As someone who’s studied a bit of psychology, I know that many people crammed into an enclosed space rapidly can become unruly. And I know from first hand experience that traveling in an airplane is a miserable experience, start to finish.
Since the government bailed out the industry in 2001 with $15 billion in compensation and loan guarantees, the industry has thanked the taxpayer by not only imposing ludicrous fees on everything from reserving a seat to carrying on luggage, but also designing narrower seats with vanishing legroom.
For two summers in a row, we traveled out west, to Arizona in 2015 and to California in 2016. Here’s how our experience with air travel went:
1. Because of various bankruptcies and mergers in the industry, we’re quite limited in choices of airlines. We always go to a smaller airport because it’s not as crowded and closer to home. (We would have a greater selection if we used a larger city’s airport, but it’s much more of a hassle to get there.)
2. When we check in, we always find that we have to rearrange our seats, despite selecting them online ahead of time. My children are too young to travel without my husband or me next to them.
3. The flight has been overbooked. The boarding procedures are time-consuming and asinine.
4. The first leg of our trip always is to the “hub” of the airline. Most often, there are delays at the hub because the plane for the second leg of the trip hasn’t arrived yet, or something’s broken, or there’s inclement weather, or we’re waiting for the crew.
5. Repeat #3, but with an honorable mention: the crew on the first flight can do nothing about connecting flights. Amazon recommends stuff for me before I need it, but an airline can’t flag passengers who are going to potentially miss connecting flights because of unforced delays and log it so personnel can already work on accommodating them by the time the passengers reach the gate?
6. Despite the second flight taking at least four hours, there is no movie and all the airline offers is free soft drinks. Do you know how happy my kids would be if they got to see a movie on a plane? They wouldn’t even fight over any of the selections, something that takes up a good 30 minutes of our “family movie night” now. Because the airlines prioritize profit over comfort, long flights are terrible. I have to shift every 10 minutes to stave off potential cramping in my legs. Getting to the restroom is a feat of ingenuity because the aisle is so narrow.
When staff ask for volunteers to give up seats on overbooked flights, my price is an upgrade to first class for my family and me for the entire trip. (When we were discussing an overbooked flight from Flagstaff to Phoenix, I was willing to forgo the flight entirely for a kickass rental and first class the rest of the way home.) No one has taken me up on it yet.
As of late this afternoon, United CEO Oscar Munoz, after two failed attempts, completely apologized for forcibly dragging a passenger off a plane who did not volunteer to give up his seat. You know, creating more stress and havoc over a process that does not seem to go easy, ever. I’d love to see some rules in place preventing airlines from overbooking, but given our president’s penchant for eliminating regulations that help consumers–and his lack of experience in flying coach–I don’t think he’ll help any time soon.