Airlines: Take the poor off the plane

My recent post on passenger rudeness and airline employee customer service generated a considerable amount of discussion. What really struck me was the number of readers who cited the overlapping factors of deregulation, lower fares and increasingly crowded flights. Basically, because flights are cheaper, more people can afford them, and service levels can’t be sustained in light of both increased passenger traffic and ostensibly lower revenue per available seat mile.

So, it seems to me the solution to fear and loathing in the skies is to boot the poor – to make air travel unaffordable. In doing so, you reclaim the regulated-industry experience that everyone seemed to enjoy, whether or not regulation itself is actually necessary.

What I’ve learned from many readers – and airline industry employees – is that we need to return to the days of getting dressed up to fly, dignified behavior and a higher cost for better service. Translation: we need the “right” people in seats … even in coach. And that means setting up financial barriers to entry. If we restrict travel to the elite, the experience, I seem to be hearing, would be far better.Make no mistake about it: every complaint about the impact of low fares on the industry, especially when compared to the days of airline regulation, is a tacit admission that a specific group of people should be excluded from air travel based on disposable income. Of course, any price does this, as you need to have the funds available to purchase an item that’s for sale, but the notion that air travel is too cheap implies that, like an upscale restaurant, it should be inherently exclusive.

With higher fares, limiting air travel only to those who could afford it, fewer people would experience different parts of the country or the world. Some currently flying would have to turn to cars or buses instead. It’s easy to see how these travel experiences, without access to flights, could turn ugly quickly. The flights themselves, however, would be far better, comprised only of passengers with the means to purchase higher-priced tickets.

I, frankly, have no stance on whether air travel should exclude large portions of the proletariat. Rather, I support pricing that is driven by an efficient market (which also means that I’m not a fan of regulation). Yet, I do see the implications of what some would consider to be “appropriate” fares – rather than the cheap stuff we encounter out in the market now – as turning the airlines into a transportation equivalent to a private club.

Is this what people intend through their lamentations about flight pricing?

So, we can solve the customer service problem, it seems, by taking the poor – and perhaps the lower middle class – out of the equation. Those left will have to pay a bit more, but at least they’ll be surrounded by “desirable” travelers. The rest of us? Well, we’ll have plenty of leg room at home, I suspect.

[photo by stevendepolo via Flickr]