case has a gotten a bum rap from Time. 

Point 1 - Time says the hub and spoke system has created airline monopolies that keep the price of airline tickets high. In fact, since the end of airline regulation, airline ticket prices have consistently dropped.  Air travel has become more affordable as evidenced by the many hundreds-fold increase in the number of people who can afford to fly. What has become more expensive is the unrestricted airline ticket. Which takes us to point 2.


Point 2 (and 16) - Non refundable fares. Like anyone who has hosted an event, knowing in advance how many people to expect is crucial. Airlines are no different.  No-show passengers were great for those actually on the flight because there was more room in the overhead bins, and no one to fight with for the armrest. But flying empty seats was not so good for the airlines. It was wasteful; bad for business and bad for the environment. To discourage passengers from booking flights and then failing to show up at the gate, airlines started making no-shows pay. It worked. Now airlines are flying planes at 80-85% capacity.


Point 3 - People Express is dead. I'm not making this up. Time expects its readers to believe that low fares died with along with America's quirky People Express.  Look, I remember People Express. I flew with them. They introduced the concept of last minute ticket purchases and first-come-first-served seating and some other innovations we'll get to later. Great. Lots of carriers followed their example and are still doing it today; Hello Southwest, AirTran, Spirit... And they're making money too. To paraphrase an anonymous but apt cliche, "If People Express was so friggin' great, it wouldn't be so friggin' dead". (Note to People Express don't take this personally, I'm just trying to make a point here.)


Point 4 - The disappearance of legroom. Okay, they've got me here.


Point 5 - Frequent flyer gimmickry. Well as a loyalty incentive, frequent flyer programs were genius, nobody's arguing that. And yes, Time , I'll grant, it is plenty frustrating to have airline miles burning a hole in your suitcase with no way to use them except midnight, midweek, mid March flights to the Midwest. But still, there was a time when an airline ticket was bought with the expectation of getting from A to B and that was that. Now we feel like we deserve a prize for gracing the airlines with our presence.


Point 6 - Lunch is not served. That's right, very few airlines offer free food anymore on domestic flights. Guess who started that trend? People Express. Food isn't free on  Metro North, Amtrak or the Vamoose bus. Does anything illustrate the basic complaining nature of Americans more than decades of griping about bad airline food and then more griping when it goes away? Hey, Time, pack a sandwich, bring an apple. Get a life.


Point 7 - No agents available. That's right, to purchase a ticket, travelers will find its cheaper to do it themselves using these nifty gadgets called computers that have this even niftier thing called internet access.  Seventy-six percent of Americans have it at home. (That's me on my computer and I'm wearing my wrap - see point 12)  But you can also find it on your phone, or your iPad, or even the public library. Are there really folks out there who would prefer to spend 30 minutes going over flight time and dates with a reservations agent on the phone?


Point 8 - The headsets for in-flight entertainment aren't free. Please, Time, are you really telling us to hate the airlines over a $2 fee for a headset? Take the plugs out of your ears and listen to this tip. Buy the headset and you can keep it. Use it on future flights.




Point 9 - The price for flying your pet has increased. Time reports the price has risen from $35 twenty years ago to $100 or even more today. Fuel in 1980 was $1 a gallon. 'Nuff said. (And yes, that's my adorable dog seen left)


Point 10 - Security line confiscation. Okay, so if you bring shaving cream or a full bottle of water to the security line and it's taken away from you because you live in a cave and didn't know that shaving cream, water or any other large container of liquid is not allowed through security, then this is a reason to hate the airlines? Time, are you there? Security at airports is no longer an airline function. Did you miss the 2001 memo?  Let me add, Time, and anyone else who didn't see it, that throwing away bottles at the security checkpoint is so passé.  Carry the bottle through empty. Fill it on the other side. Those bottles don't disappear from the earth just because you've dropped it (full no less) into a recycle container at the airport. For more on what you can do to reduce consumption of plastic, check out Beth Terry's amazing blog




Point 11 and 17 -Bag fees. Okay, I was waiting for this one. I don't like bag fees and I don't know anybody else who does either. But take a breath and work with me here for just a minute.  We've alluded to the difficult time airlines have had with air fares descending and fuel prices ascending. All those suitcases were flying at no charge, but that didn't mean there was no cost. Of course there was.  But now, people are actually traveling lighter, as I reported in the New York Times in April. Stephen McNamara of Ryanair told me, "We've tried to change passenger behavior by making it more expensive to bring bags." When it comes to doing the right thing, sometimes a little pinch in the pocketbook works wonders. Oh, by the way, People Express? They charged for bags back in the 1980s.


Point 12 - No blankets, no pillows. That's right, blankets and pillows have gone the way of free meals.  Time reports that Delta still provides blankets even in coach. Somehow I'm not getting the sense that this is an issue stirring the ire of the traveling public, but of course I always travel with my wrap. (It's a blanket, it's a picnic throw, it's a towel, it's a hammock, it's a beach sarong, its pictured in the photo above...)


Points 13 and 14 discuss the fact that first class, business class and economy class offer different amenities. You get a bigger, comfier, cushier seat when you buy a more expensive ticket. Yes. We know that.


Point 15 - Drinks are still free. Time, did an editor even look at this feeble excuse for a feature story? Complaint 15 in the list of 20 reasons to hate the airlines is that US Airways once considered charging for soft drinks. Are drinks still free on airliners in the U.S.? Yes. So what is the gripe here? 


Point 18 - Surcharges on peak travel days. This is a new one on me, airlines tacking a fee onto busy travel days. It was always more expensive trying to fly around the holidays so I'm not sure what's different. 


Point 19 - The cut in line charge. I think this refers to coach passengers who pay extra for priority boarding. I'm not sure how many airlines are actually doing this. But we all know that premium customers and frequent flyer status bestow priority in boarding. So does personal circumstances like handicaps or traveling with small children. I've traveled with small children, I appreciated the gesture.


Point 20 - The toilet charge. Refer back to point 15 and the soft drink charge that wasn't. The fee to pee belongs in the same category. Though this story swirls around like blue water in the bowl, Ryanair denies its planning to charge for passengers to use the toilet. And even if those wacky Irish executives do institute such a charge for the "loo," does anyone seriously think an American carrier will try the same here?



I think this article is phenomenally bad reporting, picking on aviation with a kind of thoughtlessness that's more embarrassing to the publication than to the industry. Airlines have their problems but you won't read any intelligent discussion of them in this article in Time

 

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