Flying: A Look on the Bright Side

May 28, 2017

Is Air Travel Really As Bad As Everybody Claims? Here Are Some Reasons Why Not.

AN OP-ED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES BY PATRICK SMITH

Click the Picture to Read

 

Some follow-up notes:

This is the sixth op-ed that I’ve had published in the Times, and I’m extremely grateful for their interest. I’m a little disappointed, though, at the headline they chose for this one. It’s misleading. The article isn’t about flying in the old days; it’s about flying today. I’m making a case that the golden age of air travel is in many ways happening right now, not in some mythologized past.

As expected, the angry and sarcastic letters have been pouring in. A lot of them are flip and fail to acknowledge the points I’m making. Here’s a typical example, sent anonymously…

We need to look at this objectively. Is flying cheaper than it used to be, yes or no? Is it safer, yes or no? Is it faster and, in a surprising number of ways, more comfortable and convenient? Either it is, or it isn’t. And the answer, in each case, is yes. That’s not me talking; it’s simply the facts. That doesn’t mean flying is a wonderful experience. And, if you’re at all familiar with my writing over the years, you’ll know that I have amply criticized the airlines when that criticism has been due. Poor communications, terrible customer service, lousy onboard products, our miserable airports — I’ve covered that stuff countless times without pulling my punches.

Duly Noted

What I’m doing in the Times piece, though, is pointing out a few of the good things that are seldom acknowledged.

No matter, a number of readers already have insisted that not only am I wrong, and that flying is truly awful, but in fact it’s never been worse. To which I ask: really, are you sure? And if so, let’s try this: Imagine that you’re planning an economy class trip from, I don’t know, Seattle to Paris. You have two theoretical options. Option number one is that you can fly the route tomorrow, on the carrier of your choice, and experience flying exactly as it is. Or, option two, you can travel back in time and do it in 1965. What’s your pick? Just keep in mind that if you choose the latter, you’ll get a couple of extra inches of legroom, shorter lines at the airport, and maybe a chirpier flight attendant. Your journey also will take several hours longer, cost more than twice as much, and you will sit in a cabin with no personal entertainment system, filled with people smoking. And, just for good measure, your chances of being in an accident will be about eight times higher.

Are you still down for it?

For what it’s worth, a colleague and I were talking the other day, and we both agreed that so much of what people hate about flying isn’t really airline-related, per se, but rather infrastructural. The decrepit state of our airports, for example, and our outdated air traffic control system, contribute significantly to delays and congestion. Then you’ve got TSA. Our security checkpoints are badly overcrowded and poorly designed. Customs and immigration procedures, too, are flyer-unfriendly. These are bureaucratic and government-funding issues more than anything else. Fix them, and I estimate that 75 percent of passengers’ frustrations would disappear.

In the meantime, how trendy has it become to bash the airlines? The New York Post even has a “Hell of Flying” section…

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82 Responses to “Flying: A Look on the Bright Side”
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  1. Art Knight says:

    Tina Turner says “I never do anything Nice and Easy!” Here’s a news story from today, about something that is neither nice nor easy.

    An airport worker struck a young father holding his nine-month-old baby with ‘one hell of a punch’ following a grueling 12-hour delay, a shocked witness said today.

    A photograph appears to show the man, believed to be a special assistance provider at Nice Airport, attacking the easyJet passenger in the terminal on Saturday.

    Um, I think I’ll skip the “special assistance” thanks!

  2. Art Knight says:

    What is that thing above the red curtains in the first photo? At first I thought it was a lady’s foot because it has an ankle bracelet at the top right corner. Now, it looks like a giant salamander with gills and an eye.

    Obviously, air travel is safe. My brother and sister are flying into Midway this week and I have no fear that they will arrive safely.

    There are bigger problems in the world, but Ann Coulter is tall with long legs. She picked the seat she wanted and then got moved from it. Delta waited until she splattered them all over the internet to offer her the $30 back. That should have been done immediately. Corporate culture has been hijacked by risk management attorneys. Folks just don’t simply say “I’m sorry.” That goes a long way to diffuse an emotional situation.

    Apparently she was moved to accommodate a group of three that wanted to sit together. My brother and his lady and I drove to Lambeau Field and bought tickets at the last minute. We had to sit separately. Imagine being a Bears fan surrounded, alone by thousands of Packers fans! I’d love to have been able to tell them to move so we three could sit together. Bears won and I got a beer punted at my back in the parking lot!

    • Patrick says:

      Coulter was moved into a seat in the same row, with the same amount of legroom.

      Her rant was simply obnoxious — especially posting a photograph of the other passengers.

      • Art Knight says:

        Regarding “The Coulter Incident,” Delta could have given the late-comers any available seats. The three were all adults. Is it really a big deal to not be seated next to each other for a few hours? If so, upon boarding, they could have nicely requested that she switch seats.

        Regarding the photo of them, there is no expectation of privacy anymore, unless you are in your domicile with the blinds and drapes closed. We have police cameras on many corners, red-light cameras at intersections, cameras are recording you from the time you enter a store parking lot, all through the store, except dressing rooms and restrooms. I spent thousands of dollars on landscaping and fencing to have a very private yard. I built a 384 sq.ft. deck to relax on. My nosy neighbor got frustrated and installed infrared (night vision) cameras focused on my entire property. I am under surveillance 24/7. I saw the cameras on Amazon.com. They are $11. It is the world we now live in.

        I wanted to give you the last word, but then I just read something not NICE ‘n EASY.

  3. In the provinces says:

    The idea, mentioned in your op-ed, that deregulation led to an unprecedented expansion in airline passengers and an unprecedented decline in airfares is widely touted but not entirely correct. Between 1945 and 1973, the number of airline passengers in the US expanded more rapidly than after deregulation, and fare prices declined on a yearly basis even more than later. The old regulated system of air traffic actually worked pretty well. What happened was the oil-price shocks of the 1970s caused an inflationary surge, felt particularly strongly in air traffic, given the heavy weight of petroleum prices in airlines’ expenses. Deregulation’s reputation is more about the decline in oil prices from the early 1980s onward than any particular market virtues.

  4. JamesP says:

    Unfortunately, Patrick, I have to agree with you. LOL. I flew pre-deregulation, and the service was indeed great. But, it cost – lots. And, if you wanted to go anywhere but capital city to capital city, there were stops. Often, lots of them. Those old timetables are pretty illuminating – a flight from Seattle to Miami might stop in Salt Lake, Memphis, and Atlanta on the way.

    I can’t stand flying Coach today – it’s horrible (I guess they call it Economy now – it’s not even worthy of being called Coach lol). Domestically, I fly First Class, which costs about what a pre-deregulation Coach seat cost in equivalent dollars. So a person *can* have a decent flight if they want to pay what it used to cost back in the “Golden Age.” I go Business on international flights, which probably costs less than it did back then.

