Flying on an Airplane: Complaints (are they justified?)
If it isn't already abundantly clear to everyone in the United States, Americans have a love/hate relationship with the airlines. We love to go places, but we generally hate the airlines that provide the service. Like the planes, airline complaints are sky high.
A recent Dear Abby provides some insight into this problem. The letter writer complained that she had to sit next to a fat person and that this person's body was spilling over into her seat, making her flight extremely uncomfortable. She had no idea what to do. Following this letter were a number of other letters blaming the airlines for making their seats too small. Passengers complain in equal measure about having to pay for meals and inflight entertainment. Baggage fees are a cause for constant complaint. In short, there is almost nothing passengers do not complain about with regard to the airlines.
Are these complaints fair? I would argue that they are not and I am not a shill for the airline industry nor am I particularly fond of flying or the service that is provided. Also, I'm thin and have been forced to sit next to somebody who was spilling over in my seat. I have had to sit next to screaming infants. I'm 6'2" and most airline seats are barely far enough away from the seat in front of them to contain my legs, which is made even worse by passengers directly in front of me who recline their seats into my legs without bothering to ask. So, I have lots of reasons to complain about airline service, I just don't think it's justified.
The reason these complaints aren't justified is that most airlines are providing their product at a loss that is unsustainable. Where airlines are concerned, consumers have unrealistic expectations that must eventually result in higher ticket prices. The losses that the airlines have endured are staggering.
During the first quarter of 2011, the major American airlines lost $951 million dollars. The only airline to post a profit was Southwest. While financial loss does not necessarily mean that customer service must suffer, it does necessarily mean that the business model must change. That's why the airlines have introduced many fees that have had consumers foaming at the mouth. Baggage fees are the most notorious of these. The reason for the fees is that it allows the airlines to continue to appear competitive on base ticket price, which is the basis most consumers use for deciding to fly or not.
In order to make up these staggering losses, airlines have little choice. They must charge more or offer less service for what they are providing consumers. Thus, meals are no longer served on many flights. Virtually anything that consumers desire above and beyond sitting in their seat requires extra payment. Still, it isn't enough, which means that airlines will be forced to raise their ticket prices or go out of business. There isn't another solution.
Consumers have been clamoring for solutions to certain problems. Do a fat person and a thin person have the same right to comfort if the seats are only so big? Do parents and childless people have the same right to comfort? Should the bag fee be separate or part of the ticket price? Should meals be served on flights?
Then there are other questions that consumers don't often think about, but are legitimate questions: Should safety be sacrificed to lower the price of airline tickets? Should stewards be eliminated to lower the price of airline tickets? Should airplane maintenance be sacrificed to lower the price of tickets? Should airlines only fly in and out of major airports to save money? Should airlines require that flights be full before they fly?
What consumers fail to acknowledge with regard to flying is that they do have a choice. If they don't wish to be inconvenienced by small seating and bag fees, then they can fly first class where they can get wider seats and free meals. Of course, most people cannot afford first class, so this option seems unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is the direction we are headed, yet it is extremely ironic that in a capitalist society, most people don't seem to understand the basic proposition here. We get what we pay for. In this case, we actually get much more because what we pay for isn't covering the expenses. Here are some simple solutions for common airline problems, some of which are already being implemented.
Fat people taking up too much space - There are only so many solutions to this problem. Either fat people must pay for two seats or the airlines must redesign planes with wider seating. If the latter is the solution, then each seat is going to cost more. Some rows could be adapted specifically for larger people, but the airlines will have to charge more for those tickets.
Screaming Children - I have kids, so I'm sympathetic to this point, but either the airplane needs to have a section exclusively for parents and their children that allows the other passengers to enjoy their seats with minimal interruption or parents must be forced to pay for a seat for their kids no matter how small.
Baggage Fees - The ideal situation is to make it a requirement that advertised ticket prices reflect all fees, including baggage. Discounts could be given for those with no baggage to accommodate business passengers.
Meals - Meals should be an extra charge. Much like a movie theater, food should cost whatever is necessary to make a profit. Some flights could be "food free" flights to save money.