Airlines: What the Hell Happened to the Joy of Flying?

Since moving to Atlanta, pricing airlines from a major hub has me stoked. It’s exceptionally better than ALWAYS including a connector airport. Tickets cost far more than necessary for the 2 hours to Atlanta or NYC (looking at you, Jackson “International”). As I’ve started pricing flights, I’ve come to realize the flight itself is what I’m going to dread the most. That should never be the case, as I don’t have fears or anxieties over flying. Yet here we are.

Over the past few months, we’ve flirted with the idea of another trip outside of the USA. My husband knows how much I love researching potential excursions and restaurants. I’m so odd – I have fun doing comparison shopping for nearly anything. I often create little Excel sheets and everything. Unfortunately, the airline industry subjected us to so many negative experiences over the years, it’s difficult to be excited anymore.

On top of pricing our newest adventure, my older brother gifted his wife an anniversary getaway to the Bahamas this year. During the conversation, my sister-in-law mentions how excited she is to finally take her first flight. And all I could think was, “Oh god, no!”

My negative attitude regarding her first flight isn’t out of my own fear of flying or anything. It’s just… from a young age, we grow up watching these movies where they romanticize the notion of flying. Everyone in the movies has proper legroom. Passengers receive actual meals on even the short flights just because it’s lunchtime. And gasp! Even to the cheapest fares, the width of the seats is respectable. Additionally, you can check a bag without paying extra even if you’re in the least expensive seats on the plane. You know, a far cry from today. If sister-in-law doesn’t do her homework, her first flight ever will be devastatingly disappointing.

Interior view of United Airlines of Seats

Lying About Legroom and The Big Squeeze

Look, I’m 5’9″. I have a tremendous amount of trouble with legroom in planes. I generally fly Delta and basic main cabin seats are horrific for me. My knees touch the back of the seat in front of me. If I re-position myself in any way, I inevitably end up disturbing the person I sit behind. I really hate when I do that! Seriously, I get anxiety from unintentionally annoying other people. It’s a thousand times worse when I’m in a tin can in the sky.

My legs crunch down in the event of the passenger reclining in front of me. Consequently, I’m stuck disturbing them. Or I have to do that stupid knees-to-chest thing because I can’t find a better, comfortable option. And then, at this point, I’m sure they think I’m being spiteful because they opted to recline. I promise you, I am not a vindictive person.

There’s also a good chance that I’m going to know if they washed their hair that day. A horrible side effect of minimal distance between the end of my seat and the seat in front of me. That’s before the seat has reclined!

Why allow a reclining option at all? What’s the point if the airlines won’t standardize an extra 3 inches of space between each row of seats? Side-eyeing British Airways: removing the reclining option wasn’t a suggestion!

Airlines Have a Diminishing Seat Pitch Problem

I was shopping around for other viable airline options since Delta is getting stingier in terms of passenger space. During my research, I was reviewing Norwegian Air for potential transcontinental flights. I know nearly nothing about this particular airline but their website gave me a light bulb moment. They had a diagram of their seats, with a dotted line starting at the very back of the chair. You know, where your butt is usually located? The dotted line continues downward at a diagonal slant. This is what they refer to as “Seat Pitch,” in case you were wondering.

Unless you also suffer a case of Noassatall Disease, that’s 3-5 inches of supposed legroom your butt is selfishly hoarding. So now, realistically, we airline passengers only really get 27 inches of legroom. The kicker here is that airlines are still inflating space available furthermore by including the space of the seat. There’s not a lot that human legs can do in this particular space except exist. All the action happens below the knee.

Modern Evolution of Human Height and the Airline Industry’s Disdain for It

According to Scientific American, the human race has been getting taller. Over the last 150 years, we as a species have grown 4 inches. Although, studies suggest the general population won’t surpass the height of Shaquille O’Neal at 7’1″. That’s quite a huge leap from an evolutionary standpoint in that short time span! The airline industry is continuously skimming down our legroom as if the human race is regressing into smaller statures. Guess what? We’re not! At least, not anytime soon.

