Self-Propelled Cargo

The title, by the way, is how airlines (all of ’em) see passengers, and it shows.

Now, I know that technically, speaking, that happens to be true:  we are  just walking baggage — but that doesn’t mean that we want to be treated  that way.  About 80% or more of my business consists of taking sleepy executives to the airport in the pre-dawn hours, and let me tell you:  not one of them has anything  good to say about how the airlines treat them — and most of these people are Gold / Platinum / whatever the top rank is called.  So if these  people hate the airlines, how do you think we Economy-class passengers feel?

And it seems as though United Airlines — or their CEO, at least — understands this, and has talked about it at length.

Munoz acknowledged having to stay competitive with peers and match many of their offers, but he admitted passengers have had enough of paying the price.
He claimed: ‘Somebody asked me what advice would you give other travelers? I said empathy.
‘I think discourse between human beings is lacking, I have always lived by the concept that sharing is caring, and share with us.

Yeah, I’ll wait to see how this pans out.  Fine words uttered from on high are all very well, but let’s see how this translates to the flight attendants / ticketing agents / flight cancellation policy etc.

Many years ago, I worked for the Leo Burnett ad agency, who (at the time) had been United Airlines’s agency for decades — possibly even the only ad agency UA has ever had.  To say that it was a close working relationship would be a gross understatement, and in fact it was Burnett who had coined the genius “Fly The Friendly Skies” payoff line for United.

Then United decided that they wanted to change the thrust of their advertising, to be more businesslike, and even change the payoff line.  Leo Burnett disagreed with the change in marketing direction.  How much did they disagree?  They terminated a decades-long relationship — in essence, firing the client — because they thought it was the wrong direction to take.

Anyone know what United’s new agency replaced the Friendly Skies  line with?  Me neither.  And when United threw that unfortunate passenger off their plane a while ago, breaking his nose in the process, I can honestly say that while I was shocked at the action, I wasn’t surprised.  When they changed their marketing, I made a decision never to fly United again — and other than one (unavoidable) business flight in 2003, I’ve kept my promise.  (And just FYI, that flight was the worst trans-Atlantic flight I’ve ever experienced — Connie was actually sobbing with relief when we came in to land.)

I don’t think that United is going to change (despite their CEO’s unctuous words), and their skies will be just as unfriendly as all the other airlines’.  Why?

His comments came as United Airlines announced that its first-quarter profit doubled to $292 million as it carried more passengers and limited costs.

In a message to employees, CEO Oscar Munoz said the latest results vindicated a strategy of adding more flights, investing in customer service and managing costs.

United added more flights because the Trump-fueled economic growth has meant more people are flying;  not  adding more flights would have caused market share to drop.

As for their “investing in customer service”, watch Munoz’s little video towards the end of the article.  My bullshit detector went off like an alarm clock.  Yours should, too.  “Eliminating pre-assigned seating”?  The airlines have already done that, with sneaky little algorithms in the online ticketing process which deliberately splits seating assignments when booked together in the same transaction, and charging for the privilege of changing the seats.  Bastards.  I’m not fooled:  “managing costs” means “charging for stuff that used to be free”, or else “not replacing worn-out seats even when passengers are experiencing extreme discomfort”.  Feel free to add your own “cost management” examples.

As it happens, I may be flying the New Friendly Skies later in the year, and if so, I’ll let you all know how it comes out.  If I do, it will probably involve a stop in O’Hare (I know, I know:  I used to do 50-60 flights a year out of ORD).  If that isn’t a test, nothing is.

Anyway, you can color me cynical.  Right now, I hate all  airlines, without exception, and it’s going to take more than fucking “empathy” to change my attitude.


  1. And yet, people continue to fly, apparently in ever larger numbers. Understandable for business travelers although there are many of those trips that are unnecessary, given various remote technologies. But people that fly off to Orlando or Vegas for vacations are just inexplicable to me. Drive or just don’t go. Do it for a month or two and the airlines would be brought to their knees. Back in the real world, the airlines are right. Why spend money on the rubes that will keep flying anyway?

    1. Sometimes, there’s no choice. Not unless you want to spend two or three days driving each way.

  2. I’m in a happy place. I don’t have to travel outside the continental US and neither do I have the desire. I quit traveling by air in the early nineties. Traveled the rails on Amtrak for another decade before I abandoned that too. I rent a car if I need to travel cross country these days and I don’t go anywhere my sidearm is not welcome. Like I said, I’m in a happy place.

