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What Little there Is

January 4th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Would you like to purchase any snacks or sandwiches today?” the stewardess asks.  (Erm… air hostess… no wait… flight attendant.  Right, we’re using the neutered flight attendant now.  Silliness.  Anyway, this was a lady, but that’s irrelevant.)

Starting again…

“Would you like to purchase any snacks or sandwiches today?” the flight attendant asks.

My stomach rumbles ominously.  I haven’t had anything today but a Jimmy Dean D-Lights diet breakfast sandwich and a banana.

“Yeah, I’ll have the sandwich.”

She passes over a pathetic, plastic-wrapped sandwich and a small bag of chips.

“That’ll be ten dollars.”

I resist a sudden urge to hand the sandwich and small bag of chips right back.  But I don’t.  My stomach has told me in no uncertain terms that doing that would be a bad idea.  Picking a fight with a large, bald, tattooed man in a bar bad.  So I pass over my credit card, resisting the urge to grind my teeth.

I look over the meager fare with disgust as the attendant fiddles with her little card reading machine.  You’d think the airline could spot me a dang sandwich for a four and a half hour flight.

“Thank you!”

I mumble something that could be interpreted as polite as I return my abused card to the dubious safety of my wallet.

The attendant moves on to the next row, doing a valiant job of pretending to ignoring her memories of the days when passengers looked forward to flying.  When a flight came with a meal, a smile, a pillow, and even — if you asked for them — a deck of cards.  When the only people that carried roller-bags onto the plane were on business, and the only reason they didn’t check bags was because they were far too busy to bother with waiting at the baggage claim.  When flying wasn’t a chore, but an adventure.

I don’t envy her.  Hers is a hateful job now.

I turn back to stare at my sandwich and small bag of chips.  But I don’t eat yet.  The drink cart spends another fifteen minutes making its slow trudge down the isle before it reaches us.

Service — at least that at thirty thousand feet — is dead in America.

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  1. January 4th, 2011 at 22:44 | #1

    The downside, of course, is that flight with the free sandwich and playing cards probably cost twice as much as the one you’re on. $10 starts to look a lot better.

  2. January 5th, 2011 at 17:08 | #2

    All things being equal, yes, I would rather pay less. The airlines know that, so they have changed their game to accommodate. I.e. when you look at ticket prices, you’re basically seeing the absolute bare bones package, with everything else as “premium features.” I personally hate the nickel-and-diming atmosphere that creates, but fine. If that’s the system, then I can deal with it.

    The problem — as I see it — is that there is absolutely no way to tell what “creature comforts” you’re going to be charged for, or how much. So I have no way to know how much extra it would cost to level the playing field across the different companies. (For example: if a Gamma Airlines flight costs $5 more than a NickelDime Airlines flight, but Gamma’s going to give me a sandwich and NickelDime Air is going to charge $10, then all other things being equal I’d go with Gamma. But if I have no way to know that, then I’ll go with NickelDime.)

    In that scenario, I only have one piece of information: Bottom line price. And that puts a heavy incentive on cutting that bottom line — at the expense of the customer. So, as I see it, the system is set up to produce, by small but steady steps, a perfect “cattle car of the sky.”

    Sure, it’ll be a little cheaper than the alternative. But to cut the bottom line by 10%, we may be giving up 100% of our comfort.

    I think a simple solution to this would be so have a complete listing of all amenities and their prices for each flight. Even better would be to define a minimal set of amenities required for particular service classifications. So if you bought a “coach” ticket, you know that you’re getting X, Y, and Z. That way consumers can be informed of what they are purchasing, and can search based on their minimal requirements.

  3. Mom
    February 12th, 2011 at 18:27 | #3

    Even a menial plane ride has a story for you. Even though you could have said,” Airlines SUCK !” and leave it at that, you write a very meaningful and thoughtful article about it. One can tell you are annoyed and a wee bit angry, but it comes across as a “ponder”. A delightful comment on the way things are and how things used to be. Ahhhhh………the good old days !

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