    And I arrive at my destination in a good mood! Priceless.

  5. Bill Campbell says:

    I agree with you. I have been flying since the 60’s and yes it is much better and safer. I really haven’t had a bad flight like you see in the media for about 10 years. Also, I have probably flown several million miles in my life and have always gotten from point A to B safely. I think the public takes that for granted. In fact, the general public may be the real problem. I may sound like I am from the airlines or an advocate but check me out. Just a business man who has flown a lot.

  6. Paul says:

    Patrick,

    I’ve just received your email response to my post below. I’m sure we’ll disagree about some aspects of this discussion, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to respond personally. That’s a very rare thing these days.

    Paul

  7. Jim Spaeth says:

    Earlier I commented on your NYT article on Twitter. I have a different point of view than you, as I was actually an adult during the early Seventies flying as a director of customer service on 747s and 1011s, plus frequently nonrevving.Your Seattle to Paris example prompts me to remind you that Pan Am may have flown that city pair with 707s in the mid sixties. If so, the Paris airport would be Orly, as the larger, ‘rat-maze’ CDG didn’t exist yet. Your overall travel time from when you entered SEA terminal, till you departed ORY Customs, would have been shorter than the SEA CDG flight today, and much more comfortable. I’m convinced seat comfort in 1960s and 1970s flights would trump today’s non-smoking restrictions. The only serious smoking complaints back then related to cigar smoke. Cigar smoking was not condoned. Cmon, ask you passengers if they would be willing to turn up their air vents and sit in smoking for an extra six inches of seat pitch and a few inches more width. As far as in-flight entertainment is concerned, folks slept, chatted with one another, read books, knitted, etc. This was before the time of bent necks checking smart phones and the constant demand for someone or something to entertain them. The Golden Age of Air Travel also existed during the Age of Aquarius. Folks then didn’t take themselves so seriously. Those were fun times in general. I missed them so much, I wrote a soon-to-be-published memoir, “Up, Up and Astray.”

  8. Ross Johnson says:

    I agree with you – Modern air travel is a miracle that few people seem to appreciate. I remember a B777 flight from Houston to Narita once, in business class. My seatmate was a beautiful woman from HP. We ate great food, drank great wine, and curled up and chatted quietly all the way there in a too-short flight. She gave me a hug before she deplaned, and I marveled to myself how only a couple of hundred years ago a trip across the Pacific would take five years and cost you half your crew.

  9. Tod says:

    It was quite funny in Australia back in about 2001 (if I remember correctly)
    Australia had never had a budget carrier before, only 2 full service carriers.
    When Virgin Blue launched (now virgin Australia) as a budget airline people were excited about the cheap fares, however when people actually took those flights they started complaining about the lack of a meal etc.

  10. Earl Boebert says:

    I took my first commercial flight in 1961: Western Airlines Electra from Oakland to LAX, BOAC pure-jet 707 (the most underpowered aircraft the FAA ever certified) over the pole to London. Somebody else paid for the ticket. Between then and 2005 I flew several times a month on just about every airline in the US (including Texas Treetops) and what was then called the Free World. 90% of the flights were on somebody else’s nickel and therefore in coach, or night first class (the good old WA Red Eye from LAX to MSP) which in the days of regulation cost the same.

    Flying prior to deregulation was comfortable, expensive, convenient, sexist (remember Braniff’s “Air Strip” and National’s “I’m Jo. Fly Me.” ads?) and elitist. It was great if you were one of the elite.

    After deregulation air travel devolved into something that is cheap in every sense of the word. Is that better? I just don’t know. But I sure miss the old days.

  11. Sue Harrison says:

    I think this is a great piece and you’re absolutely right! Yet another reminder of how the good ol’ days weren’t as good as they seem in our minds

  12. Victoria says:

    I fly often (economy/coach, always) and seldom see arrogance, condescension, rudeness, etc. in flight attendants, so the notion that this behavior is systemic seems ill-founded. I’ve certainly observed this behavior in passengers, the likes of which I suspect are represented here in the Comment seats. And to those, I offer the following: try a little courtesy and respect yourself — you’d be surprised how that changes the people around you. There’s no mystery here.

  13. Nathalie says:

    I thought your article was great, and your points well made. And you were even nice enough to omit a negative aspect of flying today: how obnoxious and egocentric passengers have become. Example: to avoid paying excess-weight baggage fees they carry-on tons of unnecessary junk, and try to cram it all into the overheads as fast as possible so they can use up the space before anyone else. The nasty, obnoxious comment you received above, from Mr or Me “F___Y___ ” is another example of how rude, disrespectful and obnoxious passengers have become. People like the person who sent you that nasty comment shouldn’t be allowed to get on planes at all, unfortunately there’s no way to screen passengers for obnoxiousness.

  14. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    First, if I may suggest, the Golden Age of flying was more 1958 through 1968. The Golden Age has to start with the intro of the 707 in 1958 and ends, I think, around 1968 because, in 1967 Air Southwest’s born. It was originally a small inter-state carrier in Texas and was renamed Southwest Airlines in 1971. Southwest, in my mind, was the first really successful discount air carrier, one that competed on price, not amenities. Certainly, by 1978 and the deregulation of the industry was long, long dead. One could quibble, but those years seem about right.

    In 1968, the VW Beatle was $1,699 MSRP. In today’s dollars, that is $11,973 in today’s money. The MSRP for a Beatle today is $19,995. The is some 65% more money, but the current Beatle has heated side mirrors, power steering, power disc brakes,
    independent suspension with front MacPherson struts, 4-link rear suspension and stabilizer bars, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, Bluetooth and USB, touchscreen CD/AM/FM radio, ABS brakes, and just so, so much more. The extra money buys a car so improved as to not truly comparable. The Beatle of 1968 was a death trap barebones car and today’s is a tech wonder and reliably safe car. Costs went up, but so did features, so much so that the even the most expensive Beatle of 1968 is far inferior to the base model today.

    • Stephen Stapleton says:

      In 1968, the best computer for the money was probably Hewlett Packard’s 2116A. It had a single expansion slot, 16K core, with a clock speed of 8 Mhz. It cost $22,000. In today’s money, that is $155,000, give or take. I think the best personal computer in the market today is the Mac Pro at $7,100 fully tricked out. It has a clock speed of 3 GHz and a 64 gig memory. It is, effectively 300 times faster with 4 millions times the memory. Even the least expensive computer on the market, something $300, is 1,000 times better than the HP. Computers got much better and much, much less expensive.

      in 1968, an Admiral color console TV was $349 and sported a 23″ screen. That is about $2,460 in today’s money. Today, a 60″ TV with a remote control and vastly better resolution is about $500. Again, better product and much cheaper.

