So I’ve been on a bit of a jag about how awful flying is. I’ve flown four of the last eight weeks and every single return trip has had some very significant problems: three cancellations and one flight delayed long enough we would have missed our connection. What gives?
I decided to email my super secret source inside a major air carrier, and I’m pasting in his response below, which I found pretty fascinating. The subject of my email to him was “Why does flying suck so hard?” His response:
Actually, people have been asking me this question for the entirety of the ten years I have worked in this business. I think the best thing I can do is to basically give you the answer I gave ten years ago, and then take you through the ways in which that answer has changed (or, really, gained additional layers and nuance) as 1) the tech bubble burst, 2) 911 and aftermath 3) the current fuel crisis happened.
First off, flying today *doesn’t* suck so hard. There, I said it. Flying today, however, is often racked with numerous small frustrations and irritations, and on occasion is a complete pain in the ass. What is the difference? Well, you are still getting pretty good value for your money — in inflation adjusted dollars, fares are still unbelievably low… even with recent increases (more are coming). But over the past three decades, lower airfares have dramatically reshaped the quality and tenor of life in the United States — from frequent trips to see family even though they may be far away, to commuter relationships, to college students being able to go to school further away from home but still come back for holidays. These are just a few examples — I’m leaving aside growth in business travel, and the too-numerous-to-list ways in which exploding intercontinental air travel has transformed our world. Sure — there’s no more chateaubriand on flights from JFK to LAX. But getting from NY to LA is no longer only the province of the super rich. The Southwest Airlines slogan “You are now free to move about the country” has more than it’s share of accuracy *and* meaning — it’s right-on, and it speaks to the dramatic democratization of air travel since deregulation. That’s why President Carter signed it into law, and it has been a huge success. This success has come about, however, with a cost: complete and constant change in our industry. Mao called it “permanent revolution.”