I ride on planes often and I must admit, I really enjoyed it early in my career - the ease, the glamour, the thrill of soaring up into the sky on the way to another adventure. Okay, it was actually the airport Cinnabon rolls that made the experience. But still, I did enjoy air travel – once.
As I was waiting to board my plane this past weekend at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, I stood back and watched folks while I listened to the various groups being called to board:
“Priority Choice and Platinum First are welcome to board through the PRIORITY AISLE.”
“First class cabin ticket holders may board at this time through the PRIORITY AISLE.”
“Elite Choice, Ruby Pass, and Platinum members may now board through the PRIORITY AISLE.”
“Group One may now board through the MAIN AISLE.”
“Group Two may now board through the MAIN AISLE.”
“No, no,” I heard the ticket lady say to one errant passenger, “the MAIN AISLE.”
And then it came – the dreaded announcement: “Our overhead bins are full, so from this point on, all carry-on items must be checked to your final destination. There is no additional fee. Please tag your bag before you board.
For me, this announcement translates to the following: “Hey you, Yolanda, you must now unload your laptop and all essential performance items such as equipment and music from your roller bag and transfer them to the crappy grocery store recycle bag that is inside your roller bag for occasions such as these. Oh, and also, good news – there will be no additional fee as a penalty for not paying an additional fee at check in for the privilege of boarding a few empty bin spaces sooner.”
I sound angry. I’m not. I know how the world works these days. I’d say I am more incredulous than angry. Puzzled, perhaps. Or maybe just frustrated by the increasing class structure demarcations in our society. Ok, I am seething.
I must follow all this by admitting that I was previously one of those early-boarding, elite people on another airline who shall remain nameless. But for many good reasons – like crummy connections and smelly planes (and the fact that they used to maintain a hub in my city before they merged with another airline and pulled out just after my city built them a new terminal), I decided that the airline who called me elite could shove it. So here I am, in the back of the pack, trying to work my way back up to that privileged status once again with a new airline. Let’s move on now that I’ve spilled my guilt in wishing to foster this convoluted boarding hierarchy and unjust world order.
Back in the good ole days, planes boarded in an efficient, quick and logical way. First came babies and the elderly. Then came first class. After that, without delay, came three groups: Back of the plane, middle of the plane, front of the plane. There were very few hold-ups in the line, folks moved smoothly and nobody felt like a bottom-feeder. How times have changed.
The amazing thing for me is that there is absolutely no attempt to disguise the simple and shameless business paradigm that now rules the airline industry (and many other industries for that matter): Your experience will only be as good as the amount you are willing to overpay. There is no basic standard to be promised or implied. You pay up, or nothing is guaranteed, including your seat. Oh and also, even if you pay up, nothing is guaranteed. Get used to it. (I added that last sentence, but they say pretty much everything else in the fine print.)
Air travel has become a necessity, just like heat, water, internet and gas. We’re over the barrel and the airlines know it. Loyalty programs are not so much about loyalty anymore, but more about consumer investment. “Miles flown” aren’t really the thing when banking your status these days – it’s how much you pay for your ticket in many cases. Early bird ticket buyers get inches on the mile.
With my new airline, I get an email every few days asking if I want to INSTANTLY become a GOLD member by paying close to 700 bucks up front (for the year). I’d get to board in GROUP 1, and maybe hang on to my carry-on, and maybe get an upgrade on a late night flight to somewhere very unpopular. I must admit, I consider it every time I get the email. But I’m stubborn. I want to earn it.
Actually, I really don’t – want to earn it, that is. I just refuse to contribute even the tiniest glimmer of encouragement to our new world order philosophy of pay-to-play – especially when you’ve already paid.
But on the bright side, I still like the smell of Cinnabon.