Greetings fellow travelers.
There is no product or service I consume less willingly than air travel. Expensive, inconvenient, uncomfortable, unreliable – and that's when the airlines are having a good day. Particularly flying anywhere to or through a U.S. airport means you’re on a visit to one of the modern circles of hell.
I flew for decades all over the world for business. I flew with my family for vacations many times. Never once was the worst part of any trip something other than the airlines. And the worst of them all, no contest, are domestic connections within the U.S. I don't know why this is so or what it says about America. But I don't like it. It's embarrassing as an American that our airlines suck so badly, and we either don't mind or can't do anything about it.
Yes, yes, I know most flights go perfectly well, and most fliers have no problems. That’s one reason we keep coming back to fly. Maybe this time will be one of the good times. Probably it will. But in the past 25 years, airlines have steadily made almost everything about flying worse:
- Come to the airport two hours early, no make that three hours, because we can’t tell you whether it will take 15 minutes or 90 minutes to get through security. To watch TSA in action is to see the delight that young children experience in their earliest days of school. Always something new and unexpected they've never seen before; let's call everything to a halt while we point and wonder.
- You emerge from your simultaneously ineffective and dehumanizing security check only to enter a terminal that was last renovated in, oh, the 1970s. No one needed an electrical outlet then, so why would you possibly want one now?
- That lounge you were once so eager to get into is no longer an oasis of calm. Now it’s just a sad concentration of people desperate to get something positive from the whole sordid waste of their day. Is salvation to be found in yet another soda, some stale cookies, and brightly colored cheese chunks? All accompanied by people who think carrying on one-sided cell phone conversations is a great way to entertain their fellow travelers.
- You leave the lounge to get to your gate with plenty of time to spare, but don't sit back and relax! Your gate will probably change, maybe once, maybe twice. The exercise is good for you, don't you know.
- Boarding time at last but take it easy there, partner. Just about everyone is called to board before you: the old, the young, the infirm, those needing special assistance, active military (and thank you for your service), airline credit card holders, frequent fliers, business seat holders, and those bastards who board ahead of their group and get away with it. With what seems to be the entire terminal safely invited to board before you, is it really necessary to have nine further numbered boarding groups?
- On the plane you partake in the mad rush to cram too many bags into too few bins. Why does everyone carry so much, and why do they refuse to check it? Well, a checked bag costs money and, worse, costs you time. Who knows if you'll ever see your bag again, and how long you'll wait to get it. So there is the rush to board, the dance to fill bins, and don't be too smug if you're on early and your bag is safely overhead. Inevitably some fool arriving late will see if they can't just CRUSH their bag into place on top of yours.
- Although passengers are demonstrably larger than ever, your seat is tinier, and your legroom is an insult to the word. The cabin itself looks like it was new around the same time the terminal was unveiled.
- Your flight attendant was young at that time too. Now working well past the time they thought they'd be enjoying a beach somewhere, their jaded eyes reveal nothing good: indifference (if you're lucky), smoldering resentment at the unfairness of it all, or contempt for the unruly unwashed. `Scuze us for breathing.
About the only thing that's gotten objectively better is that airlines kill fewer passengers than they used to. That said, the experience is so thoroughly miserable it can make us wish for the good old days when a fiery death was possible.
Hey airlines, newsflash: we only fly when we have absolutely no alternative. You make the U.S. Postal Service look well run. Your facilities make Amtrak look glamorous. Your excuses make politicians come across as honest. When people seriously consider driving 18 hours to get someplace because it might well be quicker than flying, you are not doing a good job.
Treating your customers like crap because you can’t do any better is both sad and a terrible business model. Treating us poorly deliberately so you can upsell us lounge access, early boarding, and more expensive seats is downright evil.