  3. It’s endlessly hilarious that so many fucktards surrender long money to companies that couldn’t care less about them. The ones that say they have no choice are the most pathetic. Complete abolishment of intellectual horse power.

  4. Then again, SOME airlines are trying to streamline the passenger check-in process, but not in a good way:

    And I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination, but this pretty much sums up my feelings about airlines in general and United in particular:

    And like Larry above I don’t fly; I drive. And if I can’t bring the hogleg, I don’t go.

  5. I was actually more comfortable traveling as cargo in the back of a C-141 to Korea with my feet propped up on a cargo pallet for 18 hours than most flights I’ve ever taken on a commercial airliner in the past 20 years or so.

    Traveling by airliner isn’t really flying. It’s just a Greyhound with wings.

  6. Airlines were deregulated in 1978. Abolishing government regulation was supposed to usher in a new era of cheaper prices and more flights to choose from.

    Which turned out to be stable dressing.

    Prior to deregulation the only area that airlines could compete in was service and comfort. I remember flying back then, and the government regulated commercial flight experience bears as much resemblance to the absolute crap a passenger must endure today as dinner at a five star restaurant bears to slopping the hogs at Church’s Chicken.

  7. I share your opinion of commercial flying, but this didn’t come out of nowwhere. It’s not like the airlines just woke up one day and said “let’s treat passengers like shit.”

    Airlines treat passengers like crap because we, the flying public, let them. Because as long as we get a cheap ticket, that’s all we care about.

    When I think about the last time I booked a flight (2013), I put in the date, starting point, then the destination and hit “enter.” And then I booked the cheapest flight I could that fit my schedule. I’m guessing that 99% of the people who fly in America do the same thing.

    You want “cheap?” Well, then “cheap” is what you get. Why should you be surprised?

    So the airlines don’t kiss our asses anymore like they used to? Well, then remember that back in the pre-deregulation days, airline fares were tightly regulated. That prevented airlines from competing on the basis of price so they had to compete in other ways. With deregulation they were free to compete on price so that’s what they did because that’s what WE, the flying public, responded to.

    And as a result, flying is more accessible to more people than ever before. Hey, I’m old enough (barely!) to remember when “the Jet Set” referred to those wealthy enough to travel by air.

    Now everybody is “wealthy enough” to travel by air, but that means that since air travel is as common and affordable as bus travel used to be, it’s going to resemble bus travel a lot more too. Put more simply, airline travel has moved “down market.”

    If you think about it, when you buy a plane ticket, you are paying for someone to haul your carcass to a destination safely, period. Once you get off the plane, you have gotten 100% of the value of that airline ticket. It’s not an investment that is worth paying more for up front.

    If we really WANTED to, we could pay through the nose to have our tushies pampered, eat gourmet meals, and drink champagne brought to us in glass flutes while the riff raff in the back of the plane fight for table scraps.

    But those of us in the “tourist class” would generally prefer to put up with the temporary indignities and inconveniences of airline travel in the cheap seats and save our money for other stuff that we value more, and that seems like a perfectly rational choice.

    1. All true. And along the way, airlines also got access to the computer systems and software that streamlined their operations to a degree unthinkable pre-regulation, which meant enormous savings in manpower costs. Stuff that used to require paper trails and a person now takes a couple keystrokes.

      Now explain the new baggage charges, the seat allocation charges, the change fees, and all that.

      1. Kim: That’s easy to explain. When all the customer cares about is the bottom line number, anything that makes that number smaller is going to increase sales.

        Sure, they could “build in” the $5 or so that it “costs” them to carry a bag. Or they could cut $5 off the cost of the ticket which means you as the customer will buy that $239 ticket instead of the competitor’s $244 ticket. Then if you want to carry a bag they will sock you with a $40 baggage fee which is $35 in pure profit for them.

        As for change fees, competition is vicious among the low priced carriers which means that they slash all costs to the bone and pack the plane like sardines in order to generate a profit. So a lost seat is lost money to them, I’m not surprised that they try to recoup that somehow.

