The Benefits of Air Steerage

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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208 Responses

  1. Avatar CardiffKook says:

    I agree. I fly to get somewhere and am very happy to do so on the cheap. I have even gone so low as to fly Spirit airlines to get where I need to.

    Thank you business and first class for subsidizing my airfare.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    It sounds to me like the issue here really is deterioration at the bottom end, with glimpses of what’s in front of the curtain as a minor aggravating factor. Not sure – didn’t read the piece, just the excerpt.

    So I think you can both be right. I definitely agree with you in having no problem with however nice first-class is – their dollars are what make it possible for the rest of us to fly cheap. Make it however nice is necessary to keep them paying – and keep it that way for the day maybe I can do it.

    Just try not to continuously cramp and stiff and ignore us back in the back to a greater and greater extent all the time, is I think all he’s really saying.

    Disclaimer: I haven’t flown in more than half a decade; I have no idea what it’s actually like up there these days.

    (Note: I think maybe the except starts a graf sooner than you have it blocked? Already fixed.)Report

    • Well, it was framed as an issue of inequality in a case where I think the inequality has its benefits. Without inequality, it seems likely to me that the low-end tickets would either have less amenities or a higher price tag.

      The deterioration of service keeps things affordable. I mean, we’re picking on an industry that, until recently, was notoriously unprofitable. Getting back in the black required either lowered expenses or getting people to part with more of their money (either in terms of higher prices, more nickel-and-diming, or more frills-based inequality).

      I would argue that they made the best choice for the commoner because it still allows them to fly affordably. This isn’t one of those cases where we can do right by everybody by adding sixty cents to the cost of a Big Mac. A price hike of even a few percent would be extremely significant. And we shouldn’t ask that flights be made more comfortable for us at the expense of possibly pricing them out.

      (And, if anything, the creation of Economy Plus and extended-legroom seats has provided a middle class for the skies, which allows more people just a little more opportunity to get more comfort without having to have enough money for first class.)Report

      • Well, this just gets us back to the basics of the inequality debate, where, despite misleading initial framing from inequality defenders, the complaint is not ever about inequality proper, but trends within it like increasing stratification, immobility, and stagnation of standards at the bottom. To the extent that Atlas was comlpaining about inequality in air travel, it was a complaint about trends and new features of it: as I say, declining standards at the bottom, less and less viability for anyone to move to first class, and the super-high-end luxury accommodations that go for five figures. And now that I’ve read it, again, as I said, it seems to me he’s really only complaining about the first, noting ruefully the second in the context of those some broader societal trends, and bemusedly noting the spectacle of the latter. Nowhere does he rail against the existence simpliciter of first class or inequality in air travel. He notes specifics, and doesn’t even complain about them all – as far as I can tell, only directly about deterioration at the bottom. Moreover, the article seems to be focussed on these issues in broader societal/economic context as much as it means to be an assessment of the merits of graduated prices and services in air travel for its own sake.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        I have to travel by air for work fairly frequently. When I fly, I fly economy. I don’t think the situation is as bad as its often made to seem. In-flight entertainment is a lot better now than it ever was in the past because of individual viewing screens. This allows for a much broader range of choices since airlines don’t have to worry about offending anybody in the audience anymore.

        The real issue is that flights are basically always full now and the food options suck unless you pay money for the most part. The former is much more important. In the past, it was possible to fly in the economy section and still not feel like you were in the cattle car because their were often empty seats. This doesn’t happen that much any more. Every flight seems full. Thats why people complain.Report

      • If the issue is the state of the bottom, then focus on the state of the bottom. I don’t see how I am being misleading by talking about inequality when the subject is inequality or is framed as such. This isn’t an article about how miserable things are in coach. It’s an article about how miserable things are in coach compared to first class. So the gradiance here is important to what he’s saying. And my response was to the notion that gradiation is not for its own sake. Or, rather, that it has the upside of keeping steerage affordable. Atlas dismisses this and seems content to price people out of flying altogether so long as those that fly are treated better.

