Story and photo by Manos Angelakis
Flying the Unfriendly Skies
I never thought I would be advocating that Congress and the FAA should reregulate the US airline industry, but the current actions of the US airlines necessitate that regulations should be re-imposed.
I have been flying on international flights since 1955.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, while creating promotional and marketing materials for the luxury travel industry including a number of domestic and international airlines, I flew many times a year long flights of 9 to 14 hours. In ’90 and ’91 I flew twice around the world, literally, both North and South Hemispheres. Year-before-last I did 7-round trip flights over a period of 9 months.
The reality is that there is no competition in the international flights arena. The airlines have IATA, that is nothing more than an international cartel that no government regulates, where the airlines set their own prices and distribute routes amongst themselves and, in addition, there are the three “alliances” (Sky Team headed by Delta, OneWorld headed by American and Star Alliance headed by United) and all, through the subterfuge of “code sharing”, allow carrier members of an individual alliance to “share” a plane – most times 3 to 5 airlines share one plane on a transatlantic or transpacific flight, or a transcontinental north to south or south to north flight. Each carries their own flight number to give the impression that these are distinct flights, though actually only one plane is used. The reality is that passengers are treated shoddily during flights, stacked in planes like cordwood, fed food that a pig would not eat – if they are given any food at all. They are constantly nickeled and dimmed so that the airlines can pay their top executives fat bonuses. And if you refuse to give up your seat when told to, you will get dragged down the aisle by goons passing as security personnel; we saw news footage of it happening to an unfortunate physician on a United Airlines flight!
Sometimes I fly business class, but most times it is coach. And I have seen steady and constant erosion in comfort, for the passengers in the coach seats with the pitch (the distance between rows of seating) changed from an average of 35 inches to a current average of 31 inches -- as opposed to average 60 to 78 inches for business class and average 80 to 86 for first class.
In reality, what is most important, legroom, is now as little as 8.5 inches from the front edge of the seat to the back of the seat in front of it; that used to be known as a charter configuration (jam as many seats as possible in the coach section of the plane), but now it is a standard for the majority of US-based airlines. We have seen airline technology presenting a sophistication unimaginable 30 years ago, yet the part of the plane that is used most by the paying public, is regressing as far as amenities and comfort, with every passing year.
Coach covers the basic coasts of a flight, while business and first class produce the profits. Therefore, every inch of space in coach is grudgingly given, mostly when governments threaten regulation. Normally, the airlines are conditioning coach fliers to a steerage mentality by making them believe that to get a good price they have to accept unacceptably uncomfortable, and disease incurring (leg vein thrombosis) travel conditions.