Airline passengers strike back

Posted: July 3, 2013 in travel & tourism

I travel frequently by air and agree that some fellow passengers leave a lot to be desired… as outlined a recent Passengers from Hell story on eTN.

However… and here’s the rub – the airlines do nothing to help the situation, which seems to worsen every time I fly. Airline seats are getting smaller, for a start. In the United States it may be that passengers are getting bigger, but in my experience the seats are shrinking in width particularly. I am a regular size 12/14 and I can still feel the sides of the armrests between each seat against my hips when I sit down. And anyone over 1.5m in height is going to invariably struggle with leg room issues.

For the average man squeezing into anything but the aisle seat is a mission requiring hanging on to seat backs for balance and walking sideways as if on a tightrope merely to angle into a position where he can lower himself gently and slot into the space allocated for his backside.

And I don’t blame the so-called “Reclinus Maximus” – who invariably spends the time in the air with his or her seat fully reclined – for wanting to put the seat as far back as it will go. Is it this passenger’s fault that the airlines don’t give us enough room to allow him or her to sleep and me to eat or work with my tray table down? Must we all sit bolt upright (the only position, incidentally, where any chance of the “brace” position in the event of an emergency is vaguely possible and only then achievable by an extremely petite contortionist) for the duration of a flight for fear of upsetting the passenger behind us?

Unruly children on a flight, particularly a long-haul or late-night/early morning departure, are a pain in the derriere, but I feel for the parents who, aside from drugging them, have no hope whatsoever in getting them to sleep sitting up in space that is equivalent to putting them in a small box. An overtired child is a demon unleashed, as any parent will tell you.

And gone are the days when you could bargain on having a three-seat section to two people, allowing your child to actually assume a position similar to laying down and sleep. These days, even if you are lucky enough to get an empty seat next to you, the armrests invariably do not lift or lift all the way up allowing you or your child to lay flat. And you dare not recline seats as outlined above!

Children get bored on the shortest of journeys, and even the most modern of in-flight entertainment systems are not geared up to catering specifically for children. More to the point, today’s flight attendants are not geared up to catering for people, let alone children.

The three most recent international flights I have been on all departed late at night, with arrival at the destination scheduled at around 05h30 in the morning. And yet the airlines concerned all insisted on giving a full service dinner an hour after taking off and nothing for breakfast except a cup of tea or coffee. Why on earth not just give us all a night-cap, turn off the lights and let us get whatever sleep we could and wake us up with breakfast? Who wants a 3-course dinner at 1 am?

In my youth all passengers on a flight more than two hours in duration would get a little bag with in-flight essentials, like socks, an eye-mask and ear-plugs in them, no matter what the time of departure. Not anymore. These days we’re lucky to get a 24-hour old cheese roll thrown at us and have it included in the price.

And while we are at it, let’s look at the price of being treated like cattle awaiting slaughter in the air… Whilst actual ticket prices are relatively affordable, it’s the surcharges that are killing the tourist trade… For example, I have recently purchased a return ticket with South African Airways to travel from Johannesburg to Lusaka, Zambia and back. The cost of the ticket was R1280.00; the taxes (SA passenger service charge) were R328. Insurance and fuel levy charges were R1770, R490 more than the actual cost of the ticket and R162 more than the ticket and taxes combined. Add on a paltry R16 for the passenger safety charge and another R20 for the passenger security charge (safety and security are evidently not the same thing) and another R485 for “all other passenger service charges” (not specified) and you have a whopping R2619.00 on top of the actual price of travelling in extreme discomfort with invariably shoddy service and no frills for almost two hours.

If I invoiced a client in this way I would expect that my client would query this and take exception to all of the add-ons, especially the exceptionally “iffy” R1770 for insurance and fuel levy charges which no-one at SAA can break down for me or explain to me where this money actually goes.

So yes, airline passengers today can be difficult, but are they not a product of an industry which has become little more than airborne haulage? Treat us like cattle and we will behave like them, is what I say to the airlines. If you want your passengers to behave better, give us better service, more comfort, more space, better conditions and, most importantly, stop ripping us off.

Courtesy: Sharon van Wyk, South Africa

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