There is no denying it – Air travel is not what it used to be. The industry has been in a steady decline for years. Long before “terrorists” were being blamed for taking your pretzels away, airlines were blaming deregulation, fuel prices, pixie dust or whatever excuse was in fashion that week. A lot has changed in recent years and, in no particular order, here are the top ten things I miss in the current world of air travel.
Without a doubt, the number one thing I miss when I fly, is Concorde. Despite never coming close to being the most frequent passenger on her (who flew New York to London twice a week), I did have the pleasure of flying supersonic several times.
The plane was cramped, warm and smelled funny, but the experience was probably as close as you can get to air travel as it was back in the glamor days of the 50’s.
The experience started at check in, where you could get your boarding pass in a separate area with none of the hustle and bustle of the economy class ticketing area, or being yelled at by an airline drone to head on over to a computerized kiosk.
Once you had your pretty Concorde boarding pass you’d usually get a snazzy Concorde aluminum bag tag. If you were lucky (like I was once), you’d then get a private escort through security to the Concorde Lounge, where the worlds best alcoholic beverages were available. Naturally none of the lounge wardens would ever dare demand drink vouchers from you, like in most North American lounges.
The whole atmosphere was very relaxed, and you’d never run into anyone yelling on their mobile phone while trying to pound down a burger.
Once on board, you settled into your plush leather seat, and three and a half hours of pampering could begin. Once the plane leveled out at 55,000 feet, a flight attendant would hand you a Concorde gift, and a certificate with a beautiful sterling silver pen from Smythsons of Bond Street. During your meal, you could request the captain, co-pilot and flight engineer to sign the certificate. If the workload was light, you could politely request a brief visit to the flight deck, as this was all long before cockpit doors had to be locked at all times.
The finest wines were served, Champagne flowed and amazing meals made from the finest ingredients were presented in multiple courses. It was heavenly.
And then disaster struck – 113 lives were lost when Air France flight 4590 crashed on Tuesday the 25th of July 2000, right after she took off from Charles de Gaulle airport. The future of Concorde was doomed and a mere three years later, she took her final flight. The fleet ended up being put on display at various aviation museums throughout the world. My first flight on Concorde was the Saturday after the crash, and was one of the most memorable flights I have ever been on.
It has always been a cheesy line; “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” and this really does apply to airline food. Being served something to eat was always something I took for granted on a flight. You’d get on board and halfway through the movie, you’d be asked whether you wanted the chicken or beef, neither of which ever tasted very good.
Then the airlines switched to cold snacks, then to pretzels, and now even that seems to be a thing of the past on some airlines. Nowadays if you want to eat something, be sure to carry some cash with you, or stop at the food court before you arrive at the gate.
Major carriers like United Airlines are even considering removing complimentary food on some international flights. Apparently, the $500 you paid to be transported doesn’t leave them enough leeway to provide even the most basic of amenities. Of course, the hassles don’t stop with food; even water is becoming a luxury item some airlines will try and sell you.
Free luggage check-in
It isn’t hard to picture the whiteboard at “Big Airline HQ”; it has a list of things that cost them money and ways they think they can make some of that money back. They have already crossed out “blankets“, “food” and “service”, and the next item on the list is checked luggage.
Part of their dastardly plan is, of course, to force people to pack lighter, because lighter luggage loads = less fuel to burn. What it means in reality is that people will pack the kitchen sink in their carry on bags, expecting the poor flight attendant to help them lift their 200lb bag into the overhead bin.
The current assortment of airlines seems boring compared to airlines of the past. When I grew up, TWA, Pan Am and Braniff were still around (and I’m not even that old).
These airlines just seemed so much more “romantic” than the current behemoths of the skies. Everything from the airplane livery to the uniforms helped make flying a little more sophisticated. At one point, Braniff even had a scheduled Concorde service between Houston and Washington D.C (with onward service to London).
Waving goodbye at the gate
Another silly change that can all be blamed on the terrorists; waving goodbye at the gate used to be part of the trip to the airport. You’d have to walk through security, but that was just a 20 second thing, then you’d have the chance to grab a drink with your loved one(s), walk them to the gate, and wave goodbye as they walked down the jet bridge. Nowadays you are lucky if the traffic cops grant you the luxury of stopping for more than 20 seconds at the departure level of your local airport. And yes; I know there are still ways to get to the gate without a ticket, but the hassle involved with that just isn’t worth it.
Full size toiletries in my carry on bag
The only thing I hate more than checking a bag, is having to squeeze a weeks worth of stuff in a carry on bag. I’ve become a Jedi master at getting everything I need in one rolling bag, plus I mastered the art of making the bag look light, despite it often weighing close to 60lbs.
The only way I was able to travel light was by carrying all the toiletries I needed in my carry on bag. Of course, the terrorists won again, because I’m carrying my shampoo in a bottle the size of a shot glass.There are some solutions, but the only real way I’ve learned to resolve this, is to tip the hotel maid $10 and get a bag full of small shampoo bottles off h
er cleaning cart.
Super mileage promotions
Airlines are hurting, and have been for many years but it wasn’t always this bad. Even as recently as 2000, I earned 300,000 miles just for flying between Amsterdam and London a bunch of times.
Mileage programs have evolved from loyalty programs into money making machines for the airline. It’s them first, you tenth. When it comes to earning and redeeming miles, status means nothing. I remember the day where my gold card and a stash of miles were enough to have some other poor soul bumped off the plane, just because the airline loved me. Nowadays I barely even bother to redeem my miles for anything other than a domestic seat 5 months in advance.
Historic airfare errors
Don’t you just hate it when airlines start paying attention to the bottom line? Keeping an eye open for airline pricing errors has always been a bit of a hobby for me, but technology has crept into the pricing game, and airlines now manage to catch most mistakes before they post them.
Some of the classic “fat finger deals” were $20 round trip tickets in premium economy on British Airways from the US to most European destinations. The king of all deals was of course the $51 tickets from LA to Fiji. Everyone played along, from the airlines, to the travel agency that sold 500 of those tickets, they just wrote it off as “good PR”.