Why I Don’t Fly

I recently took my first airline flight in a few years, and was almost instantly convinced never to do it again.

Understand, I don’t believe in boycotting businesses for their political stances. If I did, I would have to give up my lifetime love affair with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Nor am I a technology luddite – I’m a commercial pilot who does not fear flying. Fear, no, but I do loathe the US airlines. In fact, I would use almost any other mode of transportation in order to avoid the nasty, crowded, greedy and grubby thing the US airlines have become.

The bottom line is this: in the decade of recession, the airlines have cut services, reduced their flight schedules to pack every airliner, and started charging for everything from checking a bag to using the toilet. And I am simply not interested in being nickel-and-dimed to death. Want a cheaper fare? We’ll put you in a seat a child could not be comfortable, in a plane with seats so worn out that it is like sitting on concrete, with no entertainment, in between two people the size of Paul Bunyan. Here are my complaints:

  • The flights are expensive.
  • The seats are too small. In fact, they have now shoe-horned people into seats that were never designed for American males.
  • There is no free baggage storage. Either you pay to check bags, or you must place them in the space where your feet used to go.
  • Flying normal (aka “coach”) is like flying a cattle car with wings.
  • The seats are worn out. The earphone ports don’t work, the seats have no padding, and often the seat backs won’t stay in the upright position.
  • Airlines still make you turn off your cell phones in flight, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that this interferes with the flight. They just want to force you to pay for entertainment.

If you want a more desirable seat (even in coach), you pay. Get on the plane before all of the overhead bins are full, you pay. Entertainment on a long flight, you pay. Check a bag, you pay. Or put your suitcase in the space where your legs used to go. Don’t like it and you may complain, but you will likely be told, “It’s been that way for years now. Get over it.”

To be honest, two things have changed for the better. The dreadful airline food, which used to be as palatable as the slop they used to serve us in elementary school, has been replaced with food you that is actually tasty. Overpriced, but worthy of an investment. And the wines have gotten better. Not better enough to justify paying $7 for a small glass. But better. Actually, what I do is to ask what they are serving in First Class and ask if I can buy a glass of that (if you are nice to the flight attendant, you may get the wine for free!). But that is a matter for a different blog post.

All of this is allegedly based on the way other airlines around the world operate, but that is not true. Those airlines also charge for every amenity and comfort, but their rates are low. Very low, as in about 30 percent cheaper than the fares US airlines charge for flights of the same distance. And overseas, the fare is the fare – not the phony fare the airlines advertise here, before they add in “fees” and taxes. This means that we pay more for bad service and simple amenities than virtually anywhere in the world.

The companies will tell you that they have no choice. That their investors demand a return on investment, and that they have to hold down costs in order to make their margins. But there is another side to that coin – we, as consumers, have the right not to buy products and services that are over-priced for what they deliver.

And so, I do not fly. Sure, I will fly overseas – but not on a US airline. I will fly foreign carriers, because they seem to understand that consumers will pay for good service, or pay less for bad service, but will not pay more for bad service. Where I can, even from Virginia to California, I will drive. You don’t have to do the same, and I am not encouraging you not to fly. If you want to pay premium prices for sloppy and marginal service, that’s your problem. Have fun going through security, dealing with canceled flights and putting up with surly flight attendants.

But don’t look for me on that flight. I will be in a car or on my beloved Honda, seeing more of America and enjoying every minute I spend on the road.



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