Please Keep Perspective: Air Travel Isn’t Everything That’s Wrong With Society

Frank Bruni packs a ton of complaints about aviation into a single New York Times column, which really is meant as an allegory for his complaints about society as a whole.

He packs a lot of disparate complaints into one column!

  • lack of infrastructure investment
  • poor manners
  • inequality

The ‘rich get richer’ theme doesn’t especially work in aviation, at least in the US context he’s describing since

  • airfares have gotten far lower over time in inflation-adjusted dollars, even after including all add-on fees and even with the run-up over the past two years.
  • legroom hasn’t gotten materially worse, even with JetBlue adding seats and American adding seats. In fact US carriers have been adding extra legroom seating that offer a mid-range product between economy and first class, it’s easy to forget that “economy plus” is relatively new.
  • first class has been getting substantially worse (it’s become for the most part just a bigger seat)

Poor manners, sure. And plenty of airports poorly connected to the cities they serve (though many major metropolitan areas are well-connected, and one feature of the US itself is sprawling population centers that are much harder to connect to public transit than the clustered cities of Europe and Asia).

But it’s very much not that US airlines are giving more and more to the top flyers and less and less to everyone else… everyone gets less and less, at a lower price, with an option to spend the difference to buy up to a better experience.

Don’t get me wrong, like everyone else I want more for less. But it’s just not accurate to say we’re getting less for more, or at least unambiguously so.

Ironically enough, I very much agree with the conclusion of the piece:

Some blot out all of this sorting with Candy Crush. Some seethe. Too many of us lose sight of more than the earth. We forget that simply being up in the air is an experience that others seldom if ever get. If there’s one thing in even shorter supply than legroom, it’s empathy.

You wouldn’t expect it but I actually love coach )frequent flyer status makes the whole experience go much more smoothly) and I’ve been doing it more and more.

At the end of the day everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.

(HT: Larry M.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I actually don’t think domestic First Class has gotten substantially worse over the last 10 years.

    2002 was the real step down. United cut it all to tbe bare bones and everyone else found ways to cut. Blame the people managing that airline in the mid-late 90s for all kinds of misery in the U.S air travel system for years to come.

    By 2009 they were all pretty bad, save for American.

  2. He doesn’t mention blogs that whine about poor quality champagne in First Class and insufficiently attentive underpaid stewardesses, bloggers who push credit cards without full disclosure as to their own benefit, or bloggers that get comped to say nice things about airlines, mostly written by people who don’t have real jobs.
    SO he’s missing something else that’s wrong with society,

  3. Adam’s way off base with that snide comment above, in my opinion. I wonder why he’s on this page if he feels that way. Just another troll?

  4. Your problem is taking anything you read in the New York Times as serious journalism. I wouldn’t use the NYT to wipe after downing a United econ meal, even if my long flight ran out of TP.

  5. I agree with Kevin, I guess, although that’s not the way I would have put it.

    If Frank Bruni is really serious about this inequality thing, he should be concerned that the NY Times has way more subscribers than the White Plains Daily Voice. Not to mention, he almost certainly gets paid more than writers for the WPDV as well.

    He should be demanding to cap subscriptions for the Times, and the salaries of their employees, at the level of the average small town newspaper. While he’s at it, he could change his eliteist last name from Bruni to Jones or Smith.

    Strike a blow for equality today. 🙂

  6. @Adam I hope you aren’t referring to me because I do not get comped by airlines (let alone with a quid pro quo) and I have long gone to great pains to disclose any personal benefits where they may exist.

  7. @Greg United’s cuts to domestic first class began in spring 2001 actually. Internationally it was later, but do you remember actual escorting from first class lounge to aircraft?! Those were the days!

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