Friday, October 23, 2009

Business travel = bus travel in the new millenium?

Warning: This is a whiny post. So, if you're not in the mood for cynicism and griping, you may want to look away.

Remember the days when business travel was considered exotic and a perk to any job? Remember when your friends would ask, with some longing, "where are you going this week?" Yep, back in the day...

Earlier this week USA Today published a front page story on the travails of flying, particularly the phenomenon of carry-on luggage which is overloading cabins and irritating passengers and flight attendants alike. In case you missed it, or don't travel, airlines are now charging for checked bags. Only Southwest Airlines does not charge a fee for checking a bag to one's next destination. Some airlines are going further--at United Airlines, one can "buy up" to get in the fast-track line through airport security or more legroom (all of a few inches.)

The consequence of this luggage fee is that more and more people are lugging bags onto aircraft. These pack mules--I mean, passsengers--are bringing more than the allotment of two bags and luggage which well exceeds the size limit for carry-ons. And, according to USA Today, some are doing it knowing that if they can't find overhead space for the bag, the airline will check it to the next destination--free of charge and at the front of the queue of luggage which will be loaded off of the plane upon arrival.

Many passengers get on and immediately throw their carry-on into an overhead compartment at the front of the plane, even though their seat may be in 22C. The end result is frustrated flight attendants, irritated fellow passengers and even a few injuries given the heft of these bags and the issues which can occur if one falls from above.

On top of the new luggage laws, airlines are trimming flight schedules in order to get flights more fully packed, thus reducing expenses and, in the process, reducing convenience for travelers. For example, in the past two weeks, I've flown round-trip and direct to Oakland from Kansas City, as well as a one-stop flight and connecting flights between those two cities. Further out, in the past month, I've flown to Chicago Midway and from Chicago O'Hare to San Francisco. In all cases, every flight was fully booked--there were no empty seats.

This ain't your father's former form of air travel--no space, no coffee served in china cups, no flight attendants puffing your pillow. Nope, the new world order in air travel--fares which no one can understand; a constantly changing, and constricted, list of flights; and too many people, and too many bags, jammed into smaller seats and smaller planes.

Air travel--the new millenium's version of a Greyhound.

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