Hasn’t enough time passed to notice trends in height increases of their clientele? Was it a repeated oversight? Doubtful. Airlines aren’t truly interested at all in what passengers want out of the experience. They say they provide optimum passenger experience. The general opinion of guests proves otherwise. How would the airlines create a lasting, positive impression of their company on the minds of their travelers? They would take notes on our increases in size over time since they decided to become a passenger plane service.

Airlines: Dark storm clouds with bright sunshine opening and airplane landing

Government Interference May Be Necessary

You’d think the Big Three Airlines would allow seat pitch to remain the same as it was in 1985. Instead, they are punishing their customers for evolving into a taller species. The same ones that give them BILLIONS of dollars each and every year The very ones that keep their businesses afloat and the wallets lined with millions each year for their head honchos.

As mentioned in USA Today, in 1985 the Economy Class seat pitch hovered around 32 inches on average. Of course, United Airlines would win my money every single time with their standard legroom being 32-36 inches. I can only fantasize what “Premium” Economy would be like as far as seat pitch was concerned.

However, Doug Gollan suggests it may require new regulations placed by the federal government to get any traction. Personally speaking, I’m here for that. The customers are the lowest priority for airlines. The proof is in the countless articles by people more elegant than I, with a much larger readership, not being heard by this industry. This must change.

Seat Pitch Reduction Hits First Class at American Airlines

Strangely enough, American Airlines is even going after their First Class passengers with the Boeing 737 MAX. In this particular aircraft, First Class seat pitch is only 37 inches. That’s actually 3 inches less than riding on a front row Economy seat on Virgin Atlantic. How on earth does economy have more legroom than First Class? What the actual hell are the leaders at American Airlines thinking?

Not much as it turns out. Probably not all that surprising, Doug Parker, American’s CEO who pushed for this type of nightmarish plane, has not actually stepped foot onto one. I’m pretty sure Boeing named these particular 737’s for their MAXimum Potential but American is redefining it as MAXimum Torture.

Make Airline Decision-Makers Experience Basic Economy First Hand

Can we force Doug Parker into riding in the “Basic Economy” seats of American’s version of the Max? Let’s extend that experience to any other bigwigs of the airline industry looking to follow suit. And not just a quick shot of 2 hours. No, those people should do a 6-hour tour. On a packed plane, no less.

If American’s Boeing Max turn into a transcontinental aircraft, make them do that as well. How well will they handle being squished against a stranger? Will they enjoy the lack of screens for in-flight entertainment and ill-placed outlets; both issues found at all levels?

Hope they enjoy that 24 inches of bathroom space with the ill-designed sink. Too bad they don’t have a young child that needs help going to the bathroom. Let them see how “easy” it is to clean tiny humans in a 24-inch square afterward. Clearly, neither parents nor people with disabilities were part of the design process either.

Airlines: Bathroom Faucet with pouring water

Corporate Greed and The Sardines

On top of growing taller, we are also getting wider. I know – we have all heard this every single day for the past decade or so. This isn’t news to any of us anymore. Except, for maybe – you guessed it – the airline industry. From airplane manufacturers to the airlines that purchase them, they vehemently ignore it all. When even Business Insider declares “Fat the New Normal,” one would expect a few of the industry leaders to acknowledge this and work to accommodate the majority of its passengers.

It’s no longer the marginalized 400-pound people riding on rechargeable scooters pleading for accommodations. Overweight people aren’t simply “lazy snowflakes expecting businesses to cater to them.” In an article on Washington Post, it was reported that 56% of Americans were either overweight or obese back in 1990.

Think about that – 28 years ago, the majority of Americans were already overweight. We’re well into our 2nd generation of an overweight population. Furthermore, it stated that as of 2016, 7 out of 10 people in America are in the overweight/obese categories. Additionally, the WaPo article echoed the same sentiments of Business Insider on the new weight norms. It quoted physician and sociologist for Yale University, Nicholas Christakis, “What seems to be happening is a resetting of norms.”

