Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Way Traveling Used To Be

When I am on a trip I often hear travelers complain about how bad it is traveling now and how it used to be so much better. You used to get more leg room, the service was friendlier, the blankets were thicker, you used to be able to sneak booze on the plane and they gave you bigger bags of peanuts if not actual food. Oddly enough peanuts are making a comeback despite having been stricken from the skies due to allergy sufferers. I also hear countless complaints about security restrictions and how it's impossible such a pain to travel these days.

The bulk of my air travel has been in the post 9/11 world so I'm used to the security restrictions and most of the cutbacks that the airlines have been imposing on travelers since that time. And because this is the world I’m used to traveling in these things are "normal" to me and most of the time I find it hard to relate to these stories of woe that the more seasoned business travelers like to share when we are once again taking off late which in turn makes the next connection tighter thus increasing the chance of losing ones luggage.

Of course leaving “late” is not that big a deal since the airlines usually build in about 15 minutes into the flight time so that even if they take off 15 minutes late, you’ll still get there on time and they can report this as an on time flight, sneaky devils.

Over the past five years or so I have however seen some changes. Security has tightened and I can no longer take a bottle of water on a plane unless I fill it up past security or buy it there. This is better than not allowing any liquids on planes at all which was fashionable for a while. I tend to get dehydrated on international flights and depended on the water I carry with me. There was a story a while back, I think it was on 60 minutes that found fecal matter in the water served in pitchers on planes so I only drink the water I see coming from a bottle when I fly. I don't need any more help getting sick when I travel, I can do that on my own. I try not to think about the ice however.

In order to cut costs, many airlines have switched from consumable perks to durable perks. Items like food are a continual cost. Even if the cost of such a perk is minimal; when you multiply that number by every customer on every flight each day it really adds up. In contrast a durable perk such as in seat video screens costs a lot up front but then it just has modest maintenance costs from then on more or less independent of usage.

In other words costs per use of consumable perks are consistent with use but the cost per use of durable perks goes down the as the number of uses increases despite initially being expensive to establish. The cost of durable perks is all up front so the airline does take a hit to begin with but over the long run they are better off.

It's all a matter of balancing the actual cost of a given perk and the perceived value over the course of say a number of years. I happen to like personal TV screens that let you select your own programming far better than I like the peanuts they serve. I can (and do) bring my own peanuts, it's a little harder however for me to pack enough video programming and battery power to last me through a 10 hour flight.

That in-flight entertainment does not come without additional costs to the customer however. The space under the seat in front of you where your carryon bag and or feet are supposed to go is often used to house the electronics needed to run those screens. This causes about a third of the seats to be reduced to bulkhead seats (over head bag storage only) but without the usual extra legroom that usually comes with those seats.

With rising gas prices some airlines have started to charge for the second bag that you check. Others have even started charging for the first bag. This practice is insulting and it makes comparing ticket prices from different airlines confusing at best. I would much rather be told upfront what the cost is, I don't want to have surprise costs on the day I travel. It's a deceptive practice and I wish that airlines would just increase the cost of tickets upfront and be honest about it. I know gas prices are higher, a plane ticket should cost more to compensate.

One day soon I think I will begin to join the masses of disgruntled travelers in recounting good old days of air travel. Remember when the cost of luggage was included in the price of a ticket? We even had a place to put our feet! The younger travelers will look at me like I've gone mad.

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Coming Soon: The Code I Travel By


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