Airline Antics

Albuquerque    Anyone who has flown recently knows something about the class divisions that are being strapped into the plane seats with the passengers.  I’m not talking just about the fares.  Almost everything is being tilted towards first class and the creation of various forms of steerage where people are forbidden to bring anything aboard the plane whatsoever.  I use the word “tilt,” advisedly, because increasingly seats in steerage, where most of us sit, don’t tilt at all, but because we’re all squeezed in like sardines and the legroom is measured increasingly in centimeters rather than inches, many flyers may not have noticed, particularly because the cost of flying has not decreased with the service.  Airlines are enjoying record profitability currently.

Passengers have few rights, and, shockingly, it now seems those thin reeds are in danger of being pulled away from us as well as the Department of Transportation (DOT) under Elaine Chao (married to Senate Majority leader, Mitch O’Connell) is supervising a review of many of Obama-era protections.  Much of this examination is behind the ground level fog machine that is being pushed by the airlines over the alleged abuse of flying service animals.  The media eats this up like candy, because the animals run the extend of the menagerie including snakes, turtles and peacocks in addition to the classic, best friend dog.  Part of this is a transparent scam since some passengers are trying to beat the fee for carrying pets by claiming them as comfort and service animals.

Airlines will tighten this down, but the real show is behind the zoo where airlines are lobbying fiercely to get rid of important protections.  The examples include the 24-hour grace period to correct mistakes in booking which is critical.  In the world of on-line booking – which saves airlines money since they are subcontracting reservations and booking to the consumers for free rather than paying for the staff time – errors are routine.  Few of us have not had a leg-slapping, cursing moment when we discovered we had typed the wrong date or misread PM for AM and vice versa.  Don’t say that it’s only me!

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, airlines are also pushing to eliminate penalties for stranding passengers for hours on the tarmac and they don’t want to have honor fares when they make a mistake.  They also want to charge for wheelchair service.  Geez!

Airlines are making billions by nickeling and diming their passengers for food, baggage, and even seat selection, but why should they be allowed to use their customers as their own private runway to more billions by sweet talking the DOT?   Unfortunately for the nation’s millions of flyers, President Trump also once owned an unsuccessful airline.  We’re in trouble now for sure with no clear path to a safe landing.

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Where’s The Fun in Flying?

New Orleans   Don’t get me wrong, travel is a gift, opening up whole worlds, uniting families, and with an open mind and clear eyes, a constant learning experience. Airline travel today is not about consumers, but Wall Street. It’s not for the adventuresome as much as it is for the adaptable.

Reading about the holiday power outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, the busiest in the United States that shut down more than 1000 flights put a sharp edge to what had been nagging me. Having traveled millions of miles in my work over all of these years by land and air, I always make a special note when I return from my “last trip of the year,” when I get home, safe and sound.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t escape my notice that despite the safety of airlines, the actual pleasure of flying is towards the bottom of everyone’s list. It’s not always cheaper, even with so-called discount airlines, and the campers are not happy.

I flew Spirit Airlines to Cleveland. ACORN Canada booked the flight, so wisely they made sure they got the lowest price using Google Flights and buying two one-way tickets. Frugality with the members dues for their part of the ticket was spot on. I’m not a Spirit veteran though, but became one quickly. First, I had to get my boarding pass on line or they informed me I would have to pay $10 at the counter if they had to print it for me. I went on-line, but if you weren’t already registered with Spirit of course that would take some time and trouble as well. After another 20 minutes of delays and marketing when they wanted me to pay some amount to become a member, like this was Sam’s Club or something, it took several tries to print the boarding pass for them to tell me, it just wasn’t printing now, so…good luck.

Then I had to go back online in order to figure out how to pay for the baggage. Canada had paid for what Spirit called a “carry-on,” but there was no definition of what exactly that meant on the website. Yet it was abundantly clearly that if a customer made the mistake of not paying for a checked bag online, it would not just cost an arm, but you would be losing your leg as well. A checked bag was $40, which was actually more than what the ticket’s actual value seemed to be. Only when I got to the airport where they couldn’t have been friendlier at the counter and then to the gate did Spirit make it clear that you had a “personal” item for free and you had a “carry-on,” already paid, so the checked bag was a ripoff. Caveat emptor! I’ll know the next time, if there is one.

And, then in the plane there were five rows bunched, tightly in the front which were filled and some in the back, but vast expanses that were empty. I was in a middle seat, not having chosen to pay more for seat selection, between two big boys, so gladly moved, once the attendant allowed, to the open areas. There you didn’t have seats at all, but sort of benches. The trays were six inches of metal that snapped down. No seat reclines anywhere that I could tell. On the whole it was quite an experience, but friendly people and a nonstop flight to Cleveland is still something.

Airports are now bus stations located in shopping malls. Airlines make some $82 billion for ancillary charges for all of the kinds of things that Spirit for example is specializing in, but American, Delta, and United, as legacy airlines are taking to the cash register as well.

If this is the way their wheels are going to roll up, there needs to be a lot more truth-in-advertising or whatever we might call transparency, though I read in the papers as well that the Trump administration had sided with airline lobbyists and beat back requirements for more clarity and disclosures before purchase.

Away we go!

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