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The Monday Rant: Air Wars, Part II

Scott Vogel

Let me see if I've got this straight. Airport security lines are longer than ever, flights are more expensive than ever, planes are more crowded than ever and more often delayed than ever. Meanwhile, a second checked bag costs more, food costs more, legroom costs more. And best of all, after you reluctantly agree to pay premium rates for all the myriad things you used to get for nothing -- they ground the plane anyway.

Yes, it's all too easy to rant about air travel at the moment, but that's not why we're here today. Today is about exacting retribution. Today is about what more the airlines need to do, what extra hoops they need to jump through if they're ever going to convince us to embrace the friendly skies again.

We're not alone. "Unrelated Question" is with us. That's the avatar of a reader who recently posted the following statement to our blog:

Should we expect a fare sale from American after all this mess is said and done? Yeah, they are losing money hand over fist with the canceled flights, but they are also losing customers. Think they will try to woo them back with a nice sale?

Don't hold your breath, UQ. In fact, all signs are pointing to increased airfares in the weeks and months ahead. What to do? You can rant, that's what. You can use this forum as a kind of primal scream therapy, demanding something from these robber barons of the air and venting about everything they've put you and your wallet through. Who knows? Maybe someone, somewhere -- some airline executive maybe? -- will hear your plea. Failing that, at least you'll find company in your misery.

By Scott Vogel |  April 14, 2008; 6:45 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airline Industry , Rants , Scott Vogel
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I want to propose the opposite response. Quit whining about the airlines. There is no one to blame here but the American consumer (yes, me, too). When we shop for flights based solely in price, airlines respond by lowering prices - and slashing everything else as well. Until we're consistently willing to pay an extra $50 for on time flights, decent service, etc., we'll get what we pay for. It's the Wal-Mart-ization of the air. You can't get something for nothing in this life. Deal with it.

Posted by: Dave | April 14, 2008 8:57 AM

Who wants to go to Dallas anyway? Yuck.

So can we assume that the other airlines are all up to date on their inspections - or will there be another wave of cancellations as US, United, Delta, etc all simultaneously inspect half of their fleets?

Posted by: Concerned | April 14, 2008 11:45 AM

Things must be really terrible down in Washington. Around here, I've not had problems with security lines and air fares are actually pretty reasonable. Plus Continental still serves meals. You should look into why air service is so lousy in Washington and consider flying out of a different city.

Posted by: Tom | April 14, 2008 12:09 PM

I disagree - I pay $400 to fly once a month for personal reasons - the airfare has steadily increased in the past two and half years when it was only $275. I fly Continental (and get the "meal" during mealtime), but I don't think that it's too much to expect that the airline is doing preventative maintenance and check-ups on planes so they do not have to ground hundreds of planes over a series of days. While Continental has not gone to these other bizarre service fees, it appears that we are getting less for more as the days go on.

Posted by: Betty | April 14, 2008 2:26 PM

Do I have a choice? No one offers service anymore. Delta used to run flights out west that offered a nice Omaha steak - I always chose that flight. It also matched my scheduled and was comparably priced. But now, I have to pay $8 for a box lunch.

Posted by: Shop By Price | April 14, 2008 2:50 PM

Anyone who chooses to pay what the airlines are charging to fly on trips of 350 or fewer miles each way has got to be a masochist. Come summer season, the masochist distance bumps up to trips of fewer than 500 miles each way.

Posted by: Sasquatch | April 14, 2008 2:53 PM

More and more, my husband and I are glad we decided to road trip to see our families this summer. Because even with the price of gas and our 1,000 mile driving distances, we're still saving money.

We have a "triangle" trip - from the Twin Cities area to upstate NY, upstate NY to the DC area, and back to the Twin Cities.

With my well maintained Nissan Altima, I get about 500 miles or so on a tank of gas for long-haul highway driving. So even with hotel costs for overnight stays on the longer legs of the trip, we're still coming out *way* ahead than if we had booked the flights.

We figure we're not losing much time, either, the way flights are going these days. Especially from upstate NY to DC. By the time we got to the airport, checked in, hung around, actually took off, landed and picked up luggage? The drive would be complete!

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 14, 2008 4:03 PM

You can blame this one on the free market. The government half of you nitwits voted for believes in the fairy tale that the free market can regulate itself, so it cut back on inspections. Guess what? Keeping planes safe costs money, and the passengers will never know the difference. Be thankful it didn't take a jet falling out of the sky for us to learn this lesson.

Posted by: Democrat | April 14, 2008 4:19 PM

Tom- where do you fly from? I believe that most hub airports would report similar waits to DC, as well as most big cities in the rush hours (early morning especially).

