It’s a more or less constant refrain these days. We are perceived to be forking out more for airline tickets than ever before, and yet we seem to be getting less in return. Flying-and airports in general-are becoming more of a hassle, year in and out.
The most baleful recent exemplar of this practice is the various add ons that are now manifesting themselves even on long haul routes. Swingeing in flight service cuts combine with sharp-sometimes razor sharp practices- to make buying flight tickets online an obstacle course of epic precautions. Even the most mainstream flight websites are now rife with disingenuous lead in fares that are, in reality, merely the tip of an often much larger iceberg.
The worst practice is now the deceptive lead in fares for long distance air travel. These are now often quoted as flight only, and luggage is factored in as an extra, often quite eye watering charge at the end. For instance, a round trip flight from Newcastle to Florida in 2020 can come in at what seems an eminently reasonable £350, but the additional charge for just one 23 kg case can add around an additional hundred pounds on top. Given the poor strength of the pound against both the dollar and the euro, this makes for quite some sucker punch to the prospective long haul traveller. And this practice is now in force right across most global flight routes, and on most major carriers.
Why this Machiavellian sleight of hand? Why not simply put the baggage costs onto the total air fare as before, instead of trying to dupe people with illusory, head in the cloud lead in fares that simply do not stack up on the ground?
Some websites now allow for the option of bringing ‘up to 23kgs’ of hand luggage ‘free’. But we all know fine well that getting such sized bags into already crammed overhead lockers-let alone first hauling them through security- is like trying to thread a supertanker through the Panama Canal; a complete non starter. And, surely, the idea of some infirm old granny trying to lift an eye watering 23 kilos of luggage without any kind of assistance is a complete non starter just on health and safety grounds? Does anybody actually think this stuff through?
From a legal point of view, this is no doubt all above board. But is it proper? After all, at one time in this country it was perfectly legal to hang a starving nine year old for stealing half a loaf of bread. That hardly made it right to do so…..
Air travel has lost a huge amount of its romance and lustre in the last two decades. The terrible events of 9/11 and just afterwards triggered a seismic, almost manic series of enhancements-some practical, some pathetic-to the existing, arcane airport security protocols. But even the most extreme of these were done with the best of intentions, if not the best delivery. While we can pick at little things when passing on the journey from landside to airside, most people would probably concur that change had to come. They will bow to the inconvenience, and just accept it. Which, on the whole, is fair enough.
But the stratospheric rise of the budget airline has triggered a reaction not too many people foresaw; a retrenchment at airlines like BA, where rampant nickel and diming on domestic and European routes is now the company mantra. Gone are the much appreciated, early morning bacon sarnies on the domestic routes down to Heathrow. Like the drinks napkins once offered as a routine gesture in Economy, they have simply flown the coop.
On European flights in Economy, the free drinks and food that once made BA such a stellar, popular and inclusive choice have gone, too. Passengers are now ‘invited’ to purchase snacks from a select menu; one that often as not runs out of options before staff can actually cover everybody on board. Processing payments for food and drinks (you are also ‘invited’ to use your BA air miles via the mobile app on your phone for these) takes the harassed, already over worked flight staff twice as long to process as in the free regime days.
The result? A lower standard of service (which is not by any means the fault of the hard working flight staff, by the way) and an at least fifty per cent chance that any product you are willing to pay for might have run out when the food and drink trolleys do, eventually, get to you. And, of course, the teeth gnashing, tortuous fact that you are now obliged to pay at all for items that, for decades, were literally part and parcel of your travel experience.
Now, this nefarious, ne’er do well policy of nickel and diming people for food and drinks has not yet come to the long haul BA fleet, but who is to say that it will not, in due course? Is what has come to pass on the short haul routes merely the precursor to larger, more swingeing cuts eventually envisaged right across world wide BA Economy flights? Is the corporate guillotine at BA ready to fall on the heads of the hordes of travellers that still make this once great airline their carrier of choice? Going on present form, and the hang ’em up by the heels and empty their pockets mentality of senior management at BA, things do not look good….
Sure, there are long haul budget carriers-such as Norwegian- that do, indeed, charge for all food and drinks in their Economy cabins. But look at their flight prices, vis-à-vis the same choice of destinations offered by any of the major carriers, and the saving is so substantial that it easily outweighs what you might-or, indeed, might not-spend on food and drinks over the course of a flight. It simply isn’t horses for courses, though some airline execs have certainly tried to paint it in exactly that light.
Seat sizes, too, remain a lightning rod for animated discussion. Often as not, economy class seats on most airlines-but especially on the budget operators- would leave even a particularly small pygmy in a state of agonised contortions over the course of even a relatively short flight. It is the airborne equivalent of battery farming; enclose as many adults in as small a space as possible, and then assault them with scratch cards, extra price food and drink, ‘duty free’ items, and even airport and hotel transfers. Here, transport meets coercion and outright extortion, in surroundings so cramped that there is, quite literally, no escape.
If you wonder why air travel has lost so much of its once glamorous cachet, there it is. The inclusiveness of it all, the hospitality element, has gone down the plughole. Passengers are, quite literally, human cargo, to be milked like so many rows of subdued, stationary ATM machines.
It’s not smart. It’s not clever. And, perhaps most depressingly of all, it’s not going to change any time soon, either.