This week I had the pleasure of experiencing JetBlue and JFK's Terminal 5 - both of
which I had heard great things about. Terminal 5 was a great deal more pleasant
than many air terminals, feeling loungeier than the hospital mise en scène of
Heathrow (minus their Terminal 5), Logan International or Dulles International.
Naturally, the cracks formed when I sat down to get a square meal -
ridiculously over-priced and borderline inedible, with the Cheeburger Cheeburger inviting
me to eat fries and a burger at around 2000 calories for just over $14 (with a
drink). My colleagues were further swindled for $8 per miniscule sandwich, and
while we were all quite happy to plug in our laptops just about anywhere,
I think we'd have preferred more money in our respective pouches.
Full of fat and gristle and ready to roll, I lumbered onto the JetBlue
flight to see that it was just as dreary and uninviting as any other
coach-class venture. The seats were comfortable in the sense that they didn't
dig knives into my back, but were not fun to sit in for six hours. The screens
were scratchy with a constant humming in the background, and the satellite feed
decided to randomly cut out on me as I tried to enjoy The Office.
You know what? I'll cut to the chase. This was supposed to be the pinnacle
of A) airline technology and B) coach-class comfort. This was meant to be
significantly different to the experience of the other airlines, but was just
as bottom-shelf as the rest.
My question is this: Why does a $200+ flight provide me with less comfort
and technological features than the bloody BoltBus? Why, in an industry that crams
people like cattle into the smallest spaces and makes profits (even in a dirty,
filthy recession) treat its most numerous customers like garbage?
I took a return flight from Vegas this very same week on United - and it was
worse, too. More cramped, ruder staff, terrible amenities. I actually was less
angry than I was with JetBlue - if only because United was and remains to be so
resolute in its failure, in the same week charging me $50 to re-book a
ticket to add one letter to someone's second name.
I repeat the point, though, that there is simply no other industry that gets
away so brazenly and so rudely than the airlines do with screwing over its
customers. I have, in around six years of flying (a newbie, I know) experienced
business class once - the comfort equivalent of an Amtrak First Class ticket,
for a mere $1000 (minimum) more. I have not seen one significant improvement to
the coach experience across Virgin Atlantic, United, Us Airways, Delta,
JetBlue, or Northwestern. I can remember one remote improvement - British
Airways' inclusion of strange, remarkably strong head-pillows to let you rest
your head awkwardly and sleep.
Oh, and Virgin starting to charge a fee to get exit-row seats.
In this age of Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity (all of which gave
the same $1000+ fares back to England
this Christmas), you'd expect there to be some competitiveness in the airline
space. However, it appears that all the onset of the internet has done is allow
them to line their pockets mercilessly, and pretend like they're doing such a
great deal with the occasional bait-and-switch email alert. I think I've been
sent the same one a few times from BA.com - a few hundred for a roundtrip
between certain dates, but on booking, you're given something totally
And, finally, nobody will admit that having your iPod on airplane mode, or
your PSP, or your DS, or any other non-signal-generating device on during
take-off actually has any effect. If that was the case, why would they want
to offer iPod integration in their seats?
Please note: I'm sure that business class is lovely. I'm sure
having a salary that actually lets me afford to pay upwards of $3000 a flight
is also lovely. I'm also, also sure that Virgin Trains and GNER/National Express trains are more
comfortable and give me more for my money, but haven't quite implemented the
Penn Station-to-King's Cross route yet.
So, here's to you, airlines. You are the least technologically-advanced and
abusive form of travel I can think of that doesn't involve saddling up a moose.
Not even the patron saint of 'coach-comfort,' JetBlue, can save us. Not even
JFK Terminal 5 - the most comfortable one I've ever seen - can provide the
comfort that makes up for an industry that profits on turning travelers into
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