Friday, February 03, 2012

Board to Tears

There was an interesting piece in yesterday's WSJ on the lengths that airline travelers are going to in order to Avoid Luggage Check-In Fees (sub req):

Fights between passengers for overhead bin space are extremely rare, airlines say. But Catherine Jorgens feared mayhem was about to erupt on a Frontier Airlines flight where passengers did argue over jamming bags into already-full bins. "It was a madhouse of many people in many rows competing for sacred overhead-bin space,'' she said.

Going through security is no longer the worst part of the flying experience for Ms. Jorgens. "I think the boarding experience is the most unpleasant time for me,'' she said. Now she packs light and closes her eyes while others board, preferring not to look at the oversized bags being dragged onboard so she doesn't get upset.

"It is such a slow, tedious process,'' said Ms. Jorgens, a retiree living in Florida who travels regularly. "At what other time nowadays do you see such an endless line of people all bearing the same morose expression?''

You know, I think I would have to agree with that assessment. It used to be that light at the end of the arduous series of steps involved in air travel was when you reached the gate and were waiting to board the aircraft. Now, the battle for overhead space has introduced a new element of anxiety and stress. If you're one of those carrying luggage onboard that requires utilizing precious overhead space-as it seems more and more people are now since airlines started charging for checked luggage-you need to make sure you get on the plane before those bins are filled which they almost always are these days.

Priority boarding is one of the few perks of having elite status with an airline that really matters these days. Upgrades are getting harder and harder to come by, but being able to board the plane early at least guarantees that you’ll have open overhead bin space to stow your bag. But then you still have to sit there through the rest of the boarding process-which takes longer now that more people carry on-and listen to the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth when there’s no more room in the bins. It’s not exactly humanity at its finest and the misery is compounded when you have snarky flight attendants snapping at passengers who are just trying to find a place for their bag. Which has been the situation on pretty much every Delta flight I’ve been in the last few years. More bags stuffed into overhead bins also means that getting off the plane takes longer than it used. It gets ya comin' and goin'.

The worst part is that all of this pain and suffering which has been introduced into the boarding process has been inflicted because the airlines started charging to check luggage. Which is why it kills me when the flight attendants get all pissy about passengers carrying on bags. I want to scream, “It’s not their fault. It’s your company that created the problem. If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at them and quit blaming the victim!”

I don’t have easy answers for how to fix this, but I know that there has to be a better way.