Americans Hate Flying - Consultants Must Really Loathe It

Americans Hate Flying - Consultants Must Really Loathe It

Summary: Can't We Have a More Civilized Flying World?cSeveral media outlets picked up on a study released by the Travel Industry Association last week that indicated that 41 million Americans are forgoing air travel due to the hassles involved in doing so today.

TOPICS: Security, Mobility

Can't We Have a More Civilized Flying World?

Southwest Airlines home pagec

Several media outlets picked up on a study released by the Travel Industry Association last week that indicated that 41 million Americans are forgoing air travel due to the hassles involved in doing so today.

If the average American is fed up, I and other consultants must really be fried.

Recently, Southwest Airlines has run advertising mocking the penny-ante actions of competitors who are nickel and diming flyers to death. I think they've done a great job of identifying where a lot of the frustration is coming from. Just look at their home page.

I've got almost 3 million miles on American Airlines and I really appreciate any little extras they throw my way as I know how bad things have gotten on other carriers. These days, I fly either American or Southwest unless I have no other choice. I really appreciate those clients who give me enough lead time to book either of these carriers as flying on a carrier with no status is a real downer.

When I fly today, I sense that someone is trying to pick my pocket for the duration of the pre- and post- flight experience. My favorite pet peeves in flying these days include:

- charging flyers for a soft drink - This is criminal. We can't bring a drink through security and some airports charge usurious rates for food and beverages purchased after security. Why don't you just take my wallet during check-in and be done with it. - charging extra to sit a bit more forward in the aircraft - The logic of this apparent but it still feels like the airline is mocking me. It's like they're saying "We sucked you in with a competitive fare and now we are going to make your life miserable unless you give us some more money. Pay up or we're putting you in the tail of the plane right in front of the lavatory in the row whose seats won't recline". - charging for in-flight entertainment - I use the word 'entertainment' loosely as most of the junk they air includes infomercials, really old sitcoms I wouldn't watch before the series was mercifully cancelled or an excerpt from that day's early morning gabfest show. Worse, they prematurely cut off the show well before the 'entertainment' has completed so you don't get your money's worth. That material is only slightly better than the crying babies on the planes with absolutely no on-board entertainment.

No discussion of flying of late would be complete without a quick closing comment on flying to my least favorite destination: Orlando. Here's an airport without a clue how to move people through the TSA security quickly. This is a destination where you absolutely can't miss your scheduled flight as every flight there is oversold and under-sized. That also means you'll never get a upgrade or fly standby at an earlier hour. Please software vendors, can you book your user conferences somewhere else? Please!!!

Well, I need to put up my laptop. The person in front of me has just cranked back their seat into my face. I can't see my laptop anymore as I will need to study the top of their head. Let's see if they'd like to get acquainted with my knees....

Topics: Security, Mobility


Brian is currently CEO of TechVentive, a strategy consultancy serving technology providers and other firms. He is also a research analyst with Vital Analysis.

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  • Delta doesn't seem all that bad...

    ...but maybe it's just in comparison with US Airways which held the franchise at the local airport just before them. They'll even let you bring food on the plane, and they have a real live flight attendant on the flight from Cedar City to Salt Lake.
    John L. Ries
    • Delta nickel and dimes you too

      I live in Atlanta, which means you practically have to fly Delta. They don't charge you for soda, but if you fly less than 2 hours you normally won't get a soda - only juice or water. When you ask why they will tell you that they don't have time to open the soda cans. Don't bother to reply that you are fine taking the whole can of soda as they will simply laugh at you.

      They also charge for little things like a second checked bag or $5 for a 99-cent pair of headphones to listen to their crappy "entertainment" with.

      Honestly, though, I'm not sure they are any worse than the others. As someone who travels for a living I could go on for hours about ways the airlines could improve, but it appears they aren't interested in that so why bother. I just choose not to fly if I can help it unless my company is paying for it.
      • Interesting

        I actually got both drinks and snack on the short hop from Cedar City to Salt Lake, and the longer one from Salt Lake to San Diego (this was this past Saturday). I already own a headset, so I don't need to buy or rent another and I'd rather read a book most of the time.

        Still better than US Airways, which is dreadful.
        John L. Ries
    • I disagree

      Worst flying experience of my life was on Delta. My initial flight was cancelled. My later flight was delayed for four hours. Hence, I missed my connecting flight in Atlanta. But that's okay, so did the thousand other people stranded in Atlanta. No one did anything to help anyone reschedule any flights, they simply referred everyone to phone bank, where folks where hogging two phones at a time because they were put on hold for egregious periods.

