Saturday, March 26, 2011

38 Inches at FL340



Here I sit, cruising along at 34,000 feet (or so) on my way to Communicating for Safety in Las Vegas. I don’t know how often I’ll get a chance to blog but I have one now. I’ve got a grand total of 38 inches (or so) to write in (all 6’3” and 250+ lbs. of me. Okay ++lbs. of me.) I’m surrounded by things I don’t understand. And I’m not sure I care to understand them.

The first thing is this screen in front of me. Not my laptop, but the “entertainment system”. It’s entertaining alright. It entertains all sorts of ways to separate me from my money. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First (safety first), isn’t this thing going to hurt when I brace my nose against it during an emergency landing? Sorry. Professional hazard. I always wonder how safety considerations stand up against making money. (In my experience, not very well.)

My wife (the TV junkie) is sitting next to me watching The Office . She says she hates The Office. She’s waiting on the next “free” show. The movies you can rent are 6 bucks. Imagine, watching a movie on you own screen as you cruise along at 500 mph. It’s just incredible. It would be really incredible to have a movie seat to go along with the movie. (Standby. She’s on trivia now.) (Standby on the standby. They’re having to reboot the entertainment system. Always a comforting process when you’re on a computer-controlled airplane.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about this flying gift shop I’m on. I don’t mind spending money. Really, I don’t. I’m headed to Vegas and I’m sure we’ll throw plenty of money away. I just find flying incredible when you step back and look at the experience with fresh eyes. The flight attendant handed me a menu. $8 sandwiches and $5 snacks. Add that to the $23 suitcase handling charge. $7 for a (real) drink. I didn’t pay any attention to what headsets cost. (I’ve got my iPod with me.)

(Standby...I’m being distracted by the Linux penguin and code scrolling across the entertainment screen. “Please Wait...”)

Here they come with the food carts. Time to tuck those elbows in. I’ve got to lose some weight. Not sure how I’ll lose any height.

Oh well. It turns out trivia is a good way to pass the time on an airliner. The guy in 25A is tough to beat.

Sorry for all the thoughts rummaging around in my brain. It isn’t an atmosphere conducive to thinking. But here are my thoughts anyway.

Flying has become an experience to be endured. We’ve gone from china and silverware to boxed snacks that cost extra. The cabin is stuffed with luggage because the airlines don’t want to pay anyone to handle it. But all this is merely an inconvenience.

I think it worthwhile to ask the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”. Seriously, what is the purpose of the national air transportation system? Is it to move bulk goods? No, it’s too expensive for that. Is it supposed to be mass transit? It seems as if that is its mission but it’s an expensive way of doing it. Face it, we are paying for time. Going fast costs a lot of energy. Is that really what we want to do? So I can get to Vegas in a hurry? That’s a national priority?

Who benefits from all this? Airline deregulation’s number one rationale was lower airfares for the general public. Ask yourself if that goal has been accomplished. (It certainly has in some respects but I haven’t found any numbers on the subject that I trust.) Ask yourself about the costs.

Pilots have been losing ground for decades; Prestige, salary and pension. The rest of the airline employees have only fared worse. How about investors?

”Warren Buffett observed that the world airline industry has not made a dime for investors in a century of manned flight.”

If employees, investors and consumers are all being ill-served by this industry, then why are we putting up with it? I was reading an article not too long ago explaining that the average speed of air travel is actually slowing down. Despite all the talk and all the pressure in regards to efficiency -- it’s getting worse, not better.

As a matter of fact, that pretty much sums up the whole industry; It’s getting worse -- not better. Well, unless you’re an airline CEO. I couldn’t make that kind of money if I hit the jackpot in Vegas. I guess casinos aren’t the only places where we’ll pay people to take our money.

Don Brown
March 26, 2011

2 comments:

Tom said...

The difference between a three star Asian carrier and a three star Western carrier is pretty remarkable. The biggest difference is the way the cabin crew and ground staff treat the customers. My experience with Asian carriers is that I am a valued customer. With western carriers I am self loading cargo with unreasonable demands.

Tom said...

The difference between a three star Asian carrier and a three star Western carrier is pretty remarkable. The biggest difference is the way the cabin crew and ground staff treat the customers. My experience with Asian carriers is that I am a valued customer. With western carriers I am self loading cargo with unreasonable demands.