Outdoors Magazine

Travelers Are the Reason Air Travel Sucks

By Everywhereonce @BWandering
Alaska by Air

Great view, but still the worst seat in the house.

We have a secret to share. We actually hate traveling. Don’t get us wrong, we love destinations. It’s the getting there that sucks. That’s especially true when our travel plans involve boarding a commercial aircraft.

This isn’t news to anyone who has flown anywhere in the last decade or two. But a recent article at the travel hacking blog The Points Guy reminded me just how awful we all think air travel really is.

In an industry comparison, airlines ranked near the bottom at a score of 69/100, just ahead of internet service providers, social media and subscription TV services – so way to go airlines, you have cable companies beat!”

The article then goes on to make five suggestions for how airlines could improve customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, his suggestions all miss the biggest reason air travel is so terrible: travelers.

Even if the airline industry tried to implement all five of The Points Guy’s suggestions, flying would still suck. And it would suck for a very specific reason.

Travelers won’t pay for a better experience.

If we really wanted more leg room on airplanes we’d pay for more leg room on airplanes. And if a bunch of us started to do that, guess what would happen? We’d start seeing airlines offering a lot more legroom. The same goes for good customer service, umbrella drinks, foot massages, and whatever else you might want from your airline. The reason we don’t have these things is not because airlines can’t, or don’t want to, supply them. It’s because their customers are unwilling to pay for them.

Think about how you purchased your last plane ticket. Did you fire up a search engine that compares airline amenities, customer reviews, and seat sizes? In other words, did you look for the same things in a flight that you searched for in a hotel? Or did you seek out the cheapest flight with the fewest connections? 

If you’re like most people, you prioritized destination, flight time, and price when selecting your ticket, perhaps to the exclusion of all other considerations. If most of us selected our hotels the same way we choose our flights we’d all be sleeping in 20-person dorm rooms and wondering why hotel accommodations are so lousy.

Our collective preference for cheap flights is no secret to the airline industry. Every airline executive knows that if they put fewer, larger seats on their planes and price those seats accordingly, they’ll lose business to competitors who offer cheaper flights by cramming more people onto each aircraft. Even though we complain about contorting ourselves into cattle class seats, the industry gives us those seats because that is what we want them to do. 

The irony is that The Points Guy runs a blog that specializes in exploiting strategies and “hacks” for getting free airline tickets and upgrades. His entire site is the ultimate expression of what we’re willing to pay for airfare, which is as little as is humanly possible. And that, in a nutshell, is why flying sucks so badly.

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