        I don’t know the economics of running a major airline, but given the screwing they administer to both their customers and their employees, and given the number of airlines that have had to file bankruptcy, merge, cut back on maintenance costs, etc, I would imagine it’s not an easy business to make money in.

        Regarding salaries of their employees, I have a couple of family members who are airline pilots and I’m shocked at how little they get paid, considering the responsibilities they hold.

        Here’s a fun thought: Airline pilots (especially if they fly for small “regional” airlines that are then “leasing” their services to the major carriers) often make quite a bit LESS than the air traffic controllers they speak to on the radio. It’s not uncommon for ATCs with several years of experience to be in the $125k annual salary range, especially if they work at a big airport. By contrast, many small commercial pilots flying for contracted carriers might be making $60k a year if they’re lucky.

      2. As for the additional fees, I believe that is called “unbundling”, that is, you “unbundle” services that USED to be bundled together which allows you to charge a “lower price” for the main service even though by the time you add back in the unbundled charges, the price is higher.

        Imagine if you did that selling guns.

        You: I’d like to buy a .357 Magnum please.

        Seller: Very well, that will be $250.

        You: Wow! That’s a great price! Does that have wood grips or plastic?

        Seller: Oh, if you want grips it’s another $75 for plastic or $150 for wood.

        You: Well what kind of sights does it have?

        Seller: Basic sights are $90, adjustable sights are $180 and if you want a white outline it’s $250. Night sights are $400.

        You: OK, well, is that with a 6 or 7 shot cylinder?

        Seller: Oh, you wanted a cylinder on the gun?


  8. Being a frequent flyer in the 1970’s and 1980’s and average once a year since then I accept the reality of climbing into an aluminum tube with enough room to sit in, glad I am not too fat, hoping I am not sitting back to a man or woman with big flappy arms and thunder thighs. I always want the cheapest flight and my choice of seat is somewhere inside the airplane where I can put on my headphones, pull out my book and go into a trance for an hour or two, I carry my own water and food on board. Living in Texas and flying to either coast it does not take too long. It has been 20 years now since I flew overseas and that wan on Lufthansa, Dallas to Frankfurt and not too bad, probably much worse now.

    At my age with plenty of time and a decent Ford F-150 pickup I will drive two days to avoid flying and I enjoy those trips a couple of time each year. As stated above I remember when passengers were treated as guests, even on the old DC-3’s and flights with young, pretty Stewardesses (A friend of mine now in her 70’s makes the distinction between Stewardesses and flight attendants, according to her they were young, single, sleek, admired by men and envied by women.) who enjoyed serving drinks and food and talking and teasing with passengers in the olden days.

    I have two shooting buddy friends who are commercial airline pilots, one just retired from American where he hung in and endured until he aged out with a decent pension and the other in his late 50’s who still enjoys flying for SouthWest where he likes his job. SouthWest, cattle car airlines is my choice because I start with reasonable expectations and they do an adequate job transporting me from point A to point B. Yes we are cargo, fungible cargo.

  9. The problem lies in the fact that the airlines have a captive market…and have been quite willing to use the airport police as their bully-boys when the passengers object.

    It doesn’t help that the FAA has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the airlines. Everybody with real decision-making authority knows that if they bootlick the airlines, they can have a nice consulting job when they leave Federal service…unlike the honest Civil Servant, who can look forward to a pension and a part-time job.

    Nor does it help that there are three sets of customers. You’ve got the family vacationers, who will endure obscene conditions for a low fare…they only have to endure it once, and the kids don’t take up a full seat anyway. Then the business travelers who have the power to choose their own carrier and standard of travel (meaning “Not Coach” is in their contract), who are trying to get to their destination fit to do work. And finally, the business travelers who are shackled to a travel department…who will cheerfully consign them to obscene conditions to save a few dimes.

    Remember, American businesses are staffed by Harvard Business School graduates. Who are experts at maximizing this quarter’s profits by leaching value out of the company. And running it into bankruptcy.

    What I’d love to see is the FAA imposing Standards of Service.

    I’ll add that I have over 500,000 miles with various airlines…and yes, it’s gotten considerably worse over the last 20 years.

  10. The airlines are just about the most regulated industry there is, and the incumbents own the regulators lock, stock, and barrel. What do you expect?

  11. Which is why I love flying in Asia. Even cattle class gets treated well.

    North America? Not so much.

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