wings of fury
Airplanes were once places of luxury and comfort, complete with gourmet food and plush seating. Those days are long gone, at least for the average traveler. Unless you have tons of money and free time, once you enter the air travel system you are subjected to delays, disappointments, and violations of your privacy and/or personal space. You are forced to place trust in companies and people who might be trying their best, but are doing so in a misguided fashion. In advance, I want to state that I hold no grudge against any airline employee, nor am I complaining about the service I have received. My beef isn't with the people; it's with the the terrible policies and practices of the airlines and the US Government.
Paying extra for “Premium” seating
Why does a standard seat have to be so uncomfortable that people have to pay more for a “Premium” seat? And what makes that “Choice” seat so awesome that it costs extra? Does it have more leg room? Is it closer to the exit, thus improving your chance of surviving a crash? Is there a fart barrier? Face it: If all of the seats in your row are full, no matter where it is in the “coach” or “economy” part of the plane, you are squished like a kid getting her first hug from Grandma. So why price them differently? I am not a large person and I still take up every inch of seat width. Put me next to a middle-aged businessman and we have just made it to first base without even making eye contact or knowing each-other's names. It's ridiculous how we pay hundreds of dollars for transportation and still have to smell one another's deodorant (or lack thereof) and passive aggressively fight over arm rests. Airlines, all of your seats need to be wider. Don't make us pay extra for something we deserve.
Understaffed ticket counters
When a flight is about to leave, why are there no more than three employees working the counter? And why, if I am checking baggage, do I still have to wait in line for a bag tag after using the automated check-in? The airlines who place an agent near the self-check kiosks to hand out tags and answer questions are doing a little better than those who put the computers waaaaaaay far away from the counter and make me find someone to give me luggage stickers. Doesn't the latter defeat the purpose of automated check-in services? My proposal: Put scales next to the kiosks, allowing me to weigh and tag my own luggage, and then when I bring my baggage to the handlers they double-check my work and send me on my way. Massive time saver. Keep those three gate agents handy to take care of special situations, and they'll find that the lines are shorter and people less grumpy as savvy passengers serve themselves through the process and leave the path clear for those truly in need of help.
Checked bag fees
Any normal human needs a bag when traveling, so why make us pay extra? Know what bag fees do? Cause people to try to cheat the system by bringing oversized carry-ons or making their small children haul bags on board planes to comply with the “1 carry-on, 1 personal item” rule. Both scenarios slow down the boarding process, as gate agents try to talk the former into checking their bag and the latter struggle with their heavy burdens. Checked bag fees unfairly victimize families and folks who are taking extended trips (tourists, those traveling to see loved ones, vacationers, etc.) and therefore are a misguided attempt at recouping costs. I say eliminate the checked bag fee. It was a mistake. And the unplanned side effects are money lost in boarding delays, possible law suits over injury caused by by hefting overweight carry-ons into overhead compartments, and a drop in ticket sales as people take their business elsewhere. Like me.
The TSA (not directly part of the airlines, but affects the experience nonetheless)
We all get that we'll have to put our liquids in a certain size baggy and take our shoes off when going through security. Do we really need the constant reminder that the “Threat Level is Orange”? That's an arbitrary color for an ambiguous concept. Before 9-11 I'd never heard about any threat level, and since then I haven't heard of it changing. Let's give “Orange” a break until we have something new to talk about, okay? Also, after x-raying my carry-on, running me through a metal detector, maybe patting me down (including touching me in places only my husband is allowed access to), scanning me with a wand, x-raying my checked bag and possibly opening it to rifle through its contents (if not because something looks suspicious, so you can satisfy a daily quota), how do I feel any safer? In all honesty, I feel more violated and unnerved on a personal level. Ben Franklin said it: “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.” I want to feel free to use the air transport system without fear of being hassled or violated, and of having things stolen from me. Yes, I would be willing to die for that right if the TSA would quit going through my checked baggage without my being present and stop touching me.
I understand that using air transportation is an American! standard now. Even two-hour drives are being replaced by short hops in airplanes. We want to get there fast! Get the trip started! Not waste time on travel! But the system is failing us on so many levels, from destroying a vacation to forcing us to travel in utter discomfort. It's not right! And we need to do something about it!
What do we do?!
Update December 4th, 2008 at 4:45am PST: My Twitter friend, Gary, wrote this great blog post about what it's like to be a dad traveling with family by air. It's a great perspective, and one that makes me feel like it's even more important for the airlines to make things better for kids, much less us grown-ups.