Sunday, December 2, 2007


The Times ran this article, "Class Conflict on the Airlines," complete with accompanying sardonic picture and, hey, were you aware that airlines have been trimming the amenities in coach? Airlines save money by throwing out what used to be essentials — according to the article, United stopped handing out their delicious pretzel mix and saved $650,000, while American Airlines saved $600,000 by scuttling the pillows from their flights. Would this be a good time to point out that United took in $19 billion in revenue last year, and American made $22 billion?

Anyone who's ever flown knows the situation is different in first class, because the airline insists on shuffling the cattle through the luxury zone, just so we can see what we're missing. Lie-flat seats, four-course meals, noise-canceling headphones, while people have literally died from sitting in coach for too long. At least Singapore Airlines is doing something about deep vein thrombosis, restoring some legroom to economy class.

No, I'm just kidding. They're distributing brochures laced with magic blood thinners.

Here's where the free market system fails miserably. United says that eight percent of its fliers make up thirty-six percent of their revenue, and they'd lick those guys' balls all the way from Dulles to Düsseldorf if they asked. So applying some math skills, you have to figure that United's leaving ninety-two percent of their customers — and nearly two-thirds of their revenue — in Seats of DEATH, and taking us for cheap tourist fools buying carefully worded lines about "The passenger who is buying a ticket from us based on price sensitivity — we also want to make sure they have a comfortable flight." I'm not calling bullshit right here, but judging from our nation's hack comedians at open-mic night, there's a market for flights with peanuts, and no one cares to meet it.

The airlines epitomize the trouble with letting corporations do whatever the hell they want in the name of making a dollar. There's a diverse market that gets relegated to the "have" extreme and the "have-not" extreme. I might be willing to take a ten dollar flight on a FedEx cargo jet, but at even economy class prices, someone, somewhere should have to meet certain minimum expectations: that I'll get to my destination as efficiently as humanly possible, and that I won't have to spend eight hours in a Seat of DEATH. I don't think that's a lot to ask, but apparently ninety-two percent of you do.