Hey airlines, thanks for nothing!

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By Christopher Elliott

What annoys you the most about air travel? Is it the chaos that awaits when you pull up to the curb at the airport terminal this time of year? How about the indignity of being screened by the TSA? Or maybe just knowing that you’re paying more but getting so much less?

Now take a deep breath and say it with me: “Thank you.”

As we approach Thanksgiving, I, for one, am feeling grateful.

So is Mary Jo Baas, a consultant from Milwaukee. She sees the upside in the deep cuts in services and amenities, particularly in economy class.

“I remember being offered free miniature bottles of liquor every time the flight attendant passed by, especially on international flights,” she says. “I never see that anymore.”

But you won’t hear her complaining.

“I’m thankful,” she says. “There aren’t as many drunk, obnoxious passengers on flights anymore.”

Airlines also used to parcel out snacks, and on longer flights they even served meals. Joan Wallace, a retirement consultant in Boise, doesn’t miss that.

“I prefer to bring my own food,” she says. “The lunch I prepare at home is higher quality, healthier, and I get exactly what I want at a lower cost.”

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The unintended health benefits of airline cost-cutting

In their relentless efforts to cut costs, have airlines unintentionally done us a favor?

We’re drinking less and eating healthier, thanks to the accountants who drew lines through the in-flight amenities we used to complain about. That might be difficult to prove, but it’s nice to think that a lack of services has inadvertently benefitted us.

Thanks, deregulation.

While we’re talking silver linings, why not swivel around and look at the other side of the gate? The Transportation Security Administration is famous for its nonsense rules. Among the oddest are the liquid-and-gel restrictions, some of which are mysteriously waived for elite-level frequent fliers who belong to its clubby “Pre-Check” program. The “special” air travelers who belong to Pre-Check are allowed to keep their liquids in their carry-ons.

I’m grateful for the TSA’s liquid restrictions. Before the silly 3-1-1 rule went into effect as a knee-jerk reaction to a terrorist threat we’ve all forgotten about, passengers packed way too many lotions and potions in their suitcases. When their planes became pressurized, the liquids oozed all over the place. What a mess!

Now that we’re limited to one quart-size, clear, plastic, zip-top bag with no more than 3.4 ounces, air travelers are packing smarter. I haven’t experienced a single leak since 2006, the year the gel rule was imposed on us.

You know what? I think it’s great. The TSA should keep the rule even after they give the “all clear” on our carry-on liquids, which should have happened about five years ago. But hey, who’s counting? (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

Finding comfort in chaos

If you think being thankful for the hassles is a sick exercise that only serves the airline industry, maybe you should talk to Dean Starovasnik, a frequent air traveler who is a director for an engineering company in Norcross, Ga. He’s thankful for his home airport, the endlessly confusing Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It’s the world’s busiest airport, so of course it’s a labyrinth.

“For an inexperienced traveler, it can be intimidating,” he admits.

“But Atlanta has all the bells and whistles that many smaller airports don’t. These include TSA Pre-Check, Delta Sky Club rooms, lots of convenient parking choices and some very nice, healthy and varied — though somewhat expensive — dining options.”

I have similar feelings about my home airport, Orlando International, except that it’s created with the tourist in mind, and everything is easy. Unless you’re sitting in one of those legendary lie-flat seats, airports may be the best part of air travel today. Thanks for that.

Whether they’re lost, short on sunblock thanks to TSA restrictions, or starving, air travelers can be remarkably understanding and grateful for the little things.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Are you a grateful passenger this Thanksgiving?

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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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