So American Airlines has started charging $15 for checked luggage. Wednesday, it was the lead story on the “Nightly News.” Thursday, an ABC headline read, “Checked Bag Fees: Money for Nothing.”
What’s the big story? Is it the same as taxes, where once they start charging, there’s no turning back? Or is it just that sensational statements draw readers?
Who knows, but frankly, I’m getting a little tired of the media bashing the airline industry. If it’s not incessant coverage about scheduling delays or lost luggage, it’s about security. Today it’s about charging for luggage. As I write this, the price of oil is topping $130 a barrel and is projected to exceed $200 by the end of the summer. That’s the story, and it’s way bigger than the airline industry trying to stay afloat--or should that be aloft?--by adding $15 to the price of a flight. But I think it goes beyond that.
I think people love to complain and the media gets paid by giving people what they want to hear.
Does this sound familiar? For the last 20 years, most people have agreed that airline food sucked. They’d say things like, “all three of the coach entrée choices were inedible.” Then, all of a sudden, the elimination of free food service is seen as huge disappointment. “Oh no, I won’t be getting ‘Something Over Rice’ on my two-hour flight home?”
It’s similar to people in Seattle, where I live, who, when we finally get a sunny, 80-degree day after nine months of rain, whine, “ Put on the air-conditioner, it’s too hot.” But I think it goes beyond the weather weenie mentality.
Here’s my theory about why the $15 per bag issue is so hot: The story is not about the cost of flying going up, it’s about the reality that the average Joe is getting squeezed out of the American dream. Ever since the inception of commercial airlines, flying has been a hallmark of living large. Images of pretty flight attendants, macho pilots and wealthy travelers became icons of the glamorous American lifestyle that created the “jet-setter” as an American model. Today, the air travel experience has lost its sizzle. You go through security, do what you’re told, wait for a couple of hours to board, stay seated with the buckle fastened, don’t use the toilet facilities in the front of the plane--for security reasons--and de-board without a welcome.
The whole flying experience today is threatening the average American’s chance to feel like a jet-setter, and they don’t like it. Except for when you were boarding and had to shuffle your way through the first class gauntlet, flying always allowed Americans to feel like someone special. Today, the flying experience is more like taking a bus. Airlines have always charged us for the mysticism of flying. Americans just miss the allusion in the old slogan, “It’s The Ooooonly way to fly.” Today it’s more like, “Pay up, sit down, and get out--it’s the only way to fly.”
Then again, you can always drive.
This was a guest post by James Krieger. If you want to read more from James check out his blog www.nicaraguarealestateinvestment.org.