The Airline Industry Refuses to Acknowledge the Overweight

Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying we shouldn’t improve our health and increase our activity levels. However, while we’re waiting on our collective population to stick to those New Year’s Resolutions, American-based airlines have to change.

The travel industry should adjust to the new market instead of expecting the market to accommodate the business. Considering Millenials shake things up across the board, it’s time airlines get with the program before it’s too late.

Instead, we have airlines like American buying Boeing 737-800 airplanes with exceptionally smaller seat widths. Seriously, these particular planes have a seat width of 15 inches in the main cabin. My own shoulder width is 18 inches. I’ll be touching you whether or not either one of us wants it. Spoiler Alert: I never do.

Is American Airlines expecting a surplus of pre-teens to travel the planet without adults? Is it possible pre-teens receive payment under the table to run all the major businesses of the world? What’s going on here?

We all know what’s going on here. These airlines think of us only as cattle, shipped out to their new locations. Apparently, we don’t deserve a modicum of comfort, nor basic respect if we can’t afford the “Premium Economy” seats. Unfortunately, those “upgraded” spots only get us the most basic of modern needs. For instance, the airlines created barely better legroom and maybe added USB ports, though seat width is still an issue.

Safety Concerns in Overall Space Reductions per Passenger

Between seat pitch reductions becoming more prevalent, slimline seats taking over the world of flight, and seeing more people per row (think 11 per row), should passengers demand more government interference? Not because we’re all uncomfortable. No, because it’s on the verge of an absolute safety catastrophe.

I’ve experienced seating in the very back of several planes over the years. I don’t even bother getting up when we reach the gate. On a good day, it’s going to be 20 minutes before the aisle has cleared enough to get my small bag above my head. While I’m hoping people won’t retrieve their carry-ons during a real emergency, people don’t think clearly. Is it likely that we’d survive in such close quarters?

Minimal room for movement + mass hysterics of 400 overweight people in the main cabin = airline’s fault of increased unnecessary casualties.

Main Cabin Dining

Although seat pitch and widths are major issues for me, let’s also take a moment to talk about food. I love talking food. I love trying out new recipes. I have as many food boards as I do travel boards on Pinterest. Seriously, check out my boards and follow me!

That said, the food on airlines lack any real flavor. In BBC’s article, “Why Does Food Taste Different on Planes?” explains it’s not the entire fault of airlines’ catering department. High pressure and 12% humidity wreak havoc on our sinuses, drying out necessary nasal mucus required for enjoying a meal. I know – eww. If we can’t smell it, we can’t really taste it.

Despite a lack of nasal mucus, airlines can still make efforts to improve the flavors. Can we get a catering chef from South America to create spiced up recipes and develop a new menu? At this point, I’ll take some Mrs. Dash Jamaican Jerk seasoning on those nearly rubbery chicken breasts.

Airlines; Flavorless Airline Chicken Meal

Airlines Provide Flight Simulators to Make Better Food for the “Better” Cabins

From what I gather, Business and First Class seats have a much better dining experience. It’s not just the better flatware and plate presentations. It’s actually getting the food to taste like someone knew what they were doing. I’m not saying that I need a New York strip and loaded potatoes (or whatever they serve above Main Cabin). I’m spending $600-$1200 on a main cabin transcontinental flight. Allowing the “luxury” of proper spicing for Main Cabin passengers should be standard.

The airline industry uses flight simulators, complete with engine vibrations and background noise. They even create low-pressure environments. Airlines can spend money on flight simulators to make sure upper-class cabins receive decent food. Why can’t they also test our plate of chicken?

Airlines: Colorful vintage hardtop suitcases

Checked Bags

Oh checked bags. The bane of every passenger’s existence. How we loathe thee. Alright, maybe not the luggage itself, but definitely some of the wonky issues airlines have conjured up for us. Skift’s article on Bag Fees is essentially the inspiration behind this entire post against the airline industry.

