Systematic Failure: The Schizophrenia of Air Travel

Maybe it’s the rose-colored nostalgia of pleasant family memories. Maybe it’s impending middle age. Or maybe, just maybe, I am not as patient as I’d like to think I am…. but I’ve decided air travel has degenerated into little more  than exhausting exercise of getting from Point A to Point B in the most frustrating way possible.

Increased security requirements aside – some of which are bizarre and seem somehow foolish, but ultimately serve to protect us all, what has really turned air travel into a patience test is all of the changing individual airline policies, and the havoc they (inadvertently) unleash.

For example: 

Most airlines now charge you for checking bags.

                The result? Every single person on the plane is cramming everything they can into carry-on bags (some of which are definitely outside the size requirements). On most flights    this now means that unless you are one of the first people on the plane, you are unlikely to find a space in the overhead bins – and will likely have to check your bag. Call me crazy, but doesn’t that sort of put the “whammy” on the whole charge for bags thing?

Most airlines no longer provide pillows or blankets.

                The result? Freeze, sweat, crook your head at a funny angle, try to squeeze something into a carry-on designed as an overnighter that is now just barely holding everything you need for a week vacation, or (my personal favorite) board the plane with wearing a travel pillow around your neck.

Most airlines no longer provide any sort of nourishment to their passengers beyond a limited supply of water, juice or soft drinks.

                The result? Carry your own food and drink, but make sure it can get through security – or purchase after passing through security. Most of the time the airport restaurants are reaping the rewards of these new policies, but some savvy travelers are carrying   collapsible coolers onto the plane with all their favorite snacks packed inside.

Now one airline has announced it will begin charging people for carry-on luggage in August 2010.

And rumors of talk from another — floating the idea of charging passengers to use the bathroom during a flight.

It’s all kind of humorous in a what-is-the-world-coming-to, shrug your shoulders and move on, sort of way until you find yourself on the cross-country flight that feels like it should be a scene in a Coen brothers movie that puts you into your destination 3 hours late (because of a faulty onboard battery switch), in the middle of night, with no available taxis and a hungry gut rumbling like Old Faithful.

The policies are aimed at keeping ticket prices down – or, in the case of the carry-on charge policy, to address the distress of other policies like checked bag charges. Say what?!?

Now I may be alone on this, but all of the above just seems like insanity to me. Personally I’d rather pay $50 or $75 more for the ticket up front, and be able to check my bag, carry a reasonable amount of carry-on and maybe get at least a bag of pretzels on a cross-continental flight.

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One Comment to “Systematic Failure: The Schizophrenia of Air Travel”

  1. Bill Nigh says:

    I used to ply the air routes a lot years ago, and the comparison of those in retrospect halcyon days with today is startling. SO glad I don’t have to do the road warrior (worrier?) thing anymore.

    Thanks for the good article.