I’d rather drive: Angst over airlines

Airline travel isn’t what it used to be. Cramped quarters and jockeying for tinier seats is standard fare if you’re flying. Courtesy photo
Airline travel isn’t what it used to be. Cramped quarters and jockeying for tinier seats is standard fare if you’re flying.
Courtesy photo




I may not be the smartest bird in the nest but I do know about flying. At 81 years of age I saw the real beginning of commercial aviation and have watched it grow from tri-motor Fords to 777s and airbuses. I saw the adventurous days, the glory days, the crowded days and now the disastrous days. I saw unregulated days at the start, beginning regulations, over-regulation and no regulation. I saw people die, people who were badly injured, and now people who wish they were dead.

The airline industry is the best example of an industry which went from trying to sell itself to an industry that doesn’t give a damn about its customers, the only thing that matters is the bottom line. They just keep testing how much people will put up with before they say the punishment isn’t worth the time saving. Well, I’ve reached that point!

In 1941, I saw my first DC-3 commercial airline, Western Airlines, in Butte, Montana. It was a magnificent thing. The shiny surface, the roar of the engines, the classy dress of the crew, and the excitement of the crowd made it an unforgettable moment. By 1953, I was flying in a different type of aircraft, a KB29 air refueling tanker. In 1955, I heard my first sonic boom and watch the winter test of the first B-52s. By 1958, I was discharged from the Air Force and began a career that utilized airplanes as a tool to fight forest fires. In all these activities I was enamored by the airplane and what it could do and what it could provide. And, yes, I did enjoy the adventure and convenience of flying with a courteous crew and helpful flight attendants. And I enjoyed the economy class comfortable seating that no longer exists.

That all changed with deregulation of the airline industry! Now the airplane personnel have become arrogant, rude, over stressed, and the passenger is the least of their concerns. The passengers have become disrespectful of their traveling companions. The flight check-in crews hang out in the back room while passengers are waiting to check in. When passengers try to board, the flight crew is congregated in the entrance while passengers are struggling to store their baggage in too small storage bins because baggage handling is now a profit making commodity for the airlines who used to handle the bags and store them safely at no charge (now $25 for an extra bag or a checked bag). During the flight the flight attendants bang their way down the too narrow aisles and the people on the isle seats leave the aircraft with sore shoulders if not injured.

The airlines have taken a 100-seat aircraft and crowded 125-130 people on it. How? By reducing the leg room and the seat width. Recently the industry announced that they are going to reconfigure the airplanes so they can add another row of seats. The 18-inch width will have to shrink to at least 16 inches to accommodate these changes. The 31-inch legroom will probably shrink to 29 inches. Boy, it is going to be fun to fly. Of course, you don’t have to fly! You can…what?

Recently my daughter and son-in-law offered to buy me a first class seat so I could avoid driving to my granddaughter’s college graduation. I told them that was the most generous thing anyone had ever done for me, but no thanks. I would sooner spend an extra two days on the road and sleep in a motel two extra nights than put up with the cattle-like treatment required by flying.

Congress has also lost their direction with regard to flying. First they refuse to develop accessible alternatives to flying such as high speed rail and expanded quality bus systems, and highways designed for state of the art vehicle transportation. At the same time they refuse to regulate the airlines, probably because they are afraid that the airlines will close National Airport, which is one of the most unsafe airports in the country, but it’s convenient for the Congressman. Ronald Reagan would be embarrassed to have his name attached to this airport.

Citizens should insist that all trips by Congressman on airlines must be in the center row economy class seats, and not the extra charge exit row seats, on any plane they ride on while they are a member of Congress. Then we’d see changes in airplane configuration.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a sour-grape rant by a disgusted old man, but it is!


Fred McBride