Air travel just doesn’t fly anymore

Aside from family car trips, my first real travels started on a train. I was 11 years old and heading to Montreal from Niagara with just my best friend. We were going to visit his grandmother and meet up with his father, who would then drive us out to New Brunswick on Canada’s East Coast.

Having criss-crossed Canada a couple of times in the two decades since, and now circumnavigated the globe, that little trip seems pretty short, but for an 11-year-old, it was like going to a different planet – and anyone that’s ever been to Quebec will tell you, that’s not far off.

As such, train travel has always maintained a warm spot in my heart. However, North American train service has died a slow death as domestic airlines fought for lower and more obtainable seat fares. I mean, why would you pay the same price for a ticket that would take 5x as long?

But I think the airlines are now paving the way for a resurgence in train travel, as they seem to be forgetting what made their service great in the first place – comfort and convenience.

In the past week I’ve read news about JetBlue charging $7 for a pillow and blanket and USAirways charging $2 for water. Near all the (US domestic) airlines are making passengers cough up additional fees for checking luggage and even considering changing their flight.

Now, I understand that fuel prices being what they are the airlines have had to get creative to try and limit ticket increases – but this is just getting stupid.

Sure, it could be argued that trains and buses don’t give you free food and beverages – however, trains and buses also don’t lock you in a tube at 40,000 feet for hours at a time, and (due to “tightened security”) also don’t own a monopoly on what drinks you can bring on board.

I’ve always hated air travel. I love flying, but the ticket-buying process has always made me itch. Unlike a train or bus, plane fares fluctuate by hundreds of dollars depending on the time of day/week/month/year, the airline, your hair colour, or whether you wear shoes laced in or out. The whole thing makes me tenser than the last 5 minutes of an eBay auction.

Then, when you finally nab the absolute best price (or say “fuck it” and settle) you find that your great ticket price doesn’t include any (seemingly random) combination of the following:

  • Airport Passenger Facility Charges
  • Federal Segment Fees
  • September 11th Security Fee
  • a Travel Facilities Tax
  • foreign and U.S. government-imposed charges
  • Facilitation Fee
  • Online Air Transaction Service Fee.
  • Offline Air Transaction Service Fee.
  • Processing Service Fee.
  • Paper Ticket Shipping Fees.
  • Fees for Changes/Cancellations/Refunds.

Where did it all go so wrong? When did the airline industry get so byzantine that it shucked the simplistic and uniform pricing and purchasing model that seems to work damn fine for just about everything else we buy?

And why do we as consumers stand for it?

I’ll tell you why – we don’t know who to blame. The ticket agents pin it on the airlines and airports; the airports on local governments; and the airlines blame it all on the cost of fuel and, most ironically, back on us for our lack of desire to fly more.

So, air travel industry, may I suggest you stow your blame and place your attention in its full upright position. If you continue to convolute your pricing, complicate the purchasing and condescend your customers – I, for one, am quite happy to take the train.

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