While hearing about the latest round of foiled terrorists and new flight security restrictions, all I’ve been able to think is “thank goodness I didn’t have to fly across the Pacific without my iPod, water, and hand lotion!” I realize this makes me a complete boor.
I guess I should qualify that statement — I would have gone insane flying American Airlines to Hawaii without my book and water and hand cream and iPod. Heck, they even charged for the in-flight meals on that trip. But on my long trip to and from Bangkok, taking “China Airlines”:http://www.china-airlines.com/en/index.htm, I was actually pretty well taken care of. I had two meals on each flight, both pretty tasty (admittedly, I’m a bad judge of how good an Asian meal really is, but I would not have hated them in an inexpensive restaurant in America). There was moisturizer in the bathroom, so I didn’t have to sit there and dessicate in the dry cabin air. There was even a personal entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me, so I coud listen to the latest Asian hit music, watch any of two dozen movies, or play a variety of games on a PlayStation-style controller (I should note that the interface for this system was hardly good — I had to show the kid next to me how to use it, and another seatmate had to guess that a button labeled “Language” would switch him from English, which he clearly could not read, to a Chinese-language interface). China Airlines even had tea and Cup o’ Noodles available at all times — and, when I got upgraded to business class on my Bangkok-Taipei leg heading home, free wireless internet.
How can American, or any other cost-cutting US airline, survive in a world of no carry-on baggage, especially against international competition like this? I might accept a few hours of boredom for a Southwest-style fare, but you’d better believe that, if I’m paying $hundreds for my flight, even even-tempered ol’ me is going to go ballistic if I have to pay for every drink. But can airlines suddenly charge more to cover food costs? Hardly, in these air-travel-as-a-commodity times — and that doesn’t even consider how much airlines would need to take in to cover the cost of offering an in-seat entertainment system.
I don’t think people will fly and be bored. People will save money and go for Southwest, or spend just a little more and enjoy their JetBlue DirecTV, or fly a European or Asian carrier that can offer a full-service experience, either because they don’t need to make a profit or because they have the low cost structure that comes from being based in a developing nation. Where’s the room in between for an expensive, boring travel experience?
I’d love to see how our domestic carriers get out of this one. It’s a doozy, but it’s just been one kick in the jewels after another for them since 9/11. I don’t think the terrorists can ever beat us, but it may be that they can beat our air travel industry. Until then, I guess I’m taking Amtrak.