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Flying, Then and Now

Web posted on March 01, 2016

A Curmudgeon's View

By Les Enekes

It's interesting how much the airline industry and air travel has changed over the years. Back in the day, air travel was an experience. Travelers dressed in their best clothing. The airlines offered quality service, and for the most part the choice was between first class and economy. The fare structure was relatively simple. They were based on the season and the time of the flight. Red-eye flights were always cheaper. At one point there was a premium for flying on a jet. Some airlines even offered stand-by fares. Meals were served on real china and with real utensils. Kids (of all ages) could always visit the cockpit. It was all very civilized.

I recently read a book by John Travolta called "Propeller One-Way, Night Coach." The story is about a young boy who saved up his pennies, and his mother, flying across the United States. It reminded me of my first flight on an airliner. I too saved up my pennies and talked my parents into letting me fly from London (I grew up in and around London) to Toronto on a Trans Canada Airlines Viscount. I got to spend a few of hours wandering around the old Terminal One, before they picked me up and we drove home. The flight was too short for a visit to the cockpit. There were only two fares available, nine dollars for coach and twelve for first class everything included. No security fees, no airport improvement fee, no sales tax and all the extra stuff we have to pay for these days. There was no security check. My parents upgraded me to first class. Naturally, I had to wear my best clothes. That's about all I remember.

Today air travel remains an experience, but not in the good sense. Passengers are treated like cattle. Cash cows to be precise by the airlines and governments as well. The fare structure is more complex than the tax code. Economy class has been eroded to being like steerage. Business class (in North America) is closer to what economy was a long time ago in many ways. The airlines now want to charge for everything, from where you sit, to how much baggage you take with you. Then there are the fuel sur-charges that are still there with the price of oil going down. The so called no frills carriers are taking air travel to the extreme. Governments and airports get into the act with fees and taxes. They are milking travelers for as much as they can get away with. Most homeless people are better dressed than some of the people getting on planes these days, and that includes the so called celebrities up front. Just something to think about if you are flying south for March Break.

For the most part travelers want the best value for their dollar. It is interesting that in a world where everything is bundled for our (in)convenience, the airlines are doing the opposite. You buy the seat and everything else is optional. Obviously the marketing people know what's best for us. It would be nice if the base prices dropped accordingly, but they don't.

Now we have a new player in the Canadian market with New Leaf trying to start up. Their initial prices seemed somewhat reasonable for a seat only. It will be interesting to see what really happens. Will travelers jump at this opportunity only to find that by the time they pay for the bags, seat selection, and so on, there is very little saving over the two big airlines? Do they have pockets deep enough to last, or will they go the way of Canada 3000 and Jetsgo just to name a couple. Then came the news. They have temporarily suspended ticket sales and are giving refunds, because of regulatory issues. I guess lawyers are not included in the base fare.

I would like to see an airline that would come up with different model. It would have three classes of service. The first would be what I would call Classic Economy. This would be a full fare all inclusive service that would have all the features that economy used to have back in the day. It would be somewhere between economy and business class. There would be no seat sales, and no minimum or maximum length of stay There would be the usual complimentary meals and drinks, no additional charges for any service and no charge changes could be made up to flight time. The fare structure would fit on a business card using a large font. There would also be a bit more leg room. No airline seems to be offering this option these days. Next there would be Basic Economy that would be similar to what is currently offered with some extra leg room. Then there would be Steerage Class (and it would be advertised that way) that would be like the no frills carriers. This way travelers would have a real choice.

I have had the opportunity to be up front on several occasions and it is certainly far more civilized than in the back. These days I would opt for more comfort. On the other hand, given a choice and unlimited resources I would rather take a Gulfstream 5, than be subjected to the indignities of current airline service.

The Ontario budget came down last week. For the most part we are going to get screwed as usual. I plan to have a few columns about this debacle in the future. The next three columns are somewhat time sensitive and will run as planned. I will have a lot of catching up to do.


Les Enekes can be reached directly by owl. For those not owl equipped, he can be reached at news@thefountainpen.com

The views of columnists in The Fountain Pen do not necessarily represent the views of the principals of the publication.


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