      I could go on and on, but airline travel has become somewhat cheaper, though bargains were available back then, but it has become not all that much better, if any. i doubt a flight from LA to SF on Southwest would be much different today than in 1968. It would be somewhat cheaper and the skirts wouldn’t be as short, but the flight would take about as long, be about as comfortable, and offer about the same level of service.

      • Stephen Stapleton says:

        Thus, while other industries have become either slightly more money, but with a transformationally better product or much cheaper and with a transformationally better product, airlines are cheaper with greater hassle. Even if we compare business class to business class, I will put the comforts of my 1968 business class from LA to SF against those today. Yes, there weren’t personal TVs in 1968, but I could arrive 15 minutes before the flight and reasonably expect to board. I could carry on what I needed without hassle and the staff would treat me like a king.

        I think the airline industry is so awful because it doesn’t really make money. Hauling passengers has never been a money maker. The great passenger liners of the previous century lost money on First Class and were only a going concern because of the vast hoard of third class coming migrating around the world. Railroads never made money on passengers and got out of the business dumping it on government. I can’t think of a private, mass transit system for people that survives today and makes money. If airlines had to build airports, as railroads did passenger terminals, they’d never have even started. That we people get to fly AT ALL is a wonder. There isn’t any money to pay for anything. Airlines supported deregulation expecting to make more money and, instead, they made less.

        Flying is frustrating and miserable because anything better would sink the industry.

  15. Carlos Si says:

    I guess you can say the worst problem now is no longer as external as before (i.e., aircraft “problems”, terrorists, comfort*), but the airline themselves; it’s a people problem.

  16. ralph boester says:

    As an airline employee of more than 25 years and a consultant in the industry for another 20 and still involved all I can say is you have been spending too much time in the rare air of the front office. You are about as good at your math as the most recent budget proposal in Washington. For example, in 1965 we would write a fully refundable no constraints coach ticket from ORD to LAX. That included a reserved seat selection, a good meal or snack and beverages including alcoholic, free luggage checked, and no penalty for any reason except with the possible no show penalty if it was not cancelled by flight time. That fare for a coach ticket one way was $105 USD just in case you are in some other currency world. Today the equivalent ticket on UA with same criteria will run from $750 – $1,800 USD. Inflation adjusted from 1966 to 2017 makes the 105 about 750. I won’t rattle on about this as your selective cherry picking automatically reduced your credibility. BTW I was writing many of those tickets and at CO a passenger even had the benefit or option of buying the ticket on-board, all they needed was an advance reservations with a contact. On all Boeing golden Jets we had a Director of Passenger Service who could change your return, book rental cars and hotels, and even sell you the ticket if you had not purchased it. Yes, things were not always the best and I was the departure control agent for CO 11 on the 22nd of May in 1962 and I will carry that with me till I die.

    • Speed says:

      ralph boester wrote that a full feature coach ticket from ORD to LAX cost $105 (on Continental Airlines) in 1966. My recollection of flying in 1966 is that in that regulated world of 1966 the price was the same on any airline flying the route. “Student Standby” was available at half price, again if memory serves.

      ralph boester further wrote that $105 in 1966 equates to $750 in 2017 dollars and today a full feature coach ticket on UAL on that route will run between $750 and $1,800.

      What we have today that we didn’t have in 1966 are options. Right now on Expedia I see 58 trips with seats available tomorrow (!) from ORD to LAX at prices ranging from $77.80 (Delta) to $567.40 (AA) plus two outliers — $765.20 (UAL) and 1,301.20 (Alaska).

      Southwest has six business-select non-stops for $560 from MDW to LAX.

      And in 1966 we didn’t have Expedia. To find the best fare, well the only fare … Start again. In 1966, to find the best schedule with seats available we had to call, on the telephone, each airline, take notes, decided what we wanted and then call the airline back to make the reservation.

      And don’t forget the wait-list (I think that was the name, correct me if I’m wrong) system. Sometime in the wee hours, the airline computer system updated itself, clearing out old cancelled reservations and freeing up seats for wait-listed customers. But if you called in the wee hours it was often possible to get one of those empty seats before the wait lists had been processed.

      • Rod says:

        Yes, I just checked on the UA website and, for a random date in June, found $111 as a starting price, hardly within the “$750 – $1,800 USD” range.

        Of course the key word is “criteria”. Well, the regulated airlines of the day made their money by coddling their passengers. Modern airlines simply can’t afford that. In the current lean’n’mean free-market environment, it’s “Sorry buddy, and don’t give me any lip or I’ll call the police and they’ll beat the crap out of you.”

        • Speed says:

          Rod wrote, ” … the regulated airlines of the day made their money by coddling their passengers.”

          It was the regulators that were coddled. Routes were awarded by the regulators and prices were set by the regulators.

          • Rod says:

            And the only way to entice people on to those regulated routes and pay those fares was to coddle the hell out of them.

            Coddled regulators? What’s that supposed to mean? All-day foot massage?

        • ralph boester says:

          Good points about cheaper fares today but the point was if you want to compare something it must be a comparison of like for like. Yes, I can fly a cheap flt on UA today but that ticket is non-refundable, if I change it will cost I believe 150.00 to change it, and I pay for all the extras such as bags, a drink,etc. It is a different industry today. I would go with the golden age maybe a little longer to around early 1970’s but yes it really started with the jet service in 1958. I happen to fly for a living but today even with an premium status travel sucks. I will fly UA cause I can get the economy plus seating usually and for a US Asia trip which I do too often the little extra room makes a big difference. My other comment is that Southwest did usher in the low cost but before them was PSA and I believe the skirts were much shorter. Today flying is a way to get from point A to B, usually with an occasional misdirection. In the 60’s it was an experience and by the way CO ran a lot of full airplanes from ORD to DEN and ORD to LAX, enough people had enough money even then including students to fly. I checked in a lot of full flights and a lot of oversold flights. When I was offered a job in the new computer systems and I was done with school I left the airport and really have never looked back as the job is no longer fun.

  17. Fred Augustine says:

    Time and time again I’ve seen headlines that don’t fit the story or column. I’m especially disappointed that the NYT would do that. However, I don’t see how anyone who read the column could think that it glorified the “good old days” of airline travel. Even in the old days it was, on occasion, possible to score good deals. In November, 1972, my college roommate and I flew from D.C. To Paris (France, not Kentucky) for a long weekend and the entire trip cost $150 each (that’s including food and cheap lodging). We flew Air France, 747 over, 707 back. On the return trip we almost had the airplane to ourselves. Back then there was such a thing as international and off-season student fares. Of course Air France took a licking on our return trip. I like to think back to that when I’m sandwiched in the middle seat in an A-321, flying to Seattle.