      BTW, this was a very important business function I was attending and each minute I spent in Atlanta was money wasted and more business lost. Finally, at 11:30pm after six hours in Atlanta airport running from terminal to terminal, decided to rent a vehicle and drive all night to reach our destination. Because apparently many other people made this same decision far before we did, the only thing ANY car rental place had left was a GMC Yukon, the largest vehicle on the planet.

      We arrived at 8:30am, had to drive to our destination airport to fetch our luggage (cuz yes, it made it while we did not) then collapse in our hotel. On our way out of town, a taxi driver referred to Delta as


      I have not flown since and that was two years ago.
  • One other fundamental difference.

    I have flown a lot, mostly domestic, and the difference between 1997 and today is striking. I can remember actually feeling like I was of value to the airline. Over time, it has truly become almost hostile with a "don't bother me attitude, you got a seat so shut up".

    I think the erosion of revenue has forced a less pleasant working environment for the airline personnel while at the same time, people (passengers) have become more hostile to everyone in this busy world. So flying has become as "special" as a subway commute.

    The above, and not price, is the reason I would rather not fly, and avoid it where ever I can.

  • RE: Americans Hate Flying - Consultants Must Really Loathe It

    I recently flew NWA "First Class" from Minneapolis to Seattle and had to pay $3 for a small bottle of water. All that extra money and all I got was a bit of extra leg and shoulder room. I'll do my best not to fly NWA again.
    • ???

      NW doesn't charge for water/soda either in First Class or Coach. Further, alcoholic beverages are free in First Class.
      • Hello larryblunk

        Could be that the facts are being massaged to make a good story even better.
        I live in New Zealand and our airline is reasonably good.
        As I am retired , I don't have to fly-last time was 10 years ago, going to Australia.

        I do have sympathy for you packed in passengers, but I believe that the airlines are struggling to survive .

        The Cost of fuel and the ever mounting cost of security
        are crippling them,

        How about the Railway . or Railroad to you. It is a very efficient people mover.
        With all the delays due to security and weather it could well be the rail is far more sensible option.
        • Across the Atlantic

          Yes, I agree entirely. In the long run the solution is to abolish civil aviation.

          If they built the 5,600 Km long transatlantic viaduct, then a high speed train could get from London to New York in 18 hours. The cost of viaduct and rolling stock would be a fraction of the sum which the British and US governments have recently handed to their rich chums in the banks.

          An ocean liner with a cruising speed of 60 km/hour (the same as the QE2) can go from London to New York in four days, and passengers would enjoy the ride and not be jet lagged on arrival.
  • RE: Americans Hate Flying - Consultants Must Really Loathe It

    2008 has been the year of no-fly for me. I've taken to driving any trip of 8hours or less! I've gone from 60 flights in 2006, to 30 flights in 2007 to 0 in 2008(so far).

    Next... Where's the train terminal?

    Hey railroads, how about letting me pull my car onto a flat rail car, strap it down, and go from KC to StL for $50?
  • RE: Americans Hate Flying - Consultants Must Really Loathe It

