Until last week, the last time I’d flown domestically in the U.S. was close to two decades ago (international is a different story, of course), and man, things have changed somewhat.
Nothing much has changed with the airlines, it seems: the same plastic smiles and training-manual treatment from customer service, the same fucked-up delivery (late flights, canceled flights, overbooked flights etc.) and the same rip-off fares for those unfortunate souls (like me) who didn’t have the luxury of time to have booked their flight six months earlier.
TSA is also the same bunch of petty gauleiters who are at best curt and dismissive and at worst malevolent bastards (male and female, BTW; equality at last!).
It’s the passengers who have changed the most, but I can’t put my finger on the exact cause. For some reason, the treatment given to people at airports seems to have rubbed off on the people traveling. For example: on both the outbound and return flights I managed to book an aisle seat, and because of my long relationship with American (I guess), I managed to board fairly early in the process. This meant that on both flights, the person in the middle seat walked up to me, pointed at their seat and just said, “That’s my seat.” No “excuse me” or “hi there” or “sorry to bother you” or anything like that — not even a fucking smile. (On the several-times-delayed return flight, let me tell you that I was extremely short on patience, and when the twentysomething hipster chickie laid that schtick on me, I was thisclose to saying, “So?” and not budging from my seat.) In passing, I was discussing this very issue with a regular customer of mine — someone who flies DFW-LGA (the poor girl) every Monday morning — and she has seen the same thing, on almost every flight she catches. Her take, however, is that it’s a generational thing: rude snowflakes with an attitude of entitlement.
Another thing is that old bugbear, luggage. As the airlines are insisting on still charging for checked luggage (even though fuel prices, the reason for the original decision to charge for baggage, are the lowest in recent history), people seem to have stopped checking luggage except in exceptional circumstances. Which means that you’re restricted to a small carry-on bag (which has to be small enough to squeeze into the microscopic space under the seat in front of yours) and a larger one which has to fit into the overhead bins — which, I should admit, seem to have got bigger on domestic flights than I remember. Needless to say, the airlines aren’t enforcing the size restriction, which means that the bins fill up quickly, and therefore latecomers have to gate-check their bags. The most egregious offenders in the “oversized” issue are the backpackers, who take Himalayas-expedition-sized onto the aircraft and either expect to stuff them into the bins, or else don’t care that even if they can, they’ve taken up 1.5 passengers’ space in the bins.
As someone who takes serious care to ensure that my bags aren’t oversized, I’m angered by this attitude. It used to be that the worst offenders were business execs who tried to take their overstuffed garment bags and stuff them into the overhead bins, but now it’s the occasionally-vacationing Backpack ‘n Sandals set who are the assholes. (Business execs are now the most conscientious travelers, it seems to me — maybe because they just don’t want to deal with the baggage hassle every time they fly.)
Here’s another thing: the cabin crew are rapidly getting to the “you packed it, you lift it” policy when it comes to getting your bag into the overheads, and I can see why. Mostly, of course, it’s female passengers who are the most egregious offenders — all that hair-dryer stuff and makeup and what have you makes for a case that feels like it’s filled with lead piping — and on several occasions, even the female cabin crew have had to ask male passengers for help. (This nonsense doesn’t help either.) That said, it’s not always the passengers who are at fault. On my return flight last week I flew in one of the new 787 Dreamliners and even I was struggling to get my bag into the bins, which are really high above the seats. Watching the five-foot-nothing girl in front of me trying to lift her bag was an exercise in frustration (for both of us) and thank goodness that the next passenger coming down the aisle was a) tall and b) well-mannered enough to offer to help, because the flight attendant wasn’t having any of it.
New Wife and I flew last month (using miles) to get to New England for our short vacation, and for all sorts of reasons I didn’t want to write about flying commercial then. But after what I saw last week… let’s just say that it will be a long time before I take a domestic flight again.
What a horrorshow.