Dave is either flying charter or paying extra on the super secret on time good service for more airline, because regardless of how much you are paying you are getting the delays. Even first class doesn't fly on a flight canceled due to previous airline negligence on inspections. I don't complain about extra payment for a second bag, or for having to go without food because it is pay only for a meal that was awful anyway, but overbooking and than bumping people as an intentional business strategy (and yes, a lot of airlines employ this strategy not even secretly)? If I'm not intentionally buying and the airline isn't upfront that my ticket is classified 'standby' then that is not acceptable regardless of what I pay. The airline industry/travel sale websites selling connecting flights with layovers of under 2 hrs (even under 1 hr?)? Who are they kidding?

Posted by: bluemeanies | April 14, 2008 4:28 PM

"I pay $400 to fly once a month for personal reasons - the airfare has steadily increased in the past two and half years when it was only $275..."

I've flown from New York to San Francisco several times a year for more than 25 years. The fare has varied from $200 in early 2002 when nobody was flying to $500 about 10 years ago in 1999 when everybody was flying. Last week I paid $350 which is right in the middle of what I've paid over 25 years.

The flights are much better because they don't allow smoking. 20 years ago, you smelled like an ashtray after a flight. And planes are much more reliable than they used to be. In 1988, I waited six hours while a plane received new parts. I recall other long delays stretching back into the 1970s for mechanical problems.

One thing that hasn't changed is the amount of whining people do, particularly on these ranting boards. The reason babies cry is that they feel slightly less comfortable than they did a few minutes earlier, maybe because of wetness or hunger. I think a few of the people on these boards need to be changed.

Posted by: Tom | April 14, 2008 4:34 PM

Since I asked the question, I'll respond to Concerned. Why do I want to fly American/through Dallas? A couple reasons - primarily because my company flies American and I like to keep my FF miles together. Also, I have been very happy with American's service while I fly on buisness. Then again, we switched from Southwest to American, so there was lots of room for improvement (mostly in boarding - I like having my seat assigned). And finally, I actually like the Dallas airport. I've made 30 minute layovers there (when a flight was delayed). And if you want a breath of fresh air (or have a husband who smokes), it is very easy to step outside and come back in.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 15, 2008 8:56 AM

Will my rant here do any good about getting the airlines to provide good service at a reasonable price? Will my decision to take my summer vacation this year by road rather than by air have any affect on the airlines?
The answer to both questions is "No", but I still feel a lot better by doing both of these.

Posted by: SD | April 15, 2008 9:01 AM

I am now on trip to Ohio. I'm almost hoping that my flights will be cancelled so I can take Amtrak home. It's a wonderful way to travel. So it takes a little longer, there's super comfortable seats, electric plugs at the seats, pleasant scenery (once you're outside of the DC-NY corridor), and a dining car. Plus ,if you're a figure skater off to a skate camp, or a hockey player off to hockey camp, you can keep your skates with you. Ditto for equsetrians with saddles. I've even taken the train from my hometown up to DC, switched to the Metro to DCA, flew to Texas, and did the reverse for the return trip. It was great not to have to battle DC traffic and airport parking. I'm amazed I haven't seen anyone writing about travel by train.

Posted by: babbette | April 15, 2008 9:52 PM

The last time I took Amtrak to New York from DC, I accepted I was buying a ticket on a train to get from point A to point B. The trip was four hours (slightly less than a transcon from California to Dulles), and yet I managed to survive without a free steak dinner or even a free soda. I paid for a seat taking me to where I wanted to go. Why is this concept so very difficult to accept when it comes to air travel? The extras will cost you more, and if you don't want them or need them, then you don't have to pay for it.

Americans refuse to admit that the era of deregulation is over, outraged that the low priced ticket to LA or Miami doesn't include a free meal, the ability to check multiple bags without a fee, or any other special extras.

And as for "robber barrons", what a joke. I doubt the airline employees are lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, since they're already bleeding cash as the results come out of the first quarter. If they were making billions in profits, like the oil companies, there might be a point here. Otherwise, it's a useless rant.

Posted by: kevindca | April 17, 2008 12:37 AM

Babbette of April 15 has the right idea.

I quit flying two years ago....could no longer tolerate TSA procedures/requirements/nonsense. I now travel on Amtrak. Yes, it does take longer. It is a reminder of a time when life was lived more graciously. The employees are cheerful and courteous, the seats are comfortable, decent food is available; one can get up and move around. The changing scenery makes me proud of this big, beautiful country.

We must urge our congressmen to press for a higher priority in the national budget for track and train maintenance. Return the Southern Transcontinental route, (Los Angeles to Miami) which was closed for passenger trains but not to freight, from New Orleans to Miami after Hurricane Katrina; and to add more routes to the system. The numbers of travelers using our trains is steadily growing.

Posted by: Transcontinental traveler | April 17, 2008 1:19 AM

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