Flight experience disparities, I think I’m going to vomit

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By Christopher Elliott

It was the kind of article I could have written. I should have written. It detailed how airlines, flush with record earnings, are spending like pirates to make their elites feel extra special. All the while at the same time incorporating flight experience disparities.

Stories like this make my blood boil.

I’ve never had a problem with people who pay more getting treated a little better. But when passengers like you and me get less for the same price, and when conditions in the back of the plane are intolerable, then, yes — I’m going to have a Howard Beale moment.

Scroll down to the comments to see my friends, the free marketers, tell me how wrong I am. Their battle cry of “Pay more, get more” and their kneejerk defenses of unregulated capitalism look appealing, until they are trapped in one of the small seats on a transpacific flight.

And then suddenly they’re our new best friends

How quickly they throw their convictions out the window when it comes to their personal comfort. But I can’t blame ’em. The back of the plane is a dungeon of despair with the flight experience disparities.

By contrast, the front looks like a scene from the dystopian movie Snowpiercer. Over-the-top luxury.

Delta also recently finished a $229-million terminal upgrade at LAX that includes a private curbside entrance for the carrier’s biggest spenders.

As if that’s not enough, the most elite Delta passengers, called Delta One, “… get whisked into a private lounge, away from snooping paparazzi, where they are offered free snacks and drinks and access to an expedited security checkpoint,” the report notes.

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As most readers of this site already know, airlines are at the same time cramming as many passengers into the main cabin as possible to increase profits. They’re replacing older seats with lightweight ones offering thinner seatback cushions.

More seats, more money

This creates flight experience disparities. Excuse me, I think I’m going to vomit.

Convincing the world that this system of extreme “haves” and “have-nots” is unfair and unsustainable will probably take the rest of my career. But I see small victories every day, like the once die-hard loyalty program members who, freshly retired, see their benefits trimmed and their seats downgraded to Torture Class.

They stop by this site and quietly tell me, “Chris, you were right.”

I know I’m right, but thank you.

The government may — no, scratch that, it will — have to get involved in this fight, mandating minimum legroom standards and treating passengers with a modicum of dignity. But until it does, and that day can’t come soon enough, we have the great equalizer. (Related: Should peanuts be banned from planes?)

We have executive contacts for American, Delta and United. (Here’s what you need to know about travel and money.)

So the next time you’re wedged into an Economy Discomfort seat and you’re offered service with a snarl by a flight attendant who hates you as much as she hates her job, you can reach a decision-maker with your grievance. (Related: As airline complaints soar, the government comes to the rescue.)

Airline executive contact details

Here are the executive contacts for American Airlines.

Here are Delta’s executive contacts.

And then there are the United Airlines’ executive contacts.

Don’t hold back, my friends. Let these executives hear from you when their airlines do you wrong. But also, tell them when they do something right.

It may be the only way they’ll know. And they need to know.

Complaints about travel are not new to us. Here’s the best way to get your travel industry complaint resolved. And if that doesn’t work, you know where to find my advocacy team.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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