The Past and Future of Airline Travel
We read an interesting front-page article in the May 19th Wall Street Journal on the subject of the challenges facing the airline industry and likely new rules as airlines ramp up to serve the flying public during the coronavirus.
We should disclose that airlines are our least favorite travel partners. As frequent fliers, we have sadly watched the airlines take away even the smallest of creature comforts from economy coach passengers. Consequently, we have little sympathy for the financial plight of airline executives during these trying days of Covid-19.
An industry of greed
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when airlines competed for business by offering value-added “perks” such as extra legroom and non-stop service.
Nevertheless, throughout our travel writing careers, the airlines have made it increasingly more difficult for economy passengers to enjoy flying.
The airlines have reaped tremendous profits from an unhappy public forced to endure “take-aways” and comply with evermore-burdening airline rules and policies. These practices are designed to enhance revenue and reduce airline costs – with nary a thought to adding value and improving the customer’s experience.
Fun of flying
Many of our older readers will remember when flying was actually part of the enjoyment of taking a holiday. 9/11 greatly contributed to the decline in air travel fun, and through that experience, the airlines quickly discovered that the public will fly no matter the level of inconvenience in the terminal – or on the aircraft.
Airlines executives analyzed the needs and wants of the flying public. They encouraged the elite business traveler to spend more of their company’s money in exchange for “free miles” for family vacations. Yet, even those programs have been diminished over time and are no longer easy to use.
At the same time, the airlines found they needed no enticements to attract the average family wanting to holiday in destinations too far to drive to for a short vacation. The leisure travel economy passenger proved they would endure almost any discomfort, and the airlines piled them on.
Free ticket exchange, bereavement fares, free checked baggage, chicken, beef, or lasagna, blankets, pillows, magazines, and newspapers, and the biggest takeaway of all, space for your body. Body space has been systematically reduced to the bare limits of human endurance of discomfort.
More recently, it was discovered that even more can be squeezed from those least able to pay for the new “amenities” of air travel. To obtain the lowest possible economy fare – no overhead baggage, no seat selection, and a particularly cruel twist, separated family seating. Is there anything more that a customer can endure? Keep reading.
Is it any wonder that so many question any taxpayer bailout beyond the absolute minimum to keep this industry alive. If it were not for the fact that airlines are public companies whose stock is held in many retirement portfolios and 401K programs; the airlines should be left to reap what they have sown in negative public opinion.
All may change and add insult to injury
- For example, temperature checks before boarding have been discussed, but what about obviously ill passengers that do not have a temperature?
- Will priority boarding for elite passengers remain? Probably not. First-class aisle passengers won’t like brushing shoulder to thigh with coach passengers heading for the back of the plane. It’s much safer to board from the back of the plane forward in small groups. Probably a good idea to bring sanitary wipes for the back of your headrest if you are in an aisle seat since many passengers touch the seat tops as they navigate down the aisle.
- In the future, deplaning may be from front to back in small groups to avoid jamming the aisles. First-class passengers will benefit here. It may take up to twice as long to exit an aircraft.
- Expect fewer direct flights as the airlines attempt to build traffic and fill seats. On the point of filling seats, the airlines realize the public will have a new fear of traveling in the confined space of an aircraft. It is expected they will keep center seats empty for a time. We fully expect the airlines will find a way to capitalize on selling premium seats next to an empty center seat in the near future.
- Bathrooms aboard aircraft will be another problem. The airlines will need to find a way to keep what we once heard described as “dirty tiny stalls,” more sanitary than in the past. It may not be unreasonable to post a flight attendant on duty to sanitize a lavatory after each passenger use. By the way, lining up in the aisles to wait for a biffy is surely to be verboten.
Follow safe practices, but if you believe life is a risk worth taking, get out and enjoy the summer. However, stay home if you are totally risk intolerant.
Consider a drive-to vacation instead of flying where you cannot easily practice social distancing.
Consider taking your vacation later in the year and after the summer crowd has subsided.
We bet there are relatively safe and close outdoor locations and interesting attractions you haven’t seen in years, if ever.
Now’s the time to live and enjoy your freedom.
Happy and safe travels.
“Get out there, but be prepared.”
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The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any entity.
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