  18. Mike Smith says:

    Hi Patrick:
    In my opinion, your recent op-ed article on the Golden Age of Flying was not only fun to read but memory provoking in many good ways. As a kid in 1959 my father would let me accompany him on some of his business trips. It would start with breakfast at the airport. The sight of walking out of the terminal and towards that big, beautiful TWA Constellation sitting on the tarmac with those huge stairs connected to to side of that plane was a better view for me than sitting behind home plate at Yankee Stadium. I was afraid to fly back then and loved baseball. My Dad said there was nothing to worry about, and he managed to convince the flight crew to let this scared but happy little kid talk to the pilot and sit in his seat. The Captain explained many things to me and answered all my questions and concerns about safety. He told me he had a family with kids my age and that he would never do anything dangerous for a living. Like anything else, you have to be trained and have the skills to do this particular job well. I never really got over my fear, but the one thing I will always remember is the great front to back customer service. This is what is missing in today’s world of flying. Maybe the bean counters and stock holders are responsible for that, but I do know this. If you consistently meet workers at airports or on planes that are grumpy and short tempered, then something is wrong at the top. I wonder if good customer service is expensive to implement?

  19. Geoff G. says:

    Great article – I often point exactly the same thing out to my friends. Want to experience 1960s travel? Buy a business class ticket. You’ll get a free meal (maybe 2), legroom, free baggage, early boarding – On and on – And still pay less than you would have in 1965 for the same ticket in economy class.

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    • Rod says:

      Joe’s Greasy Spoon has a 99-cent plat-du-jour special today (armadillo stew with rattlesnake gravy as a five-cent side order).
      Jacket and tie required dress code.

  21. Simon says:

    I think you make several very valid points, Patrick. You’re definitely right about people’s tendency to glorify a fictitious past.

    That said, I think you still are missing one key point in your analysis. In a discussion like this you have to acknowledging how we as human beings sense these changes.

    No doubt we can get to our destinations faster and cheaper than in the 1960s. But at that time, those many connections or the longer travel times were simply a fact of life. The rudeness passengers (i.e. the paying customer) nowadays get treated with or the lack of dedication to their product that airlines display these days, are not. None of that is a fact of life. It’s a conscious choice made by the companies and their employees. And that is what is so frustrating. We think things are bad. But not because they have to be (like the fact that it simply used to take 17 hours to Paris), but because airlines and their employees believe they can get away with it. They could do better, but they chose not to.

    It’s this blatant disrespect that is so infuriating. We humans can live with inconvenience we believe cannot be improved (like 17 hrs to Paris), but we cannot cope with a conscious choice to do less than we believe would be reasonable. And although you are right that prices are lower than ever and that the race to the bottom is the result of customers’ choices, there is no denying that treating your customers rudely is doing less than you could – regardless of fares.

  22. Nigel Costolloe says:

    Nice piece, Patrick.
    Curious that we all choose to fly based on price only, then moan when our ludicrously cheap flight lacks the touches we all think we deserve.
    There are so many things wrong with air travel in the US it beggars belief -from the boarding inefficiencies we must endure, to the almost comically inept TSA process, to passengers who insist on bringing aboard oversized carry-on bags; the experience of air travel has diminished to meet the obvious LCD of price above all else.
    Flying for me remains a romance, even after 52 years of living – the old BOAC, Fiji Airways and Air Niugini DC-10s flying beneath the clouds around the south pacific, People Express!, flying JAL for 2 days SYD-LHR eating sushi at every meal – flying for many of us is still an event to savor and I still look to the sky to identify each plane that passes overhead when I run in the Blue Hills, right beneath the Logan flight path.
    Perhaps this year will be the inflection point, and some disruptive B-school genius will find a way to put some of the magic back into the experience. Until that day, thanks for your thoughts and writing.
    Salut,
    Nigel

  23. Anil Pillai says:

    Patrick, you know me as a long time supporter of you, your articles, book etc. The issue is not about how cheaply you can fly, or the 14 billion dollar profit the domestic airlines made. Barring Southwest, I cannot whole heartedly endorse an airline. You as the pilot is doing an awesome job for the customer. But can you confidently say everyone in your airline – especially the customer facing ones, or the ones setting up policies on how to help a customer – is doing the same job?

    I can guarantee you that that is not the case – after a single round trip ten days ago.

    • Alan Dahl says:

      I for one can’t stand Southwest. They attempted to leave us stranded in Milwaukee after our connecting flight was cancelled with nothing more than a refund for the uncompleted segment. Don’t get me started about their stupid stressful boarding procedures either…

      • Anil Pillai says:

        I know – it is only a matter of time before SW does that to me. But I appreciate them for sticking to their guns when it came to nickel and dime-ing and saying no. And you can still fly cheap on occasion in SW.

        But the cattle car mentality of every flight should be full+2 – no, pilots do not need to see that, and see the catastrophic after-effects of people getting shunted out of flights, missing critical connecting flights, etc – there are multiple horror stories right within my own family and my sister’s.

        Just one example: couple weeks ago took off from STL 10 mins late at 6:30AM (woke up at 3:30am mind you), landed in ORD 10 mins late, sat on the tarmac next to the connecting flight to Montreal for 40 mins, yet no gate, finally went running to the connecting gate only to see the gate close in front of us. They will not let us in. Same AA connection. Why not, when they used to do that? And they could not find another flight for us. And after multiple stand by attempts with zero real effort from anyone to actually help, finally had to fight to get a hotel room, ended up laying on a hotel bed in Chicago nearly 12 hours later. Exhausted. Barely able to talk – that tired. Start of a vacation.

        On the way back – FA was a total tool, ultra rude, would not even give us enough water on a warm plane. Thankfully the other FA made up for it.

        What is wrong with this bloody picture? I love leaving American airline companies behind when I fly overseas.

        • Alan Dahl says:

          I find that AS does the best job of treating passengers as people in the US which is why folks from the Northwest swear by them. I am hopeful that that dedication coupled with VX’s enthusiasm and modern vibe will result in a national airline that really is dedicated to customer service.

          Agreed that many European airlines, most notably KLM in my book, do a better job than 98% of US airlines.

      • Speed says:

        Is your complaint that you were almost stranded or that you were almost stranded in Milwaukee? 🙂

        • Alan Dahl says:

          Well a little of both :-). I had a broken foot with a boot which didn’t help any. With three people (wife and son and I) and enough luggage for a long trip to NYC (at $300/night non-refundable) and Europe we were at their mercy. MKE airport is tiny and there were no other flights.If there had been some sympathy or SWA had arranged say a bus to Chicago for us stranded folks it would have been different but all we got was a hand in our face.

          Eventually they found a way to get us out the next day, 24 hours late, but even then we had to find our own hotel room which was difficult with a huge concert in town and pay for a rental car. Total cost for us was around $250, a lost day in NYC and a lost $300 NYC hotel room. On the good side we did get to see Milwaukee’s excellent art museum but that was hardly worth the hassle :-).