        Anyhow, I think the deterioratioReport

      • Well, he wrote the article for a series on inequality. That’s as much as the framing makes it about inequality simpliciter. When you read the article, it seems clear to me that the problem, to the extent there is one, is the deterioration of the economy-class experience. He spends the most time on that. Yes, that stands out more after seeing what the tippity top of firstest class gets. But it really reads to me like he’s saying the problem is the deterioration at the bottom, and that the almost humorously luxurious accommodations at the top would really be nothing more than humorous if not for that deterioration.

        The framing of the series merely must imply that his topic is related to inequality. It doesn’t mean that his point must be that, whatever he’s saying about anything, the mere fact of inequality at all (rather than some feature of it) is the problem – indeed, it needn’t even imply that he’s saying there’s any problem per se. The series description is merely “A Series About Inequality.” Whatever he says about it, that’s what he says.Report

      • @leeesq : This.

        Honestly, on the whole it seems like this guy is pining for the days when there was no “class struggle” in the skies primarily because only one class was even on the flights.

        I suppose maybe things have declined for the small percentage of people who could afford to fly with any frequency at all in the old days but can’t afford an upgrade to business class today. This is not a class of people deserving of sympathy – it’s essentially the 5-10%.

        I’m not one to dismiss concerns about rising inequality and the like, but honestly this is pretty fishin’ ridiculous. I mean seriously, despite the high costs of jet fuel, we’ve reached the point where I can fly halfway across the country for roughly the same amount as it would cost me to drive except that I’ll reach my destination in a fraction of the time.

        I get to do this with roughly the same amount of legroom as I’d have if I were driving (as opposed to sitting in the backseat) – but I don’t have to incur the stress of actually driving and instead can close my eyes and listen to one of dozens of albums or radio stations or better still watch a halfway decent movie or TV show. You can even get fishing internet access now at 30,000 feet. The inflight entertainment that is available now in coach would have been unheard of even in first class just a few years ago.

        And while they’ve significantly reduced the number of flights where meals are available as part of your ticket price, that’s actually a savings passed on to me in the form of a lower ticket price. The meals and snacks that are available a la carte are, I’ve found, quite fairly priced and, contrary to the columnist’s whining, are far superior to the peanuts of questionable origin and mystery meals to which I had grown accustomed in the past. That’s not to say they’re gourmet quality, but by and large they’re at least tolerable and don’t leave me immediately feeling nauseous.

        Really what this guy is complaining about is that he’s now stuck sitting with the hoi polloi who couldn’t fly at all in the past rather than hobnobbing with the elites.

        Also, obligatory: http://www.comedycentral.com/video-clips/1myllo/stand-up-louis-ck–the-miracle-of-flightReport

      • Reading I over again, it’s entirely unclear to what extent he’s really saying this inequality is a problem – the thing he seems most concerned about is people’s ability to move up at some point in their life. I don’t see the “it shouldn’t be this way” line. There’s some pining for the early days when everyone got what felt like nice enough treatment, even if none of it was lavish, but he doesn’t anywhere say that we ought to go back to that. He acknowledges the marketing value of hihg-price tickets. It seems mostly like a descriptive piece noting how inequality in the air has matched inequality in other parts of the economy.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Will Truman says:

        Well, in any event, I address the “deterioration” in my post and in the comments. Atlas pretty much glidesover why its not such a bad thing. Mentioning it but then not really accounting for it, in my viewReport

      • Michael, the comparison only works, it seems to me, if equality in flight is a problem. Otherwise, he’s taking something he doesn’t like and comparing it to something benign. If I were to consider flight inequality to be emblematic of inequality in general, then I would say that general inequality is overblown.Report

      • Every flight being full is definitely something that makes tickets cheaper and flight more affordable. Even if it is a pain.Report

      • I largely agree with Mark Thompson. We can have a debate about whether the economy class experience has in fact deteriorated (I think it’s quantifiable that leg room really has decreased, and Lee makes the point about full flights, which also amount to a deterioration, all of which might be more important to this person than internet access). Perhaps one side is clearly right about that, though clearly there is some divergence of opinion. But in either case, what the guy is rather clearly doing is complaining about what he perceives as a deterioration of the experience you get from paying the basic, get-on-the-plane fare. He mentions the ’60s for an extreme comparison, but I’m pretty sure the blogger whose complaints he links to isn’t comparing current experience to the sixties – more like the early 2000s, when airfares were still approximately as cheap as they are now and the hoi polloi was already flying. He mentions the absurd luxury of the luxury class, but I’m pretty sure the existence of that is not the fundamental reason for his complaint, but merely a juxtaposition that makes what he is complaining about stand out more.

