The skies are friendly; the passengers are not
Mon, 2008/12/29 - 19:40 by aargh

Over the years I've seen my share of oddities in and around flying machines. I'm also proud to say I haven't experienced anything earth-shattering: neither a crash, nor aborted takeoff, nor mile-high hijinks.

What I had never expected to see, however, was an empty seat in AA's business class. Much less half a cabin of empty seats, and on a long-haul flight, which I saw last week.

Say what you will about the food, the service, or the ancient aircraft, but I have always known AA to go out of their way to fill the premium cabins. That's because they charge for the privilege. While some airlines let you taste high-altitude luxury when there's an empty seat and they like your smile (*cough* United), AA typically demands some mix of miles and money for the boost.

So you see my angle here: it's about the money.

Now AA is quite adept at getting your cash. Like most mainstream large airlines, it employs a fare buckets scheme ("perishable asset revenue management" for those in the know) and a pricing model one can only label Mandelbrotian. Wall Street quants quake in fear...

But 2008 sent the industry scraping for pennies, which is why AA had to create newer and more exciting ways to bite into your credit cards: fuel surcharges, baggage surcharges, and la carte food. Rumour has it pay toilets are in the works.

Juxtapose this against empty lounge chairs in business and you imagine squeezing blood from a turnip into a leaky bucket. It's inefficient and narrow-sighted, which is how polite business people say it's stupid.

American, please take a note from the car rental and hotel industries: fill the expensive cabins. Fill it, fill it, try to convince people to double up if you have to. Upon checkin, offer me the more expensive seat if there's one available. Even if it's at a discount to the existing upgrade price, it's still extra money out of my pocket and into yours.

More importantly, it would give me an option to escape the tossers in coach who pretend they're in business class. Like the person who, on my flight last week, attempted to colonise the entire coach cabin's overhead bins so he wouldn't have to check bags.

(Really, did no one catch him as he tried to board with three large carry-ons?)

So please, the next time you see this person, please manage to lose his bags. Do it for me, and for everyone else who got less than their ticket's worth. Do it to convince him, next time, to pay for a business-class seat.

Your kind passenger,

Sun, 2008/12/07 - 15:54 by aargh

Have a good laugh from The Onion:

"American Airlines Now Charging Fees To Non-Passengers"

At first I smiled. Then I shuddered as I wondered, how close are we to this joke becoming a reality?

(Before you ask: no, I didn't write the piece. I only wish I had ...)

Tue, 2008/11/25 - 23:02 by aargh

Color me vindicated. (VindicAAted, perhaps?)

A while back, I ranted that the airlines' (then-)new fees for checked baggage were a bunch of hogwash.

In this week's The Middle Seat column, Scott McCartney does some digging on that topic. In short, the airlines are screwing you. (No news there.) Given that fuel prices have returned to reality, they're really screwing you. (Still not a shocker.)

What's even more interesting is the airlines' justification for maintaining the fees as a means to pad their pocketbooks. I'm all for capitalism and profits, mind you; just not when people are so namby-pamby in going about it. As passengers are already accustomed to getting stiffed by air fares, why not raise ticket prices $15 here and there? You'd make more money and there wouldn't be nearly so much publicity and sleuthing involved. When the reporters come 'round asking you to justify the numbers, you simply respond, "duh, because profits rule!" and that's the end of it.

McCartney continues to explain that the airlines see this as another chapter in their new book of "a la carte pricing," which any Francophone will tell you translates to "nickel and diming." Again, in the spirit of desperate capitalism, fair enough. But if that's the case I want to see a flat fee for the seat and a breakdown for everything I use. "Seatbelt." "Speak with flight attendant." "Overhead light."

Eventually the bastards will charge for using the loo. I guarantee, when that day comes, food will be free again. And it'll be all salads and prunes.

"What It Costs An Airline to Fly Your Luggage"

Tue, 2008/11/18 - 19:09 by aargh

Based on my last ramble, some of you may ask the simple question: if flying is such a necessary evil in my world, why not just upgrade to first class?

You may as well ask a prisoner why they don't opt for solitary. It's still the same ride, regardless of the change of venue. First class neither arrives faster nor gets less of the turbulence, and when it all hits the fan it's not as though the cabin crew passes out parachutes to the suited set in front.

