Dian's Column
Dian's Archive


Airline passengers go postal and for good reason

By Dian Vujovich

I’m a little surprised that it has taken so long for there to be turbulence among passengers given the cattle car travel conditions airline coach passengers have to endure. And while I don’t agree with the way a few passengers have reacted and chosen to deal with their uncomfortably, it’s greed that’s really behind it all.

One of the things about being old enough to remember when is remembering when.

When I first began flying from point A to B in the 1960s, the skies were less crowded and so were the planes. In coach, seats were inches wider, there was more legroom allowing one to really enjoy the 3-course meal that was served. It came complete with real silverware, complimentary wine and beverages all presented on trays placed on tray tables within easy reach of you seat. Flying was a pleasure back when. People even dressed up to do it.

We all know that those days are long gone. Some might say progress is the reason for all the horrible changes in flight travel but I think otherwise—it’s corporate profits ruling the world and the skies these days. And the confortability of the passengers —who make those profits possible– be damned.

It’s clear that airline execs have chosen profits over passenger comfort and as a result have turned a blind eye to some simple visual facts that everyone else on the planet sees. Namely, over the years passengers have gotten taller and fatter. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are at least 25 pounds heavier than they were in the 1960s and about an inch and one-half taller.

Today, seats on most airlines are inches smaller, leg space shortened right along with aisle space. In the future passengers can expect new aircraft to have slimmer chairs made of lighter materials with thinner armrests. In other words the plan is to squeeze wider butts into tighter seats and charge more for the experience.

But as Boeing’s chief aircraft salesman, John Wojick, said in a Mashable.com interview last December. “When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage.”

That competitive edge has paid off for some airlines as CEO pay is lofty and so has been the growth on some airline stocks.

For instance, the CEO of Southwest Airlines received $4 million in compensation last year—most of it in stock awards. And according to E-Trade, in the past 3 months the share price of Southwest, symbol LUV, was up nearly 19 percent, its 6-month return ahead over 42 percent, year-to-date up over 74 percent and in one year LUV has soared over 150 percent. I hope you owned shares of it.

JetBlue (JBLU) and Spirit Airlines (SAVE) also enjoyed some high- flying gains. Year-to-date, JBLU shares have gained over 46 percent, SAVE some 61 percent. Over the past 1-year, JBLU is up nearly 103 percent and SAVE nearly 132 percent.

While adding every fee an airline can think of and squeezing their client base as tightly as humanly possible has been rewarding for some, I’m surprised the addition of more fees and less space hasn’t caused more ill-will among passengers.

So until the airlines wake up and realize that it’s the proper care and feeding of their passengers that count the most, don’t be surprised if you see a future with more going postal in-flight passenger eruptions. Ordinary coach-class people are sick and tired of being squeezed.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

[ top ]