Would you still fly if you had other choices? This is a question I recently pondered after a series of flights, long delays, high extra fees and bumpy rides. For me, this question isn’t terribly difficult – I don’t enjoy flying and never have. I do it because I have to do it. But recent changes to airline services are making me seriously rethink.
I understand that public companies have a duty to their shareholders to maximize profits. I understand that fuel costs can be high and long-term employee benefits can also be costly. But the nickel and dime-ing that is going on right now is making me wonder.
Alcohol has always been a costly perk (though I understand it dehydrates you, sometimes that glass of wine is the only thing that stands between you and telling off the stranger practically sitting on top of you as you try to work). When they started charging for airline snacks, we all nodded and said nothing (I bring my own most of the time). When they managed to make the legroom for coach seats so minuscule that even I complained about being too tightly squeezed (I’m 5’3” on a tall day), I complained but decided that the cheaper tickets were worth it.
Somewhere in there we also accepted the outrageous change fees for plane tickets – we decided it was the price of having an unpredictable schedule. The less than speedy Internet access that is sometimes (though not always) available is wildly overpriced on some airlines, but we jump up and down with glee when it is available.
Now we are being asked to embrace tickets that do not allow you to use the overhead bins unless you have an upgraded ticket. The price difference might not be huge, but it seems not only difficult to police, but also annoyingly petty. We’ll probably accept this because we’re already deeply annoyed at the people who bring too much stuff and block up the overheads anyway. But really?
And don’t even get me started on the entirely bogus “cookie” practice that jumps prices of an airline ticket if you look at a particular flight more than once online and don’t clear your browser. That feels like dirty pool to me.
The thing is, we sigh and pay all of these fees because as long as the plane actually takes off and lands, at our core, we feel good about it. Seriously – I’m never going to give an airline a terrible rating if they actually got me to my destination alive. This point was proven to me when I got only a partial leg reimbursement and a $125 voucher after a “mechanical issue” forced me to miss a connection and sit in an airport for 11 hours in December. Sure, it took two submissions to get that compensation because the first time customer service didn’t read the complaint, but I got back here alive, so I was never going to tank their review. Plus, it isn’t the fault of the pilots or the flight attendants that the experience of flying is leaving me hoping that teleportation really does become a safe thing.
[Update: Of course, all of this was written before I had to consider the possibility of being removed from a plane I was already on, or the threat of violence if I didn’t “volunteer” to take another flight.]
So, what are the alternatives? I love train travel, but it’s not fast or easy in the United States anymore (though I understand Amtrak is hoping to improve that). Guess what? It’s also not cheap (I’ve been dreaming about a train trip to Vancouver that makes my bank account cry). Road trips make my heart sing for their flexibility, but unless I’m staying in state, it doesn’t help. And those oceans make travel by car a bit tricky.
What I do know is that without viable alternatives, we’ll get to smile and nod as changes to disclosure rules and additional fees rack up. Sure, there is competition, but there does seem to be a baseline for all the major airlines. I guess I can wait for one of them to go rogue – I heard talk of Delta bringing back free food on cross-country treks, and it seemed like a supreme act of rebellion.
Now that you’ve sat through this rant (entirely written while sitting in the DMV), I want to hear from you. Have you found alternatives? Do you love flying? Have you found the perfect airline that combines safety, service and price? Does the prospect of adventure counterbalance all of the negatives? Sound off in the comments!