        Mostly, as I say, he seems to be noting how the trend mirrors broader societal trends, and, apart from regretting a lack of mobility, isn’t making a strong claim about whether this is right or wrong in itself, apart from how it might effect, or just coincide with, what he takes to be deterioration at the bottom.Report

      • I would ask Mark, though, how do you know this is true?

        And while they’ve significantly reduced the number of flights where meals are available as part of your ticket price, that’s actually a savings passed on to me in the form of a lower ticket price.

        Do you have evidence that the airlines took this step just to better compete on price? Doesn’t airfare price competition have its own market logic (sometimes dictating price wars, other times other maximization strategies, while cost cutting has a separate logic all its own)?Report

      • Michael, it’s a matter of timing. The airlines used to all offer food. Then came Southwest Airlines which not only didn’t offer food, but said in their advertisements “We don’t offer food and we pass the savings on to you. Do you really want to pay for this crap?” Southwest, and others, competed primarily on prices and had less frills (though ironically, SWA is one of the few that doesn’t charge for checked baggage anymore). That the major airlines started making these changes in response to SWA and other budget airlines suggests to me that keeping ticket prices low was a high priority.

        That wasn’t all of it, though. The thing is, changes had to be made. They were all or mostly losing money (except SWA). So they had to get their money back somehow, either by cutting costs (no meals) or extra charges ($25 a bag).Report

      • Michael – a big part of my objection is that he doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s debatable whether things have gotten worse on the whole. To borrow a phrase from another commenter, it’s just a “parade of horribles” for coach flyers and increasing luxury for the folks at the top.

        Even on the legroom issue, which is the one and only reasonable point he makes, he ignores that it’s possible to upgrade your legroom for a fairly modest price on a good number of airlines without segregating yourself from coach.

        In many ways, what he’s complaining about is that everything is customizable nowadays, and getting increasingly a la carte. You can get “the works” and physically segregate yourself from the hoi polloi, sure – but that’s more or less always been the case. But if you’re amongst the hoi polloi, you can actually get a pretty good chunk of the benefits available to the first class and business class passengers (though admittedly not all, and this is less true on trans-oceanic flights) a la carte for a fraction of the cost.

        The major exception – which he doesn’t even really get into – is the security lines issue, which really is messed up.Report

      • I think Mark hits the nail on the head, where what he’s really complaining about is the customization. And I get that to some extent. I don’t think I’d much like how it feels to be able to pay that bit more for more leg room that could have been shared by everybody at an approximately equal price (i.e. not as much higher as the seat I can now get that has enough room is than the seat the lower-polloi-than-myself choose/can get) – like I’m able to get something that should come with a ticket (enough room not to hurt on leaving) while others have to endure not having it. The counter is of course that this may have allowed a lot of people to fly that previously couldn’t, or in any case certainly choose to save the money when they’d like to.

        IOW, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his initial reaction, and since I read the piece as much less of a polemic about inequality than Will does, I don’t really think the failure to consider that side of it is such a huge problem. It is a problem, though.

        Will’s point about the need to recoup costs is what I was referring to in questioning whether cost cutting really creates price savings. To what extent is the price competition/service customization itself what is determined (perhaps by SWA’s strategy, and/though I also question how much the bare-bonesness of their flights really was necessary for them to execute their price-competition strategy, as suggested by their ability to maintain it without charging for checked luggage), and the cost-cutting just a necessary business reaction to the prevailing price competition environment?Report

      • …Anyway, my bottom line is that, while it would be more laudable to try to take the broader view about the value of increased choice and affordability, a more direct response to how that has played out in the bulk of the cabin – how the basic flying experience has been affected for the customer just looking to pay the basic price to get on the airplane – remains a legitimate thing to write about air travel, as does pointing out the stratification between what’s going on in that part of the cabin and the front, and pointing out how that reflects similar trends in the broader society.Report

      • There’s actually an argument to be made for small seats. A lot of people are okay with them. I am a bit on the tall side, so it hits me harder than it does most people. But for others, they’re paying for extra leg room that they might not want or need. Especially when there are kids involved (at which point, the legroom is not only unnecessary for them, but price becomes a much larger issue).

