Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Air Rage - the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Shiny Aluminium Tube

We've long known that congestion kills. Put too many rats in too small a space and they'll start attacking each other.

To airlines, we, you and me, have become their lab experiment to find how many people they can pack in how small a space at the highest possible price and the lowest possible cost. It's today's "Cattle Car" experience. Travelers have lost their status as "passengers" and have become, instead, "cargo." The traveling experience now resembles nothing so much as an overnight bus trip through the sketchiest States. Trust me, do that once and you'll never do it again.

YouTube has been enriched with smartphone videos of passenger on passenger violence or passenger and crew confrontations. Here are some suitably tawdry examples - if you feel the need.

So, who is to blame for this spate of unruliness? An opinion piece published in Aviation Week points the finger at management, and greed.

When you combine tight schedules, overcrowded aircraft and shrinking seats with less pitch and limited overhead bin space, you have a recipe for frustration. Factors such as overbooked flights—as we recently witnessed in a passenger removal on a United Airlines flight—add to the tension. Everyone is put on edge by pressure to get airplanes out on time, such as the “Departure minus 10 min.” and American’s “Optimizer” computer program, which calculates the minimum optimum amount of time that airplanes can be on the ground and erases any margin for error. The slightest delay causes a trickle effect for every flight down the line. All these stresses are related to corporate decisions beyond the control of passengers or flight attendants.

These metal tubes that we fly in have become like capsules housing hundreds of passengers with different needs, wants and cultures in an extremely confined space.  
We have packed the aircraft with seats but drained them of every amenity. Flying is no longer a pleasant experience for most of our customers, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Now that the industry is enjoying record profits, it is time to give back and think about finding ways to make flying less stressful and more comfortable. Perhaps we should focus on the quality of our on-time departure to start out with a better experience for everyone. Let’s do a better job of making sure large bags and cumbersome items do not make it down the boarding bridge by staffing to meet the needs of everyone.

Let’s put the human element into scheduling for passengers and build more time into schedules for crew rest and connections. We should staff flights with more flight attendants, rather than sticking with the minimum government mandates. Most importantly, we must value flight attendants, compensate them fairly and recognize that they play a larger role today in an airline’s success or failure than they ever have.

American took a step in the right direction at the end of April, after pressure from our union, when it granted raises on top of earlier salary adjustments, outside of the normal collective-bargaining process, to be competitive with its peers. But when inflation is taken into account, even these increases do not bring us back to the wage rates flight attendants earned prior to 9/11.

Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic magazine this month in an article entitled “How Flight Attendants Are Set-Up To Fail,” identified two major trends: “the airlines’ corporate power to maximize profits from each flight, and fliers’ power to broadcast their frustration on social media when tensions boil over,” such as we witnessed recently with the viral videos of a Delta Air Lines passenger denied access to a restroom.

It is going to be hard to stop viral videos, but CEOs of the air carriers can use their power to improve the flying experience. If they do not, the government is likely to step in and do it for them.


Toby said...

My anger at airlines starts at having to drive through Greater Vancouver to get to the airport. There is no good way to go down the Fraser Valley to YVR (or the Tsawwassen ferry terminal). Parking at the airport has a whopping tax on top of the usual taxes. By the time I'm in the terminal I'm already angry. You know the rest. In spite of protests from my family I do what I can to avoid flying.

We can thank the de-regulators (Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney) for creating this situation. The old regulations treated airline somewhat like utilities which pretty much limited the competitive forces that put such a strain on flying.

The Mound of Sound said...

Before I gave up on flying, Toby, I gave up on YVR. Far better to drive an hour north to catch WestJet out of Comox to Calgary and then on to just about anywhere. When they first got a corner of the RCAF base to set up shop parking was $5 a day. Can you imagine?

Toby said...

Before deregulation there were jets flying into the interior and parking was free. Now there are cramped little turboprops bouncing over the mountains. No thanks.

Anonymous said...

It's spot on that deregulation is the cause. Do you remember when it was going to be good for consumers? I was very young when my father explained to me that airlines were regulated so they could not compete on price. Air travel was the way to go back then. Deregulation creates a race to the bottom; that is a particularly dangerous strategy in aviation.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, the pre-Mulroney, regulated regime was able to accommodate government policy within the commercial aviation industry while, at the same time, allowing Canada to have two profitable "flag carriers." Routes were regulated so the two key carriers, Air Canada and Canadian Pacific, didn't cut each other's throat on the major, big ticket routes. The payoff for that was that these carriers had to extend jet service into smaller markets and extend air service into the north.

AniO is right. It's been a race to the bottom that has seen prices, especially on domestic routes, go through the roof even as flying has become an ordeal. The triumph of the neoliberal ideology.