    I think the airlines are broken in the worst possible way. It's at the point where they know they have you at a disadvantage and they ride that to it's end.
    1. If there's a baggage charge, just add it into the ticket. If I am travelling, it's safe to assume I want (and you want) me to travel with a change of clothes and soap other than the mock hotel soap sp I don't stink. Bags go with travel.
    2. at the TSA full cavity search, forget classes and have a newbie / child line and a seasoned traveller line. Safety shouldn't be more convenient for those who travel a bunch but cannot afford to travel first class (because the choice was buy a first class ticket or travel with luggage). I hate the empty First class queue lane where you get shooed to the cow class queue if you don't have the right ticket. TSA is a government agency that should be efficient rather than enforcing classism and besides, didn't some of the 911 hijackers travel first or biz class?
    3. We're prisoners in the departure lounge with a buttload of fees we're already paid to be there. Give us some free stinkin' wifi. If the 3rd world can do it (Barbados, Bahamas etc why can't the nation that invented the stinkin' internet make an agreement with the local cable company to give some free wifi?
    4. Make decent food available in the terminal without it being a damned mortgage payment. I know the deal with Southwest and travel accordingly. American and all the others make it suck to fly, especially if it is a marginally long flight. The gares typically have the same insipid highly processed chicken or beef products for sale and honestly, they ain't that great. Who wants a plane full of people with gas from McDonalds for 5 hours? Oh yeah, if you're seving a snack, a friggin handful of nuts in a plastic pouch doesn't cut it. I'd rather have nothing than this flippin insult. It's less than a pinch of nuts. Pull a Southwest or let us have nothing.
    5. Let first class passnegers get on last. As it is, they are already in the Richy Rich Airport club, so why do we have to look into their face and drag our bags over them whilst we fight to get to our cattle car seats...... all to the aroma of gourmet coffee and warm mixed nuts and pastries? Life in cabin class doesn't suck enough? We have to get a last whiff of 'good food' before we wedge ourselves into our tiny seat too?
    6. The cabin. Can the plane be cleaned slightly better than they are now? I sat in someone elses wet spot last time I flew American. US Scare had so many broken seats on the plane that was working that several people had to be turned away. My 'working seat' wouldn't stay up because I 'weighed too much' and I couldn't say much to the pissy little attendant as they are now the new gestapo in the skies..... All I'm saying is have your crap working right and let it be clean.
    7. Have your crew realize that while they're mad that they are being paid peanuts, they unlike us are at work and they represent their company. I have some choice in whom I fly and their attitude does matter besides their new found power as air getapo agent.

    8. Fat people have to get 2 seats or fly later. I don't want another flight where some fat, sweaty butterball sits in their seat and in my lap sweating, dripping and greasing up my clothes. It's gross and not good for the back. Besides, if we're so concerned with the extra 5 pounds in my suitcase, I think the extra 150 pound on their fat a$$ should cont for a surcharge too.....
  • And here is the reason why.

    I spent 25 years in the airline business as a Flight Attendant, before getting into IT. I also grew up in the airlines, as my father worked in the industry starting in 1940.

    I retired in 1996, more because of the clientele than working conditions, although those were rapidly deteriorating as well.

    The problem the airlines have is the fact that they do not, and cannot, charge a price that covers the cost of their operations. It is due in large measure to the executives not willing to pay a decent living wage to the employees, pilots aside, but even they have taken a huge hit, given the level of expertise they need to have, and the responsibility they are given.

    How is someone to afford owing a home, when their wages are just barely above the poverty level? I had the ?pleasure? of working for the biggest scumbag in American corporate history, Frank Lorenzo. When asked at a meeting many years ago, by one of my co-workers, how she was supposed to pay her mortgage on a sub USD$20k salary, this dirtbag?s reply was ?flight attendants don?t need to own a home.? And that attitude is still pervasive in the industry, not only for the flight attendants, but for all employees.

    It is fostered by the general public however, as no one wants to pay what they should pay to fly. Business travelers, and First Class travelers pay their fair share for the most part, but economy travelers are paying a fraction of what they should pay.

    Think of it this way. That shiny new USD$280,000.00 Ferrari that I would love to have parked in my driveway, should only cost me say?USD$40,000.00 because ?I?m entitled to it?, and it is unconscionable that Ferrari charges a price for it that I can?t afford.

    Sound stupid? Absolutely it does, but so does paying USD$150.00 to fly from New York to Los Angeles. There is no way any airline can pay its employees a DECENT LIVING WAGE, which would attract employees who actually ENJOY coming to work, and charge the ridiculous prices they are currently. Try driving to LA from NY for USD$150.00. I?ll bet you don?t make it to Cleveland before you?ve spent that much in gas and tolls?and forget about food & drink.

    And you IT consultant types out there charging USD$200.00 per hour?or more?how about USD$10.00 per hour instead? Sounds like a fair rate to me. And why do you IT managers need USD$100k plus? You can surely make ends meet on USD$20k?can?t you?

    So the next time you are charged for anything over the cost of your ticket, keep in mind that the airline is just trying to make money, although the vast majority of passengers see no reason why it should, but God forbid the company THEY are working for not pay them a salary that lets them move up the standard of living ladder.

    Oh by the way...I try NOT to fly anywhere these days myself...too many TSA hassles...and too many rude passengers.
    • Interesting

      I have to agree on the rude passengers comment. Every time I fly there is at least one idiot that can't sit down, or needs to have everyone on the plane pay attention to them.
      The problem with having everyone pay a fair price for their seats would be a great idea if you would like to return air travel to the days where 10 people a week traveled by air. Even most business travelers would be forced to travel by car or train then car if you jack up the cost of air travel.