  24. Jim Houghton says:

    Unfortunately, Patrick, I don’t think there’s anything that will make people stop bitching when they can get away with it. If your gardener blows leaves into your neighbor’s yard, nine out of ten times that neighbor will be too uncomfortable with confrontation to say anything to you directly about it. (Watch out, though, he/she might get up to something by way of payback, under cover of darkness.) But when the object of anger, scorn, derision and just plain nastiness is not in a position to fight back, i.e. when there is no face-to-face with another human being who might call them out for attitude or facts…people let it all out. All of it. In all its ugliness. Which is why the Internet can be such an unpleasant place.

  25. Andrea says:

    The fact that ticket prices are cheaper than ever before allowing more and more people the ability to fly is both a positive and a negative. With every additional person walking into the airport your chances of dealing with the actions of a moron, jerk or a-hole increases. Just recently I walked into the TSA pre-screen line anticipating a speedy trip through security only to be held at a complete stop because 6 bags needed to be searched. Items packed by these bright travelers included an entire tub of Noxzema, a large can of hairspray, and a standard sized pair of scissors. Then there are people who try to wheel their stroller onto the plane or cram their bags into the overhead knowing damn well it’s not going to fit but still try to fight with the FA when they say it has to be checked. Or having an international flight delayed bc someone checked their luggage but never made it to the plane so the ground crew has to find and fish out their bags.
    I will never understand why people get so belligerent over delays caused by maintenance and mechanical issues. Do you really want the plane to take off with an engine warning light on? A recent flight out of Raleigh was delayed 2 hours waiting on “equipment replacement”. I would have even prefered waiting twice as long over taking off on time in a plane that was so jacked up that it needed to be taken out of service for a bit.

  26. Chris Anschuetz says:

    Patrick – certainly many of the recent nasty airline stories can be blamed on the same ugly intolerance infecting our society everywhere you look. I often wonder how airline customer service people (steward(esse)s in particular) face their daily jobs – how do they possibly like what they do? So many people are just basically such assholes – and yes, some of the airline people too. Then we lock ourselves up in a small box for four to eight hours, and wonder why invective flies.

    I’m in my mid-60’s and remember well my plastic TWA wings and toy plane presented me at a tender age by a nicely uniformed flight officer.

    You didn’t mention in your Times piece that luggage too is far more likely to get to the right place – and that VERY few bags get actually LOST, as in never heard from again – delayed yes, but lost, no.

    All that said, flying is very unpleasant in the back of the bus. Up front, yes, I actually look forward to those trips. In the back – no. There IS the camaraderie of my fellow victims and I having somehow made it through the gauntlet from home to gate, to be followed by a miasma of redolent corpulence and understandably wailing rug rats – all kumbaya and stuff – but if someone’s sleeping Lord, he’s draped over the middle seat, snoring in my ear.

  27. Alan Dahl says:

    While I grant you that today’s flying experience has some significant advantages over flying in 1965 (imagine back then if the last US airline crash had been in 1949!) there still are a lot of issues relating to poor infrastructure and financial disincentives to do the right thing. What can be done to fix things? IMHO outside of complete re-regulation there is one change that is simple that I think will make a big difference. I would extend the Federal Excise Tax on airline tickets to also include all add-on services. Right now the airlines unbundle not because “it gives the passenger more choices” as they claim but primarily as a way to avoid the FET. if the taxes were owed equally whether services are bundled or unbundled I think that would encourage the airlines to once again compete on the basis of service, not lowest base airfare.

  28. James says:

    Patrick, I would appreciate your thoughts on the New York Times Business article of the day before, Routine Air Travel Discomfort Starts on Wall Street: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/28/business/corporate-profit-margins-airlines.html

    It is unfortunate that the timing of your op-ed one day before makes you look like you were apologizing not for the airlines, but for Wall Street.

    • Las Vegas Tom says:

      The NY Times article sort of overrides almost all other discussions on this matter. Wall Street pressure for returns solely, and nothing relating to customer service shows more than anything why airlines are operating like this, This standard goes directly to pressure on ground staff to minimize payouts airlines must do for overbooking. Multiply this times many time a day on many flights and you get the picture, as one example. No one is objecting to airlines making a profit, but if treating customers like dirt to achieve executive bonuses is necessary, why shouldn’t we expect the customers to object?

  29. Jean Sherrard says:

    Patrick–I generally agree with your points, although at 6’6, I am particularly abused by the current economy seating crunch. If they’re available, I’ll pay for “economy plus” as a matter of necessity (in standard economy, all too often, the seat pitch is such that my knees are hiked up against the back to the seat in front of me and my feet never touch the floor–try that position for 6 hours!) – but when those seats are sold out, I carry cash with me and offer it to smaller passengers in the extra legroom seats (exit rows, bulkheads). Travel, for me, is a potentially miserable crapshoot, and when I need to hop on a plane at the last minute, I gird my loins for several hours of extreme discomfort approaching torment.
    I confess, the procrustean bed of economy seating leaves me fantasizing about pushing a class-action suit for tall people against airlines – we are discriminated against for factors entirely out of our control.
    What’s more, on occasion, costs of making a change, even weeks in advance, are so prohibitive it’s often cheaper just to throw away one’s original ticket and buy a new one. And what’s so deeply offensive about overbooking to the average passenger is that no other business operates with such impunity – what other product do I pay for which refuses reasonable returns or exchanges? And, if I’m unable to use my ticket for any reason what other business then turns round and resells the product I’ve purchased to another customer without reimbursing me?

  30. UncleStu says:

    As usual, Patrick is correct on all counts.

    Far too many people are “entitled”, spoiled, and narrow minded. They have no interest in facts. They only know how awful their lives are, and that their “suffering” is worse than anyone ever experienced at any time in history.

    All this while comfortably zipping through the sky with refreshments at hand.

    Poor victims! Puhleeze!

  31. Barry Gold says:

    Granted that the airport experience is a major source of discontent. I think the small pitch and width is the major source of discontent in flight. To a large extent we as passengers have traded space for a lower price — most people use websites or apps that put the lowest fares first, and will usually book that lowest fare even if it’s only a $10 difference.

    This isn’t the fault of the airlines, it’s an actual choice by passengers even if we don’t realize it.

    Generally agreeing with you: the place where our dollars can make a difference — in airline behavior — is vastly improved. The place where market forces are less effective — airports, customs/immigration, etc. — remain decades out of date.

  32. fatguyfromqueens says:

    Sure, quality of the product in general has declined from the “golden age” but frankly, few of us really miss that because few of us could’ve afforded it in the first place. We miss a supposed golden age.

    It’s like bemoaning the loss of beautiful, classy, automobiles like the Bugatti or Rolls when the Model T came out. To the guy in the model T it is a wonder, “Lookit! A car, for me that I can afford! I can go places!” It was only a loss if you had the means to get a Bugatti in the first place.

