Excuse me, I think I’m going to vomit

airplane, plane, seat, cabin, flight, trip, travel, vacation, recline, passengers, aisle

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 — while at the same time removing space from the passengers in steerage.

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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.

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

In case you missed it, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines now offer chauffeured cars to help premier travelers make connections at Los Angeles International Airport. But not just any cars, as the story points out — United uses Mercedes Benz cars, Delta picks up its travelers in Porsches and American relies on Cadillacs to transport its most prized passengers.

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.

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.

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.

We have executive contacts for American, Delta and United.

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.

Here are the executive contacts for American Airlines.

Here are Delta’s executive contacts.

And here are 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.

23 thoughts on “Excuse me, I think I’m going to vomit

    1. It’s easy to be snide, but Chris is right. It’s not that I object to those who have a little more bread, getting a little more butter. That’s the way of the world. But it throws the increasing misery inflicted on the rank-and-file air passenger into such sharp contrast.

      Things have gotten so much worse, even in the last few years. It’s now misery to fly pretty much anywhere. (Until last week, I would have tagged that statement with “except Southwest”, but the experience I had on the last flight I took was truly hellish.)

  1. The other thing to remember
    is that if you complain about service or your seat you are now subject to
    possible ejection from your flight by a cranky flight attendant. Don’t forget
    that a California attorney was tossed off a flight for a perceived discourtesy
    when he entered the airport (NOT on the plane). Flight attendants aren’t
    happy either, their jobs and worked conditions have also deteriorated
    significantly – making it even less of a pleasure to fly with them –and they
    have all the power in this situation. And don’t even get me started about
    the TSA….. Flying has become an unbearable experience. And yes, I was
    one of those who was upgraded on every flight for many years. I’m now in coach
    (or torture class) for every flight. If you measure the exact space one
    is allotted on a flight is less than a coffin. – Yes, I’d better stick to decaf too.

  2. Yeah, Chris, you’re gonna have to take on a bigger system that just the airlines. You’re going to have to take on modern capitalism. Everything the airlines (or all public companies, for that matter) do makes sense when you remember that they are not in the business of transporting people; they’re in the business of making money for their shareholders. That’s it. So if your job is to create wealth, rather than to serve customers, of course you care more about the passenger paying $10- to $25,000 for first class seats than you do about the ones paying $800 for the terrible conditions in coach. If this makes you angry, then although I basically understand why, you need to be mad at every single seller of luxury goods, where people who spend more are treated better and get a better product than people who spend less. And finally, airlines can’t function without coach passengers, so you also need to be mad at all the people who will pay bottom dollar for terrible seats and service. If we stopped buying, they’d come up with a more compelling value proposition to sell us.

  3. While I’m a Delta elite flyer and a bit of an airline apologist….I could certainly appreciate the enforcement of some sort of ‘minimum standard’ for comfort. Minimum seat pitch, width, carry-on allowance, offering of food/water, etc….

    But with more legroom you have fewer seats thus requiring higher fares. Passengers may say they’re willing to pay more for a better experience, but how many of them actually do so? I still think most prefer ‘cheap’ to ‘comfortable.’

    1. I’d like to think many people would be willing to pay a little bit more for better standards. The problems is that most of the time, the airlines don’t let you know what they are offering, at least not without some real effort on the consumers part. While I know SW has a bit better product, I couldn’t really tell you which airline offers better international service, or other than SW whether Delta, American or United is better for flights domestically. I know from a bad experience on American, I’ll try to avoid them, but why can’t the airlines advertise “hey, we offer more seat pitch than the others, or more than X Y and Z airlines?”

      And sometimes its hard to know till near the end of the purchase if you’ll have issues trying to get seats together for your family, if you even can. I find it incredibly annoying that the airlines can’t sell you seats together, unless you pay more. They don’t do that for concerts or other events.

  4. Please let me clarify. The message is spot on. The delivery takes away a lot from the message. I found it hard to justify the use of “vomit”.

    I just traveled from Heathrow to Johannesburg. It was the definition of hell in coach.

  5. I am never sure if you are advocating for the complete elimination of both first and business classes and require all airlines to have just one class of service or not?

    1. He seems to be. Perhaps he should publish his business plan for the prices and profits of an airline that operated within the parameters he defines.

      It would give some much needed validation to all of these points.

    2. All he’s asking for is some better minimum standard in coach. A few extra inches of leg room/seat pitch/seat width would be a great start. that doesn’t mean taking away first/business class, all it means is a little less money for airlines and shareholders. As one said above, businesses should be in business to provide services/make products, not just to generate more wealth for the wealthy.

  6. Bring your own barf bag because chances are you might not have one at your seat. Cutbacks you know. (Actually I really do see them missing quite often.)

    1. Flying home out of Thailand in Jan. after being sick all night (food I guess) I noticed the lady next to me started vomiting & on reaching for a barf bag there were none at all. She used the blanket bag which of course was not adequate as I went to a stewardess for a plastic bag. She did give me one but told me to throw it in the bathroom. I still was sick (but no more vomiting) Needless to say we both slept all the way to LAX. This was on Cathay Pacific if you are interested. I must say the FA did seem concerned that I was not eating & kept trying to give me a meal-all of which were declined. It was a memorable journey home after a wonderful vacation.

  7. Actually you did write the article before. Technical glitch? I read it earlier under the title “Up in the Air the Poor get Poorer but Here’s What to Do”.

    1. Thanks for bringing this up, KE.

      I thought I’d seen this one before, too. Turns out we’re republishing some of the articles lost after we were hacked this summer. As of tomorrow, we’ll be adding an explanatory note at the bottom of each “rerun.” Thanks, again! 🙂

  8. I really don’t think the problem is that those who pay more get more – even if they get a LOT more. The problem is that much of what they’re getting seems to be coming directly out of what those who can only afford to pay for basic service are getting (can you say “coach”?). Coach seating has become smaller and smaller, so that it borders on torturous, and much of the space lost in coach seems to have been used to make first- and business-class even more luxurious. Now, if you want to give someone else something extra, fine, but don’t take it out of my most basic needs (leg room, arm rests, water, etc.). And THAT’s the problem….

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