        My main complaint with the lack of legroom was that it used to be that there were only two kids of seats. Obscenely priced first class seats and obscenely small coach. They’ve been too small for quite some time. The advent of a middle ground was huge.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        …Right, but what he’s basically complaining is that coach ever had to be obscenely small. The way I read him, he’s not saying there might not have been very good reasons for it, but he’s saying it amounts to a kind of further stratification that is part and parcel of the way inequality is playing out in the broader society. Even when it comes to re-introducing some decently-sized seats for a price, even that is another example of (a finer kind of) stratification where equality (and perhaps just enough leg room) used to rule. I don’t read him as saying even that is clearly undesirable, as choice is good, but choice also advances inequality’s reach even further into the space where it used to be that everyone could just assume they’d have enough legroom when flying.

        He certainly doesn’t consider very much how much this is might be a great boon for some, but it doesn’t make his observations about how it advances inequality false. And it’s not clear exactly how bad he’s saying that is.Report

      • The problem, to me, is that if you’re going to use something as an example or an exemplar of inequality, and you believe that inequality is bad, you should choose an example where inequality is bad. Otherwise, I’m not sure what the point of bringing it up is. Because using this particular example, if it has any effect on how I think about inequality, would make me think that equality is a less pressing issue rather than more.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Will, definitely. If you’re really worried about inequality, why would you be worrying about relatively innocuous examples of the effects of inequality, the changing of which will have absolutely no impact on inequality in general? Particularly since airlines seem to be moving away from this model. Hell, I almost always fly Southwest anyway.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        As I say, I read the piece as more observational. You apparently read it as a jeremiad against inequality. He must believe that “inequality is bad,” even though he doesn’t say that, and most people who critique the particular paths inequality has taken don’t even say that. It seems to me that there was a series about inequality, and it occurred to this person that the same kinds of pressures that are playing out elsewhere are playing out in consumer air travel. So he wrote this. Apart from talking about the problem of a lack of mobility, it’s not really clear he’s making abroad case about how bad all this is. He’s talking about how this is just another example of how inequality plays out in a particular context. The point is not to illustrate that “inequality is bad,” but that “this is what inequality looks like up there.” I would say that the fault with the piece lies in not considering what it really means that it looks like that (full flights, very little legroom for those paying the bottom price, etc.), i.e. that more people can now fly, or save money if they need to. so he doesn’t present a complete picture. But I don’t think he picks something that is inconsistent with his thesis, because as far as I can tell, his thesis is just, “Here’s what I experience vis-a-vis inequality in air travel.”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Chris, he may not be really concerned with inequality. He may just be writing a piece about how inequality plays out in air travel (and not considering it fully enough), because in a many-installment series on the general topic of inequality, it’s one angle to look at. That’s what it looks like to me.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Michael, I admit it just looks like bad blogging to me. It’s the “I get paid to do this, so I have to write something, but I’m a blogger so it’s not like I’m going to actually work at it” thing. Even worse when this is combined with some sort of expectation that you fall somewhere on the political spectrum that you don’t really fall. “Inequality. Umm… sure, I can write something about that. I’m supposed to be on the “left,” right. I care about things. Hell, I was complaining about my in flight movie headphones and the fact that I didn’t get the nice little First Class pillows just the other day!”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Chris,