    So what is better, stellar service for the lucky few or the ability to go to JFK and hop on a plane and be in Buenos Aires in 12 hours for the many. I submit that it is better for me that I endure 12 hours of cramped seats so I can tango in Buenos Aires without being in debt for the rest of my life – and I do it with the assurance that I will get there in one piece.

    For those reasons, Patrick is right. This cruddy age of air travel is better than the golden age which I likely never would’ve known about first hand because I’d be taking the train or the bus.

    And Patrick does admit that a lot can, and should be done.

    In a sense, air travel is a victim of its own success. People voted with their wallets, the system became overwhelmed because of demand, and stingy governments (at least in the US) do little to modernize the system.

    • Antonio Gooding says:

      I flew as a purser for Pan American World Airways early ’70s. Our founder Juan Trippe envisioned the B747 and commissioned Boeing to build it. The aircraft was so successful that those of you who are too young to recall the era certainly know of the aircraft as Boeing has continuously produced it until this year. On the Pan Am 747 there were 2 and then 3 levels of service. President-Special first class had 25 armchairs, in the A zone, a B Zone dining room where 14 of those 25 people could dine “restaurant-style” then retire to the upper-deck lounge. In the mid ’70s the dining room was moved upstairs to make way for our newly created business class product or “Clipper-Class!” Coach was named “Rainbow-Economy” complete with complimentary “Cinema-Snax” during the movie and we set up an economy class “Viennese-Pastry-Shoppe” in the large rear galley so coach passengers could file through and partake of a European breakfast experience. All for the low price of a coach ticket. The American Airlines B747 sported a coach Class piano bar in the rear that resembled a nightclub with bowls of fresh fruit, passengers singing 🎤 and playing a real piano and enjoying hot meals. So you are incorrect about the “Golden-Age” not being available to the masses fatguyfromqueens, it was!

      • mitch says:

        Antonio, Pan Am and American had all those 747 amenities because they could not fill the seats. American got rid of all their 747’s around 1980 and replaced them with DC-10’s. So did Continental. The 747 was [and still is] a wonderful airplane but it was [and still is] too big for the U.S. domestic market.
        Pan Am is a case study in why being first is no guarantee of long-term success. They loaded up too soon and too fast with too many 747-100’s. When their competitors updated their 747 fleets with longer-range 747-200B’s, Pan Am was stuck with dozens of aging -100’s. Pan Am’s 747SP [short and plump] was a one-trick pony – it was soon outclassed by high gross weight -200B’s. Pan Am expired just as airlines were updating their 747 fleets to the 747-400’s.

        • Antonio Gooding says:

          Mitch, I mentioned Pan Am and American but service was wonderful on most carriers in the ’70s. Here’s an idea guys. Instead of comparing the 2017 flying experience with that of say 30-40 years ago (which I personally think is pure insanity,) why don’t you find a way to enhance the public’s opinion opinion of today’s inflight encounters. Now that safety is taken for granted I guess the public is saying: “what else you got for my money?” Please don’t look to us, we’ve done our jobs. Beating up on the predecessors is not the answer to a current problem. No?

        • Antonio Gooding says:

          Mitch,
          Did no one tell you of the 1973 oil embargo? It had a severe negative impact on the airlines. Empty seats, layoffs etc. The amenities you referred to were not created in response to empty seats, those amenities were part of the airlines’ “take-care-of-our-customers” mentality. This mentality began years before the first 747 first flew vin 1970. This mentality is what made those early years of aviation the “golden-era!” People love to be treated with respect and dignity. I would love to see Patrick and his supporters pool their collective brain power to raise the public’s perception of our industry without restating the problem or attacking the reputation of aviation’s pioneers. If Patrick were to spend more time in the solution, I for one would have more respect for his opinion sir.

        • Antonio Gooding says:

          Mitch,
          Pan American World Airways did more for the aviation industry than any other airline, ever! We had a subsidiary “Pan Am World Services” that provided technical assistance to startup airlines etc.. When WWII started, the US government put their aviators through our flight school. We pulled planes out of service, camouflaged them and supported the US. It was Pan Am that got Churchill safely back into England. The list goes on and on. I can’t believe you don’t know this yet you’re commenting on our aircraft. Pan Am was an innovative airline of firsts. First either a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan with helicopter service directly to your plane, the 747SP made the subsequent long range aircraft possible. Remember the 747-400 was built by the same company. We (Juan Trippe) created the 707 . We didn’t just “buy” the 747, our founder JUAN Trippe CREATED it! Are you kidding? The US government did not want a flag carrier but we were the closest thing to it! I was purser on several government support flights. We were proud to fly the flag. When passengers stepped aboard a Pan Am Clipper abroad they were in the USA. Mitch I cannot tell you how blessed I am to have flown for Pan Am. There is a YouTube video that gives a wonderful overview in 58 minutes called: The Pan Am Story.

      • fatguyfromqueens says:

        Hi ANtonio, you raise a good point about coach being much better in the 70s than now but I still maintain that coach fares in those days were still waaaay more expensive than coach fares today. So frankly, the masses weren’t enjoying Viennese pastries in coach then, or not that often. I am old enough to remember Freddie Laker and his Skytrain. Foreshadowing of things to come.
        People voted with their pocketbooks and the vote was cheap over service.

  33. Greybeard says:

    Well-said. As your op-ed points out, social media makes us all aware of every wee glitch, so we can freak out and rail against the airlines.

    Not that this isn’t preaching to the choir, but along with all the other stupidities about TSA theatre is some basic math that nobody does: 600M pax x 10 minutes wasted per pax (very conservative) is a LOT of wasted time. If you assume that the average pax has 50 years left in his/her life, then it’s over 200 lives wasted per year just waiting in line. That’s not counting the TSA folks, who are also wasting even more time, albeit as a paid job, so maybe that’s a wash.

    A brave and clever politician might point this out, noting that by spreading the wasted time across 600M pax, it’s a socialist approach–make everyone pay a little bit, instead of risking a few lives to a terrorist attack (and no, we don’t need to go into whether TSA is actually preventing any of those). Seems pretty clear to me …

  34. Patrick, I’m sorry to hear about the hate mail. That’s the downside of having your ideas published online. As a frustrated and fearful flyer, I read your Op-ed with interest. Your points were well-taken. I had not known many of these facts about flying during the sixties and seventies. I agree with your follow-up points, as well. The infrastructure really needs an overhaul–especially the TSA. I’ve had some horrible encounters there. On the other hand, I’ve encountered some very sensitive and helpful flight attendants. Keep on writing!