Over the past decade, the airlines have stripped away the absolute basics from the seat fare. No longer is it a packaged deal of ticket, bags, and refreshments. Everything is a la carte now. In the grand days of restaurants, a la carte was a luxury experience. Airlines have morphed the idea into this unlovable situation. Completely divorced from already expensive flight fare.

We’re still paying hefty fares for economy seats. Many major journalistic writers tout economy seats being wonderfully fair, but for those of us who don’t have an employer to pay for their flights, it’s a different story.

The Financially Vulnerable Penalized for Lack of Wealth

For instance, take minimum wage earners (which out of 10, 9 of them are adults). Making $7.25 an hour means they only make a little over $15,000 yearly. Before taxes! Their salary’s a BIG IF, considering most companies don’t like to give their employees a full 40 hours a week. Well, that’s been my experience anyway. It seems especially true when working for the ones who provide almost exclusively minimum wage positions.

From a minimum wage earner’s perspective, you have to work a whole lot to afford Basic Economy. Detestably, Basic Economy does not allow carry-on luggage. Assume you will be paying through the nose for every basic need when it comes to flying.

Expanding on the topic, I’m going to pick on Delta Airlines for a moment. I went to their site and tested a flight’s fares. Let’s say a person lives in Atlanta but has family in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Where it’s just too far for a road trip to spend two days with the family. I did a lowest-fare search. Departing flight is Monday, April 14 and returns on Wednesday, April 16th. I didn’t worry about the time, just whichever was the least expensive. Since I was discussing Basic Economy, that’s the airfare I went with.

Airlines: Low Wage Earners must save everything

Minimum Wage Earners Must Save Up Nearly 2 Months for Basic Economy

Turns out, you can get a no-frills and no-luggage airfare from Delta for $308 roundtrip. For just one person. Now, take into consideration of how much it takes for a minimum wage earner gets weekly. $7.25 x 40 hours = $290 before taxes. Also, remember that minimum wage positions are usually less than 32 hours a week.

More than likely, it would take a minimum of two weeks of pay to buy that basic economy fare. Realistically, let’s say three weeks. Three weeks is just the amount of time dedicated to putting 100% of the paycheck aside for airfare. What minimum wage worker do you know that has the ability to do that?

They’re regular people with electricity and water bills, maybe even a kid, and are desperately trying to make ends meet. Let’s go ahead and extend the time to six weeks. Six weeks just to step on board a plane. For one person. Needless to say, it’s not very economical for many.

Now it’s another slap in the face when they have to save up an additional $50 just to bring a bag round trip. Because airline gods forbid basic economy people can have a carryon. This is especially true for those who remember flying before the dismantling of the plane ticket.

How the Airline Industry Can Make Us Fall in Love with Them All Over Again

For all my bitchin’ and moanin’ I’ve done, it’s probably high time I offer some beginning solutions. If you, by chance, are someone with authority and decision making power within any airline, please read everything here. There is a grand opportunity to become the first airline in decades to legitimately consider all their customers.

Don’t Overlook Expanding Seat Pitches and Seat Widths

Obviously, first and foremost, fix that ridiculous seat pitch and width in the Main Cabin. Everyone I’ve come across over the years, this is by far the biggest gripe. I highly doubt this hasn’t been directly mentioned in customer feedback before.

Again, we’re getting taller as well as wider (see the previously written sections above). The airline industry has a duty to adjust to the market. That’s the basics of business. The market is the customers. Customers owe absolutely nothing to the airline industry. Therefore, why do airlines believe we do?

Take Exceptional Care of Equipment Belonging to People with Disabilities

Secondly, people with disabilities are still people. Why does this seem to be news to the airline industry? As I have mentioned in “A Promise to My Readers,” I am an ally to people with special needs. Can they expect their specialized mobility equipment still working as it was before it went to the cargo area? They pay hundreds or even thousands to just have their only mode of independent mobility ruined by the airline industry.

