Tuesday, April 25, 2006
We’ll begin boarding with our first class passengers, members of the Frequent Migratory Ducks Club and standing room passengers--I remember when flying was a special experience. Many people got dressed for the flight; stewardesses (that’s what they were called) were all lovely young women with actual smiles; the food came in plates with silverware and despite comedian jokes was actually edible, and the seats were comfortable with plenty of leg room. Fares were reasonable and controlled. I remember one flight going to college on a DC-7 (yes, I’m that old), with a gin and tonic in hand, watching the sun set on the cloud tops thinking this was a terrific way to travel. You don’t need me to tell you those days are long gone. Now an article in the New York Times points out that--and this is going to be hard to believe--things are about to get worse. [Click headline or here]
With the exception of the CD industry, no industry in America does more to piss off the very customers it needs most than the airlines. They are now getting paid back for the abuses they piled on their best customers before 9/11. And they have learned nothing. Nothing! It’s getting worse. Northwest now charges extra for an aisle seat.
Now comes news that having crammed as many humans into their flying tubes as they could, they now have found ways of jamming in even more. Are you ready for standing room? Airbus is thinking about a section on the new planes where you would stand, strapped to a back board in the rear of the plane. It does not necessarily violate safety rules and would only be used for short flights, say island hopping in Japan. So far, Japanese airlines are cool to the idea. I should hope so.
Currently, the pitch--the space between the front of one seat and the back of another--commonly is 31 inches, which means, if you have long legs, crossing them is out of the question. Some rows on some airlines are even down to 30, and American Airlines, which once advertised more legroom in its coach sections, has piled them back in. Newer, thinner seats which could be used to increase leg room are being used instead to steal another inch from each passenger.
New planes aren’t going to be the answer. Boeing’s upcoming 787, was designed for eight rows across two aisles. At least half the airlines ordering the plane have asked for nine across. The giant Airbus 380 (500-passengers, double-decked), has generated stories that it would have bars, beauty parlors and shopping malls on board. Nonsense. The airlines will fill every square inch with seats.
We can go into the economics of airlines some other time. The fact is, you and I are partially responsible for this. We will fly with whoever has the lowest fares, even if those fares lose money for the airlines, drive their planes to turning them into sardine cans with wings, and accept terrible service. I stopped flying the worst abusers (Northwest and Delta). You can’t have rock bottom fares and good service. It doesn’t work that way. What’s the difference between flying from New York to Chicago and taking a Greyhound? The Greyhound is more comfortable. It just takes longer
And someday we’ll discuss deregulation, malicious mischief disguised as public service. And of course, really fat passengers in coach. Bring back the CAB!