  35. Antonio Gooding says:

    I can understand his frustration at the negative PR the industry is getting but to attack the same industry years earlier is a stretch in my opinion! I ran into a young commercial pilot several months ago. He knew nothing of the Pan Am/KLM Tenerife disaster. Had that and other incidents not occurred, airlines might not enjoy the safe environment it does today. He should pay homage to his fallen airline brethren, the early FAA, NTSB etc for giving their lives and correcting the mistakes made! Instead he’s attempting to defend the customer-service faux-pas made today by “deflecting” blame and comparing things like safety records and allowing passengers to smoke etc. He’s an asshole who’s too afraid to place blame on the fact that the fares lowered and the airlines consequently lowered the service standard to Mach the fares! It’s still happening! Airlines want to remove the overhead bins!
    THIS IS AT THE EXECUTIVE LEVEL! How cowardly to ignore this and do some “Twilight-Zone” “Quantum-Leap” maneuvers!
    Pan Am had real top-notch pilots that had to FLY the damned plane and they did it well. So every time he walks his ass into t computerized cockpit he should feel ashamed for denigrating those who’s passion for our illustrious industry made his life easier by paving the way!

    • Speed says:

      Antonio Gooding wrote, “I can understand his frustration … ”

      There are a few things that you’ll need to keep in mind when you’re dealing with pronouns and antecedents. First, always be sure that, if you’ve used a pronoun, there’s an antecedent nearby that clearly matches up with it.
      http://study.com/academy/lesson/personal-pronouns-and-antecedents-number-agreement.html

      Perhaps Antonio can clarify his comment by telling us if he was referring to Patrick or a previous commenter. It is not clear from the context.

      • Antonio Gooding says:

        Firstly, I would like to apologize for referring to Patrick as an asshole. Patrick, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Many, many aviation professionals worked very hard to achieve the safety record that the industry boasts today. Reading your article angered me because it seemed to imply that the level of comfort received by customers during the ’50s, ’60s & ”70s cannot compare to the high level of safety that aviation now enjoys. I do not see a comparison. I began my aviation career in 1972. People not only dressed up to fly but they eagerly anticipated the flying experience. The competition for passengers was fierce. Service was the weapon and flight attendants were the foot-soldiers. That said, airlines spent a lot of money to assure passengers’ safety & comfort. Airlines were not allowed to use safety records in marketing campaigns at that time but worked hand-in-hand with the US government to assure that each and every flight took off and landed safely. Unfortunately there were incidents. We learned from them, made adjustments and continued working. How were we to predict the future? If the traveling public makes a negative comparison of the 2017 flying experience versus the so-called “Golden-Era,” is it fair to defend yourself by using a 30-50 year old safety record? I would simply tell the world that the industry is still evolving. Believe it or not we are all in this together regardless of the era. Thank you Patrick for carrying the torch!

  36. Kevin says:

    Here we go again…whiney little bitches complaining about how horrible it is to have the opportunity to cross the globe in a day or less.

    In September 2015 I flew from SFO-LHR-JNB on Virgin Atlantic for $935 RT. That’s about 5.87 cents per mile. Last September, I flew OAK-OSL on Norwegian for $490 RT…that’s about 5.29 cents per mile.

    Now, if I were to commute from my home to downtown San Francisco on a luxurious bus, it would cost me about 32 cents per mile, and Golden Gate Transit doesn’t provide checked baggage, food, drinks or blankets, either, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that. If I drove it myself, it would be 50 miles at 50 cents/mile plus bridge toll of $6, so figure about 62 cents a mile, plus parking, and I don’t even want to go there.

    Grow up, people. I get really peeved at PAX who book budget airlines or no-frills tickets and then complain that there is no free food and beverages…IT’S THERE ON THE WEBSITE!

    Air travel today is a privilege, and some folks clearly are undeserving.

  37. Emma says:

    Maybe this is because I am French and do not fly in the US, but in Europe for business (very little) and mostly Asia and mediterranean countries for holidays, but I am absolutely fed up with people complain about the horrors of flying, especially for leisure.

    I really think this is a spoilt kid mentality, flying might not be the most comfortable experience (could be far better if flyers were better behaved) but it is MAGIC ! I mean for half of the minimum wage I can fly from Paris to Bangkok, I leave in the evening in Roissy, and boom, morning in Bangkok. How can you beat this this great thing ? It is only 13 hours of a cramped and sometimes noisy space, but you cross the world !

    But as you say, this does not prevent airports, companies ans other third parties to make it more easy.

  38. ReadyKilowatt says:

    We have met the enemy and he is us. We wanted cheap flights. The industry responded with what we have now. We wanted free flights and upgrades. The industry responded with loyalty programs for heavy users of their service, locking us in for a perceived future value that masks customer dissatisfaction. We wanted to have search engines that sort flights by price alone, so airlines did what they could to show up at the top of the list.

    My main complaint about flying these days is the same as most of what I see happening in the commercial world: binary choices. Either you can pay $99 to fly in cattle class or $1,999 to fly on the same plane in first class. First class isn’t 200% better in any measure, yet the airlines charge us like it is. Now I realize adjusting cabins and seating on a per-flight basis depending on who bought what isn’t possible (but could be), but at least recognize that some of us would be happy to pay $250 for a 2X2 seat configuration, but skip the free drinks and leather. This was supposed to be what “business class” was, but almost no flights have it as an option.

  39. Chas says:

    Have you ever had to sit in economy on a long flight in the 787 Dreamliner? I have (flights of between 7-9 hours)and it’s awful because airlines have chosen to use the 3-3-3 configuration which results in very narrow seats plus the aditional problem of a large IFE box stuck under the seat and restrictng leg room. It might be a technologically advanced aircraft and wonderful for pilots and those in first and/or business class but I can assure you it is not suitable for long-haul flights in economy.
    I travel to Australia regularly to Australia to visit family and one airline (Etihad) uses this aircraft on a flight of 13 hours betwen Abu Dhabi and Brisbane – not for the faint-hearted and I know many people actively avoid long flights with this aircraft.

    • Justin says:

      I’ve been on the Dreamliner for long-haul flights – ANA and United, configured in 2-4-2 and 3-3-3, respectively. I’m 6’2, about 195 pounds. No problems on either flight. I was definitely comfortable, though the retractable footrests on the ANA Dreamliner got in the way a bit.

      Keep in mind, a lot of what we experience as far as seats and room has more to do with how the airline configures the interior rather than anything inherent to the aircraft itself.

  40. Dennis Palmieri says:

    I read your piece in the NYT. I think it’s mostly drivle. I’m sure your statistics and whatnot are well researched and correct, but the idea that you can totally ignore the widespread culture of customer hatred is preposterous. Most consumers are willing to put up with a lot, as long as they believe that someone is trying on their behalf. Clearly that is not the case with air travel (see yesterday’s NYT piece on Wall Street and airlines). While the corporate policies may be beyond most peoples control, personal behavior is not. Arrogance, condescension, rudeness and downright refusal to do a basically good job are the hallmarks of FAs and CSAs. No one forced them into that job, if I were to teat my clients and customers with even a remote approximation of the disdain I am regularly show by airline personnel, well, I wouldn’t have a job anymore. I know as a pilot you could care less what happens back there, but you really should. Watch what happens to many of your jobs when we build high speed rail in CA and beyond. I for one, can’t wait until we see large scale layoffs of airline employees. I doubt sincerely that they will be hired in other industries.