Instead of childishly pointing fingers at airport personnel, just say “This should have never have happened to you. We offer our deepest apologies. Regardless of who is at fault, we will make this right. We will provide a temporary replacement until yours can be fixed in a timely manner.” This is especially important since travel insurance, unfortunately, doesn’t cover it.

Provide Extensive Training for All Airline and Airport Personnel

I’m not saying keep a large assortment of transportation vehicles handy for those who need highly specialized wheelchairs. That’s a “perfect world” scenario. Just have a local number on hand and get it to the airport immediately. Perhaps if this happened often enough, airline and airport crews both would be properly trained in dealing with medical equipment.

Sylvia Longmire, over at Spin the Globe, believes the airline industry is definitely ignoring wheelchair users. Turns out, she’s not wrong. Nearly twenty-eight thousand formal complaints to the Department of Transportation were made regarding damage to these items in 2016 alone. Her quick read is quite eye-opening and informational on matters regarding wheelchair users and the horrid, complicated relationships with airlines.

Perhaps a refresher course for ALL airline personnel is in order? Baggage handlers, check-in attendants, gate agents, and flight attendants need this. Honestly, management and upwards need to get their hands dirty and relearn this as well. Echoing the thoughts of Ms. Longmire, merely giving extra reward miles simply won’t cut it. Who wants to risk yet another bout of damage to their expensive, absolutely necessary wheelchairs and other equipment? If the passengers are left footing the bill, how can a handful of reward miles make up for the damage?

Let Basic Economy Passengers Book their Exact Seats

Look, I get it. Basic Economy is nobody’s favorite spot. However, the basic economy section seems to be generally located in the very back of the plane, right? Airlines routinely make sure we know we’re no better than the Third Class Irish on the Titanic. I’m convinced it’s their favorite hobby. Even so, why is it no longer still possible sitting with your family or traveling companion?

Why must flight attendants waste time on begging for passengers to volunteer a seat switch? The answer’s clear: a “no option” option is a downright plight for everyone on the frontlines between airline and passenger. Separating a child from its parent creates an undue anxiety for both parent and child. How is this a good plan for the airlines who operate this way?

Such an odd, unnecessary unbundling of the airfare. Absolutely absurd.

Airlines: Airline taking off at night on a lit runway

A Final Note for the Airlines

There’s such an extraordinary opportunity for airlines here. You can’t see the forest because of all the trees. I will swear allegiance to the first major airline company that implements these pain point improvements for their passengers.

It’s understandable to have a major focus on government regulations. It’s also understandable you want to keep your shareholders happy. Maybe if you point out that increasing customer happiness increases the more profits you’ll reap, those shareholders will stop griping.

We know airline companies buying new planes in the past few years received discounts up to 64% on each one. It is time you extend the olive branch to your customers. Saving so much money in these ways should still provide true benefits to the passengers.

Do Right by Your Customers

If I get a 33-inch pitch in Economy or 35 inches in Premium Economy, you’ll pique my interest. Give us back a better seat width of 18 inches, even in basic economy. You will be indicating to the world that you’re listening to them. Maybe that you came to the realization that more personal space results in less in-air altercations. Show you might actually be worth the money we part with when you provide both on the same plane.

Do right by the people with disabilities, you’ll gain incredible amounts of respect from me. Millions more will be impressed with your attempt at excellence. Even if you obnoxiously shout it from the rooftops on every channel, respect and admiration will be there.

Keep people with disabilities and families in mind when you decide where to cut down on space. The toilet sure as hell isn’t it. If your bathroom is so small that your sink has to be designed to be barely large enough for one hand to go under the faucet, you’re doing it wrong. Also, please make sure you install those baby changing tables. Seriously, I don’t know how parents manage.

Getting flavorful food in coach says you actually give a damn about the experience of the average person. You might actually find me believing in the whole “it’s about the experience” bullshit. Honestly, though, this is the least important one, so don’t put all your stock into this idea. Please.

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Airlines Killed the Joy of Flying Airlines: Grounded Airline aircraft in peach sunset Airlines: Airplane Window above Mountains

2 thoughts on “Airlines: What the Hell Happened to the Joy of Flying?