I will grant you, first is certainly nicer than coach. The airlines aren't exactly shy about pointing this out. (Have you noticed? In many aircraft, you have to pass through first on your way to cattle class. That's not by accident.) There's no such thing as the middle seat. The food is better. -and I'll be damned if the flight attendants aren't nicer and more attractive, which certainly helps when they break out into musical numbers. I know this not because I'm a regular in l'Espace Posh, but because they leave the curtains open so the rest of us can see the whole thing from our four-degree seat reclines.

Well, at least, that's how it works sometimes. Not all first-class voyages are made equal.

To start, some airplanes don't even have a "first class" section. The front cabin is so shoddy that the airline simply calls it "business" to lower your expectations. Seats range from the Emirates Air digital-and-mahogany coccoon to the MD-80 leather recliner with builtin backache technology. (Please don't try this out yourself. At least not on your own dime.) Then there's the food: AA has been a treat, but to be honest it's not that far from my recollections of Air France's coach cuisine. Boeuf Bourguignon, anyone?

Let's not forget the people. You're practically falling over jerks in coach, this is true. But those people are prone to animal behaviour because of their reduced circumstances, it's understandable. First class, on the other hand, has its own breed of bad taste called The Salesman. When they're not barking "sales forcasts" and "profit margins" and "managing client expectations" into their mobile phones, they're trying to get cute with the flight attendants. -or worse yet, with you. I think I'd prefer the courtesy of a feral cat.

Given that, it's tough to see why the airlines charge more for first. No thank you, I'll take coach. At least there, my lower back pains take my mind off the voyage.

Sun, 2008/11/09 - 22:58 by aargh

Don't be surprised when I tell you that I'm not famous. By that I mean, people don't exactly rush to shove a microphone or tape recorder in my face when I speak. If I were, I'm sure one of my oft-quoted lines would be: "I don't like flying. I just like where it takes me." That goes double for long-haul flights, and triple for internationals.

Sometimes it's enought to make me reconsider the trip. Which confuses people who hear me lament what they deem an exotic destination. "But why wouldn't you want to go?" Experienced travelers, we see that 9- or 12-hour flight as a common bond, not unlike a medical affliction. "Dallas to New Dehli? Oh man, that's harsh."

It's not that I fear flying. Quite the contrary. I wholly appreciate the safety statistics of jumbo jets compared to the horseless carriage. Careless SUV drivers reinforce the point as they try to eat, groom, and chat on their mobile phones when behind the wheel. ("Hey, I gotta call you back, I think I just hit some guy.")

No, I just don't like the sense of captivity and the notion that canned sardines get more personal space. About the only nice thing I can say about the long-haul experience is that the airlines still feed you. Mostly because they fear riots at cruising altitude, but they feed you nonetheless.

But really, just what the hell is one supposed to do to pass the time? Sightseeing grows old rather quickly at 35,000 feet: "Look, honey, it's (still) the Atlantic Ocean!" The in-flight movies? About as enthralling as vision charts you see at the eye doctor, only less so. I used to drug myself to sleep, the problem being that I'd then spend two days trying to wake up. Reading? I get jealous knowing that the book's characters have more freedom of movement, even if they are fleeing for their lives... And with this ban on liquids, you can't bring enough booze to get yourself properly sozzled.

When you think about it, everything there is to do on an airplane is to help you forget that you're even there. Which would imply that I'm not the only person who simply wants out.

Heaven forbid the day airlines permit mobile phones in-flight. I would encourage would-be chatterboxes -- I'm talking to you, salesmen -- to invest in very small handsets. Proctologists will find those easier to remove.

It's not all gloom and doom, mind you. I certianly enjoy the camraderie. The sense that we're all in this together, both literally and figuratively. Because in the tin cigar, at least within your cabin class, we're all equally subhuman. Subject to airline food, poor climate control, and bathrooms so small they should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

There's no room in the airplane for prejudices based on ethnic background, hairstyle, political affiliation or even IQ. Long-haul travel squeezes the nonsense right out of us. Mesmerized by our diminished circumstances, all that's left is the respect we give another person simply for being alive.

It was even better before That Day. You know, that patch of history before airlines were antsy about people milling about. You could strike up some wonderful conversations in the back of the hull. We would discuss where we had been, what brought us together, and what we were going to do once we were out. Not unlike cellmates. Except that we all paid to be here.

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