    • Speed says:

      Dennis Palmieri wrote, “I think it’s mostly drivle.”

      Perhaps he meant drivel.

      Dennis further wrote, “I know as a pilot you could care less what happens back there … ”

      From the tone of the rest of his comment I think he meant, ” … you couldn’t care less … ”

      And then he wrote, “Arrogance, condescension, rudeness and downright refusal to do a basically good job are the hallmarks of FAs and CSAs.”

      That has not been my experience. But I, like Dennis, am just one customer.

    • Patrick says:

      The word is “drivel,” Dennis. And it’s not. The points I make about fares, safety, routes, and onboard amenities all are true.

      And, actually, as a pilot — and as a commercial aviation enthusiast my entire life — I very much “care what happens back there”. Meanwhile, if you were at all familiar with my writing over the years, you’d know that I have amply criticized the airlines when that criticism has been due. Poor communications, terrible customer service, lousy onboard products, our miserable airports… I’ve covered that stuff countless times without pulling my punches. All I was saying in the Times piece is that there’s also another side to things, and pointed out a few GOOD things that are seldom acknowledged. You too raise some compelling points. They too are valid; we don’t cancel each other out.

      Where you make me angry, though, is in hoping that me and my colleagues lose our jobs. I spent a long, long time working my way up, and it cost my family tens of thousands of dollars to fund my primary training. On the job, I go out of my way to be decent to customers. I always give passengers honest, accurate information, and it drives me crazy when my colleagues don’t. I put this website together and have spent years writing about the industry, precisely BECAUSE I care. And you “can’t wait” until I’m laid off and can’t find another job? That’s where you cross the line from being critical to being an asshole.

      • ralph boester says:

        Patrick, you need to realize that the web has empowered some less then stellar individuals. While I criticize or clarify your logic of equating fares I do not wish for you to lose your job. Call me old fashioned but having sat up front in a KC97 but in the back of commercial I prefer to know that a human is up there even if she/he is sitting with their hands on their knees watching. I’m in the computer side and while I have a lot of faith in computers I like a warm body watching it all. I believe in Murphy. But what I don’t see from most of the crews today is the involvement that the crews of yester-year had. At CO we would have a flt land late for some reason, the flt crew would pitch in (after load planning, etc duties) and help get the cabin straightened so we could turn and get out faster. Doesn’t happen today. I look at ACARS traffic and think how do we insure that what is sent is what is received. That keeps me awake probably more than anything. Today it is a different society and a different business model to fit that society. I may not like it but it usually gets me from A to C via B if necessary and I am resigned to bringing my own ham sandwich on board. But even at my age I wish they would have some chocolate milk on board….

  41. Paul says:

    Patrick, I really cannot agree with your thesis that flying now is better than ever. On a couple of points – cost, safety and (to a lesser extent) convenience – I think you’re right.

    However the passenger “experience” is vastly inferior to that of a few decades ago. And it largely stems from the attitude of the provider (airline, airport authority, security staff) to the customer. Where once we were treated with a level of respect befitting somebody who was spending hard earned money, we are now treated with disdain. Passengers are an inconvenience to the staff, and don’t they let us know it!

    You can’t separate out the TSA and say that’s a separate issue – it’s all part of the passenger experience.

    I have to say, also, that the American experience seems to be worse than I’ve experienced elsewhere, in Asia, Europe and (especially) Australia, where there is still a semblance of customer service. The rudeness of American airport staff and flight crew is an abiding memory from my first trip to the States back in 2004, and it seems things have not got better since then.

    I think Cycledoc is quite right when he suggests that the pilot (and a few airline execs) should endure cattle class occasionally – it might change your perspective.

  42. Alan says:

    A little off-topic with this one, but much of American politics is driven by the idealization of a past that never really existed. Those guys misbehaving will likely be uttering phrases like “take our country back” and want our currency placed back on the gold standard.

    Check out the mother and daughter in the retro picture in this article. Damn that looks comfortable doesn’t it? (I wonder what kind of plane that was supposed to be.) I am pretty sure that was a first-class accommodation, though. Could you get a picture like that on a modern jetliner today?

    Answer: In Business or First class yes. In coach? Uh, no. The fully reclining American Airlines intercontinental seats are simply amazing and the food they have are way beyond the “steaks” and stuff they used to have.

    One variable that is usually largely ignored. In the 60s and 70s, the average weight of an adult passenger was 25-30 pounds less than it is today. If you want to go back to the good old days start there and see how much the general comfort improves.

  43. Doctor Duck says:

    The issues that you see as peripheral to flying (TSA, infrastructure etc) are to most people part and parcel of the “air travel” experience. Safer, cheaper, faster? Maybe. But add in uncomfortable, annoying, nickel-and-diming and the whole package is definitely much worse that it has ever been.

    • Cycledoc says:

      Fully agree. Suggest that the pilot come on back and sit in economy on a 5-10 flight and follow the poor overworked flight staff on their way up and down the aisle. If this is the golden age then we all are in trouble.

      • BigDaddyJ says:

        I’ve sit in the back plenty of times in the modern era. Look at the people around you when you do. Many of those folks could never have afforded an airline ticket in the 1960s. Ask them which is the golden age: “not flying at all” or “flying.”

        Or, observe that the price of a domestic first/business class ticket today is less than economy from the 1960s. (Really: you can travel JFK-LAX in business for as little as $1,200 roundtrip if you’re willing to be flexible about dates, with fully flat beds; adjusted for inflation that’s very cheap.)

        We tend to glamorize the past, and perhaps it was glamorous, but in practice air travel today is as affordable and as safe as it’s ever been. *AND* if you’re willing to spend a bit more you can get an extra-legroom, or a business class ticket.

        • Emma says:

          I absolutely agree with you on the price thing. I am 47, and flew as soon as I was born to see my family in Corsica (I am from southern France).
          I was in a privileged school and until 1980 was the only one who already took a plane. My grandma offerd all her grandchildren a beautiful trip for high school graduation, I flew to the states at 18 from France. This was absolute privilege, very rare and expensive, I only 2 young adults who had the same luck.
          Now I see kids and students in Bangkok and all around Asia, something absolutely not possible in my 20’s, as the flight now can be 450 € (back and forth).
          So OK it is the cattle wagon, flight attendants can be grumpy (Aeroflot, I think about you !), but is is only 13 hours.
          Think of Afghan of African people piled up in their scorching hot buses (I did that, no other option, I did 36 hours of bus in Himalaya), and the plane is by comparison piece of cake.