  1. I quite understand it,but its ,unfortunately,very unrealistic.First you have to see it(wether you like it or not)the whole thing from the airlines point:high and shifting petrol prices for the last 17 years,the cost of maintenance (everything from a sandwich to a reactor in the industry is up sky rocketing.This doesnt excuse everything,bit one has to consider it.When you fly ,ten percent of the ticket is catering,you know?what airlines should do (european ones do)is choose their caterer better.Then as to space,thats the most expensive item together with weight in an airline.You talk about low payed people…but what has happened in the last twenty years!for the first time airlines have a huge amount of not so rich people flying non stop….them!people nowadays fly because of jobs having gone global.You have people who live in Brasil workink in Europe,Indians working in USA,etc They all save to visit their own country ,and they cant care much about the flight conditions,all they want is to get there!I agree(from experience)american airlines are among the worst in the world.They (aparently dont care a lot.I once took a flight from S,Fraciisco to Los Angeles and didnt even get a glass of water or a coffee.Well,in the fifties and even up to the seventies you could fly with pleasure,but right now its another world.If you want to fly without to much pain,you have to choose carefully,and you shall have to buy business class.Its an industry,and not as rentable as people think!

    1. Comment reply:

      Sorry for the delayed reply, Carolina! I had a technical goof on my end and deleted it! I even mentioned my muck up on Twitter, lol! Needless to say, this time around my response won’t be as eloquent as the original.

      Anyway, I know there are tons of complexities regarding the airline industry. I also acknowledge I don’t know nearly enough about it. That being said, I stand by my choice to voice annoyances and concerns of the average people. But it’s only impossible to implement some of these suggestions if us customers keep lying down and getting whipped into submission.

      Simply paying extra for better seating is an absolute privilege that so many of us don’t have the luxury of doing. If you’re able to do it, that is absolutely fantastic. However, the point is airlines need to keep their newer market in mind. Even you said that the major change in that past 20 years is the lower wage earners starting to fly more. Shouldn’t they innovate their business strategy to handle that without killing the customer experience? Basically, my issue is the outright hypocrisy of our Big 3 Airlines making a focus on passenger experience in their advertisements while real-time experience is far worse.

      Perhaps the airline industry could thrive better by choosing to niche down. In the business and blogging world, everyone is constantly told to niche down. Because what happens when your target audience default is ALL? There’s far too much dissatisfaction due to a lack of target strategy. Maybe the Big 3 should consider that option. If they’re actually losing money as is claimed by many within the industry, they may fare better by only catering to a specific market.

      I mean, we already have private charters for the well-to-do, right? That’s definitely a niche within the airline industry. Is it so far-fetched an idea to have Delta, United, and American Airlines focus solely on First Class like they obviously would prefer to do? Let them loosen the reigns on dominating the US. They clearly don’t want to concern themselves with people not in Business Class or better. So why not let them only have First Class (and maybe Business Class) cabins? Sure it’s different. I suspect they won’t do it because they’re scared they’ll have to actually use their money to find out how to compete again after decades of doing nothing. One can hope they will, though.

      However, this could allow smaller airlines like Frontier, Southwest, and a smattering of others actually compete for customers and gain a better foothold in the global industry. Let’s bring back airline competition again. When you have the “Big 3” like we do here in the states, it’s ultimately still a monopoly. They only have to make minor tweaks in campaigns but nothing in customer experience because we all have to fly. It’s not good for the people and I think the FAA should step in about that.

      I’ve rambled on so much that I think I’ll stop here, Carolina. I do appreciate your input. To be honest, I expected someone to argue in favor of the airline industry by using the “high prices everywhere” tactic. So I wasn’t put off in the least by it. It’s definitely a worthy argument but it shouldn’t be the only reason we allow airlines to treat us so poorly. Again, it’s not impossible – just improbable since the people aren’t putting the necessary pressure on major airlines and the government’s FAA to act accordingly. So I get it.

      Thanks again for popping by!

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