The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
The Class of Airlines
Growing up and throughout human civilization, there have been classes used to identify groups of people. As a kid, I remember being told I was “lower middle class” of the three, which were poor, middle, and rich. There are also lower poor, middle poor, upper poor, lower middle, middle middle, and upper middle, as well as lower rich, middle rich, and upper rich. In the last 20 – 30 years, however, something changed. The middle class got smaller, the poorer class got bigger, and the richer class remained about the same. I would say that as an adult, I was raised in middle class and I am still about the same. Depending on how much income a person has is what determines their class.
When companies would charge a price, they would set their prices for the poor, the middle, and the wealthy. Specifically, you could find this segregation likely on cruise ships and airlines. While these means of vacationing and transportation do not specifically state that a person who pays less is more poor than a person who pays more, some might feel it. On a cruise ship, there are several packages that offer a suite while those who pay less will be paying for a cabin. However, the cruise line industry changed decades ago to provide everyone with their own room and bathrooms. While the staff may have to bunk up with others, the guests likely do not have to share bunks or bathrooms. There is also designated rooms specifically for guests and cruise ships have been designed to technically make everyone feel like royalty.
When it comes to airlines, however, the story is slightly different. Keep in mind that many airlines have went bankrupt and failed. Many new airlines have sprung up over the years, only to be bought out by the massive giants, which include the 11 major American airlines (not to be confused with the company, American Airlines), consisting of:
- Alaska Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin America
These giants have stood the test of time, buying out their competition, and competing against each other, but also complimenting each other and working very well together. It works for the consumer because competition causes these airlines to drop prices and offer special deals and packages in order to keep people coming back. Some of these airlines have even managed to create loyalty, though I must admit: my loyalty lies with the cheapest airline ticket and it does not matter to me who gets me there, as long as they get me there alive.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that it expects the global airline industry to make a net profit in 2017 of $29.8 billion. From the cost of renting space at an airport to buying and maintaining new airplanes to the cost of gasoline to paying employees. It seems likely that in order to afford all of these things, they must pass these costs on to the customer, of course.
Not only do they have to afford all of these things, but they also have to keep up with their competition in regards to pricing of their tickets. Airlines are also affected by the threat of terrorism, as when there is a terrorist activity that has taken place, people are less likely to schedule a flight. There are times when a flight is scheduled and must still fly even if it is nearly empty, which is usually very early morning times. These planes will still use a fair amount of gas to get to where they need to go, but with no one on those flights, the airline takes a loss. A full flight or an overbooked flight has a better chance of earning some profits. Any upselling that is done is to ensure that the airline can make some profit.
The main image I posted above shows what I get for paying for the cheapest ticket and not upgrading:
- 1 item that fits under seat only (no access to overhead bin)
- Seat will be assigned at check-in
- Not eligible for upgrades (after I purchase ticket)
- No flight changes or refunds (if I upgrade, they will charge a fee for doing that)
- Last to board the plane
I do not feel bad for paying that price as it is the price of a plane ticket across the country for me, a very good price I might add. I do understand that in order for the world to work, companies need money. No complaints there! Charge me for my plane ticket and I will pay the price that is set! As I said in a previous confession, if rating an airline based on its ability to get from Point A to Point B, getting there alive in just a few hours, warrants all airlines at least an A to a B score rating. However, as far as common courtesy and decency goes, almost all airlines fail. I am sure my thoughts might be different if I upgraded, but I never upgrade.
A look at the airlines used to reveal two choices: first class and coach. Airlines remain one of the most popular means of travel, as getting across the country can be done in about 5 – 8 hours. Over the past decades, airlines have sought to increase profits while offering reasonable prices. The idea to increase profits began when airlines decided that meals on a plane were unnecessary to everyone but first class, so sandwiches were removed. Most airlines still carry sandwiches, but charge for them. People who are not in first class can expect peanuts, literally, or cookies or pretzels along with a drink. Customers usually have to ask for the can if they want it, otherwise it will be poured into a cup and the remainder of the can will be used for the next person that requests that specific drink.
