Did you read that American Airlines recently announced that it would no longer offer free cabin pressurization on its flights? Pressurization will continue to be free for first class and business class flyers, but coach passengers will have to pay a fee.
And no, it’s not true; the item appeared in the satirical newsmagazine The Onion. But the fact that a lot of people have read the above and reasoned for at least a moment that it might be true tells us all we need to remember about the business of flying today: no matter what they claim, the airlines are not your friends.
Of course, if you’re a coach class passenger, you already knew that. The race to make coach class anything but a second-rate experience ended a long time ago.
Low fares, the biggest inducement for coach passengers to buy tickets, aren’t nearly as low as they once were. And they keep rising, often several times during the year. The increase in special fees — everything from overweight bags to changing your reservation — are aimed almost entirely at coach, lower-fare paying passengers. The airlines recently announced they want to shrink even more the size of seats in coach class and add more rows of seats to already tightly squeezed sections. Your comfort as a coach passenger seems of little evident concern. And bereavement fares — those slightly reduced fares offered when you had to make a last-minute flight because granny died six states away — are as gone as poor granny.
The latest shoe to fall came a few days ago when Delta announced it is changing its frequent flyer reward program to reward its highest paying, elite customers at the expense of coach class flyers. Beginning January 1, Delta will base its rewards on the price of your ticket rather than the length of your flight. So, on a trip from Boston to Los Angeles, the person who bought the high priced ticket will get about three times the points as someone who bought a cheaper advance coach fare, although both will have flown the same number of miles.
And who buys nearly all of those high priced tickets? That would be business flyers, who seldom purchase lower priced fares since their travel — often paid for by their companies — is more often last-minute and may also require changing flights. Those flyers and elite-level flyers stand to benefit hugely, exactly as Delta and other airlines intend. All of their efforts at improving service, making seats more comfortable and front-loading the perks stem from a determination to reward those flyers who spend the most money while at the same time they are paying less and less attention to others.
And what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t people who pay more get more? If I’m spending $900 on my ticket, shouldn’t I get better treatment — maybe three times better treatment — than someone who paid only $300? And, by extension, shouldn’t someone who paid $1,800 get at least treatment at least twice as nice as mine including, perhaps, being carried on board by a retinue of flight attendants? That seems only the American (or Delta or United) way, really.
So maybe it’s just something we ought to accept. After all, the evidence of the income gap between Americans has become all the more obvious over recent decades. This is just one more manifestation. The 1% has earned what it gets. Complaints about the privileged getting more come down to just whining by ingrates. Can’t legitimately blame the airlines for what’s a critical element in the structure of our American society.
So, congratulations to the first class. Those of us in the back of the plane salute you and ask that you please not trip us as we struggle to the rear, secure in the knowledge that our section of the plane will land only a millisecond after you do.