The cover article in the Nov. 25 issue of the Travel section, “Class Conflict,” by Michelle Higgins, the Practical Traveler columnist, prompted an unusually large response from readers, including 298 comments posted on our Web site. Here is a sampling. — The Editors.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY?
Never in the 20-plus years I have been flying have things seemed quite so bad: I check luggage only when absolutely necessary, because I’ve lost count of how many times my bags have been lost; food on some airlines is repulsive at best — microscopic servings of cheap snacks, or heinous groupings of items into “snack boxes” (and other such euphemisms) for purchase — and seats grouped so tightly in coach that ingress is difficult for all but the most svelte.
Like the desperate state of train travel in this country — once the finest anywhere in the world — air travel has become solely a profit-motivated industry, where customer service is by and large a charmingly antiquated concept, an embarrassment for a nation that once prided itself on the excellence of its airlines.
KEVIN, Santa Fe, N.M.
Air travel today brings old memories, like overnight travel to Madrid as a student on a third-class rail ticket.
The worst experience in my life? Qantas from L.A. to Sydney, 14 hours in 31 pitch, 3-5-3, and the guy in front probably took a sleeping pill: he put his seat back for the entire journey and was unresponsive to my pleas for room. I had a 14-hour panic attack and the stewardess just blew me off when I asked if there was anything she could do to help me.
I still have nightmares about the experience.
MARTY, New York
I understand that the airlines need to make money, and I’d actually be fine without the meals, or even the blankets, pillows and entertainment. But I think that most people don’t really get as angry about this stuff as they do about the basic indignities air travelers routinely face: broken or dirty seats, broken or dirty restrooms, a lack of courtesy and information (about delays, etc.) from the flight crews, and lost luggage.
Each of these things is part of the airlines’ basic job, and if they could get these things right, I would not complain a bit about the lack of meals or pillows.
GUS, New York
The primary culprit in all of this is our beloved Congress, which chose, in its glorious wisdom, to deregulate the airlines in the interest of making air travel more affordable. Congress achieved its central objective, but encouraged me and others to seek other means of transportation or abandon travel by air in the United States altogether.
Unless Congress decides to re-regulate fare pricing and encourages airlines to compete on service, I will go to the ends of the earth to avoid airline travel.
As a mother of three kids under 6, flying has become an absolute nightmare. The airlines do absolutely nothing to make sure that families with young children have a good ride. The staff has no sympathy or willingness to help, the passengers around us give us all the evil looks they can throughout the flight, and with security measures preventing you from bringing even baby yogurt, flying has become a torture.
If there were a single airline out there dubbing itself “child-friendly,” I bet they would have lots of loyal customers.
ISABELLA, Palo Alto, Calif.
STRATEGIES FOR COPING
Airlines assume that “price-sensitive” customers will come back regardless of ill-comfort, lost luggage, misplaced reservations and poor treatment. While our alternatives may be limited, we exercise our options when they are available.
I’ve switched to regional carriers (e.g. Alaska, Southwest, Midwest), many of whom have begun adding longer-distance flights. These airlines, I find, offer a few perks — most importantly, leg room (!) — that would persuade me to pay a bit more or travel at times I would not otherwise have considered.
MICHELLE, Mission, British Columbia
If you have a terrible flight experience, the best thing you can do is bypass the alleged customer care departments. Go to the local courthouse and file a small claims suit against the company (and add in its C.E.O. by name, for good measure).
JARHEAD, Cambridge, Mass.
Before I retired, I did a lot of flying, in both business and coach. Reading about the torture coach passengers are subjected to, I am horrified.
But I have a suggestion, one I have been making ever since I came home from three years in France. Bring back the trains!!
SUSAN, Bronxville, N.Y.
IN DEFENSE OF THE AIRLINES
What exactly do people think they should be getting when they pay $73 for two round-trip tickets? Do they think they should be getting hot gourmet meals with Champagne, fine china and just-pressed linen napkins?
The absolute primary objective for 99.99 percent of airline travelers is to get the cheapest ticket possible. They should just sit in their cheap seats and shut up. If they don’t like it, they can drive themselves back and forth, and the rest of us would appreciate the fact that we don’t have to share the cabin with these constant complainers.
BOB, Bethany Beach, Del.
I’ve been flying since I was 5, then on prop planes. Flying used to be something only the privileged could afford. I have never heard so much grumbling and growling about so many petty things like meals. What ever happened to the wonder of flight?
RICKILE, Pasadena, Calif.
Flying at 500 to 600 miles per hour is a modern miracle that we ought to rejoice over, not complain about when we can’t get a wilted salad. When I was 10, I used to put on a coat and tie to fly in a DC-7 that rattled my teeth and took forever to get somewhere. It shot flames from its exhausts and scared the hell out of me.
America’s aviation safety record has become a model for the world, even if our baggage sometimes takes a round-the-world trip without us. If you’re unhappy with your flight, write the company; don’t take it out on the workers — people who actually care if you live or die, unlike most strangers. Now, if only Delta someday finds my lost luggage, I’ll be ecstatic.
PETER, Marblehead, Mass.