The next idea was that the weight of the plane is what adds to the costs. To lift off a plane and fly it in the sky uses more gasoline, and thus, the idea of charging for baggage was brought into play. Most airlines charge $25 to $35 for the first bag and increase upon the second and third per person. Carry-ons, for the time being are still free, but limited to just two bags: personal and laptop bag. This, however, is likely to change in the future, as more airlines are yet again shifting the focus to get more people, those who paid less for their ticket, to be forced to check in their bags and pay for it, and reducing overhead space or preserving that space for customers who paid more for their ticket.
The airlines also decided a new seating system would be implemented and most planes would be modified to accommodate these changes: more leg room for higher paying customers. Unless you manage to get the emergency exit seats, which some airlines actually charge for now, or the “economic coach” seats, your legs will be pretty packed in, which is not a big deal for some people, but if you are tall, you likely have to pay more for your seat. If you are a bigger person, you may also find that you probably need to pay more for your seat. The airlines must keep the lowest priced seats in place in order to keep this type of upselling.
The lowest priced ticket that you will pay for determines your class: you are poor. Now I’m not rich and I’m not to the point of begging yet so I wouldn’t consider myself that poor, though I do struggle sometimes to pay a credit card here and there after I have paid my mortgage and utility bills. I’m more of a frugal type of person. I really just prefer to forego the extra comfort and luxury for a few hours in order to save more money that I can spend at my destination.
The lowest priced seats will get you on the plane last, which is actually pleasant, if you think about it. Who the hell wants to sit on a plane for a half hour to 45 minutes, waiting for everyone to get their asses settled into a seat? It is just wait time no matter where you are, on or off the plane. Why not sit in the airport and enjoy the (hopefully) free WiFi while you wait? So this is quite an advantage for us less privileged folks who do not want to or cannot pay more for an airplane seat. However, you notice just how “low class” you are when you realize that your seating is limited to about the last six rows of the plane. Again, not a big deal to sit at the back of the plane (especially if it is going nose first, just kidding!), but airlines make it abundantly clear: You paid less for your seat and so this is where you belong.
Despite their best efforts in order to make a profit and still satisfy their customers, airlines are the worst at making people feel like they are not a part of a class system. While I do not feel guilty about purchasing a “cheap ticket”, it is not in the back of my mind where I am reminded: you could do better if you upgraded. Why should I have to feel this way and have it thrown in my face? Is there really a better way for an airline to do it? Passive aggressiveness might be working for them.
Every year, airlines seem to take away more and more from the person who paid the least amount for their ticket to the point where the person who refuses to “upgrade their ticket” will have to resort to standing up the entire time in the back of the plane or just hanging out in the bathroom. Common courtesy for the human being and not classification should be ideal. Everyone knows who paid more for their ticket on a plane, starting from the very first first class seats to the very last “basic economy” seats. It is understandable that airlines need to make their money, but returning back to first class and coach might be more ideal. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen, and the airline remains the perfect example of the value of a billion dollar business when it comes to marketing for as much extra money as they can get.
Some may not prefer this and it is no big deal if they choose not to do it, because no matter how old I get, unless I have the money to ride in first class (20+ years and I still make “basic economy” for a living), I will likely always pay the cheapest price for a ticket to get me from Point A to Point B, using CheapTickets, Kayak, or Google Flights to find the best prices. This decision will have the airline treating me as if I am a child who just never made enough money to be considered an adult (restricting my access to even touch the overhead bin, thanks) or that I am probably considered the lowest class on an airline. Will their staff be treating me this way, too?
About two days before my plane was set to take off, I received this email:
Your upcoming travel to New York/Newark was booked on a Basic Economy ticket. These lower-priced fares provide most of the same inflight services that are available with standard Economy – and you’ll still earn award miles, but we want to remind you of some of the restrictions that apply:
Again, I don’t mind not giving up these basic things, and I suppose I choose, in my own right, to feel like I’m just a piece of cargo. I have no right to complain for not paying the extra $20. I just ask for the right to carry my few belongings, which is usually a small duffel bag or book bag with some clothes and my laptop inside on board without being charged for it or being made to feel like a piece of shit for not upgrading any airline services.