      If you look at it like an economic problem: As demand for their services increased, their capacity to met that demand also rose but because there were more travelers than before ticket prices should have fallen because it should cost about the same to transport 75 people as it does 100 people.
      Competing airlines should also started a price war that also helped drive down ticket costs.
      Now I suspect that the airlines are profitable but that profit is going more into shareholder's pockets than being used to streamline and improve the actual airline. The problem probably isn't customers demanding lower fares but a top heavy corporation trying to met ridiculous sales quotas driven by uncontrolled greed on the part of the shareholders.
      • shareholders? Try executives...

        The airlines are infected with same disease too many American mega-corporations suffer from - corporate greed. They're not paying their employees (or reinvesting profits into the company) because they're top heavy and paying their upper echelon far too much green. Unfortunately, corporate executives benefit from short term stock gains, and since they are merely transitory fixtures and will leave every so many years, they have no real investment in the long-term solubility of the company.
    • Put it this way

      If prices were higher, many of us couldn't afford to fly at all. I'm more than happy to be polite to the overworked/underpaid flight attendants and gate agents (who are generally polite and professional, even if the passengers are not), but understand that the higher prices go, the more people will find it worth their while to drive or stay home.

      My sympathies on your experiences working for whichever TI victim you were stuck with. Lorenzo seemed to be bottom of the barrel even among corporate raiders (a rather disreputable lot to begin with).
      John L. Ries
    • Some observations

      Lest my previous post seem unsympathetic.

      All of these go contrary to the stockholder-centric "bottom-line" mentality which has run American business into the ground over the past 30 years or so, but they do gibe with my personal experience, my reading of history, and my understanding of human nature.

      1. Customers never get treated better than non-executive employees.

      2. It is impossible to treat investors, to include stockholders, better that customers in the long term in a competitive market. If you see a company that can sustain itself while treating investors better than customers, it's time to launch an antitrust investigation.

      3. The more distance there is between owners (or management) and either customers or front line employees, the worse both the product and customer service will be (as will be working conditions for front line employees). The best customer service always happens when the owner is behind the counter.

      4. As US Marine Corps general Lewis B. Puller put it over 60 years ago, loyalty up never exceeds loyalty down. Confucius taught this principle repeatedly 2600 years ago. It's implicit in the Golden Rule. Too many aristocrats (economic, political, and social) fail to learn this simple lesson and have throughout human history.

      When I say "customer", I mean the people who pay the money; not those who receive the service. When I say "front line employee", I mean those who provide the goods and services sold, or who directly serve the customer.
      John L. Ries
      • Same kind of problem in Canada

        WestJet seems to have figured it out a little bit better than most by making their employees stockholders, so it's in their best interests to make sure customers want to come back.
      • #3 and #4 are dead-on

        Owners (aka executives) used to have personal investments in companies because they were THEIR companies. Now, executives are just revolving doors of hired help and they have no interest beside their own, short-term, personal gain.

        Unfortunately, in America mega-corps have killed the vast majority of smaller businesses so we're stuck with these impersonal and greedy behemoths.

        Just look at what's happening with the financial market - they all want the taxpayers to bail them out the mess their greed created, but they don't want to take any responsibility for their own gluttony.
  • Not to worry...

    What with the economy, and the price of aviation fuel, they'll all be bankrupt in a couple of years anyway.

    Jack-Booted EULA
  • Why the airline industry ought to go

    First of all, the government needs to get out of funding all transportation subsidies. Just cut them off cold turkey; including the airlines.

    Sure, that will raise fees for flying, but really, there is no valid reason for my tax dollars to make it cheaper for anyone to fly anywhere. That's called theft if done by anyone else. Ditto for railroads, buses, taxis.

    End result: less crowded skys, somewhat more crowded trains and buses, and highways. Much higher use of teleconferencing.

    Second: 1st class should board last. It's an insult and degrading to have the entire planeload of passengers bumping, climbing and gyrating over you on the way back. Whoever started this practice of First Class enters first bit was a hack, a moron, and an utter incompetent. As are all the airlines who continue with this practice. Take a page from military transportation: the senior officer passenger is the last to board, and the first to exit.

    Third: this whole concept of not bringing foods and beverages on the plane should be cause for the airlines and TSA to be prosecuted for RICO violations, as well as a monopoly violation.