        So is your view that so long as people can get on planes and get to their destination without dying for an affordable price, that the topic of commercial air travel is just a no-go relating to any serious discussion of inequality?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Michael, I think it’s maybe a discussion that we could have after we’ve had about a gazillion other more important discussions about inequalities that affect people’s lives in meaningful and lasting ways, and don’t simply make people who can afford to fly somewhere feel less comfortable for a few hours a few times a year (or less).Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Put another way: Given my politics, and the company I’ve kept for most of my adult life, I have probably participated in or overheard thousands of serious conversations about inequality, and I don’t think differences in airline seating has come up in those discussions once. I don’t know of any activists who are focused on inequality who are working with airlines to make seating more equal. I don’t know of any groups dealing with inequality who are making a fuss about airline seating. It’s just way, way, way, way down on the priority list. Like I said, it’s not much more urgent than arguing about whether it’s unfair that the 3 series driver’s seats are made of leather of inferior quality to that of the 7 series.Report

      • Michael, as you describe it, the piece is bereft of an actual argument. It’s not against the inequality of the skies. It’s not against inequality in general. So I think he might be better off choosing something from which he can make an argument, rather than merely an observation. The late, great MA chose sporting event ticket prices. While trivial on one level (the definition of bread and circuses) it was at least a case of big money crowding out less money with the sheer bigness of their money.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        I think you should reconsider setting the agenda of every writer everywhere like that. We can actually do a lot of this concurrently. Even in this Times series, it unlikely this piece really displaced a more serious piece – there have been and will be lots more entries that advance that discussion in the way you call for – even just in this series. There’s room for a little levity, and for a little bit of expanding the subject matter the discussion covers just for the sake of doing so, even at the cost of a few moments of seriousness.

        Maybe lighten up a little? You’d really just axe every piece like this and reassign every writer’s energies to the the “serious” part of the discussion until it has been had to your satisfaction if you could?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        I disagree, Will. In a series with this many entries, there is room for a variety of rhetorical approaches, including avoiding making an overt policy/ethical argument to just offer an experiential perspective. If it allows us to fill in around that account with our ideas about why what’s being described either isn’t the whole picture or is well-justified in some way, I don’t see how that makes the piece a failure.Report

      • This article really didn’t come across to me as an attempt at levity. Not a jeremiad, but definitely a lamentation of this state of affairs. Like something is really wrong here, when there is a pretty case otherwise. This piece seems like a lot of time and effort to say that flying for some people is a less pleasant experience than it is for other people.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Will Truman says:

        I totally get the variable seat thing. My wife hates the bulkhead because she can’t have her purse near her during the flight. I love the bulkead because of the extra legroom and all I need from my bag is my table, which fits in the sleeve. She says she does not care about the extra legroom in the bulkhead or exit rows because she’s not tall enough to care. And she’s as tall as the average American woman.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Not purely levity, but I think it’s clearly relatively speaking to the rest of the series a bit of lighter fare intentionally. Yes, a lament to some extent – but not one with a clear stance of “something is really wrong here.” to me, it left completely open questions of causation and justification. it was a lament along the lines of, “If I’m honest, I don’t really like the new normal all that much, whatever good reasons there might or might not be for it.”

        It definitely does put in a lot of time and effort to make that completely obvious point with more detail than is usually offered – presented with a tone of bemusement. That basic structure is somewhat silly or even absurd – I took it as being at least little bit knowingly so, a little arch in the level of attention it’s giving to the minute details of all this. That’s where I get the notion that there’s some comedic intent in the basic conception here, though I don’t disagree that it does somewhat unseriously lament the basic state of affairs.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Michael, no, I just wouldn’t read it. I don’t particularly care what NYT guest bloggers write about. I just don’t think this is really an inequality issue. If it’s just meant as an injection of levity into a serious series (that I won’t read), or as a sort of tip of the hat to the causal inconveniences of the petit bourgeois, then I apologize for taking it seriously or giving it any thought whatsoever.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Or put differently: Yeah, I already saw this in a Seinfeld episode.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Right on, Chris. I personally doubt that this author would say that this scene of inequality is relatively urgent at all, though I could be wrong. If you were just saying that you’re not interested in a piece like this, that’s fair enough. I guess I thought you were saying that you’d like to reform the world so that things like it never come into existence, at least not in a way that displaces a “serious” entry into a discussion of inequality.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        If I got to reform the world so that such things never came into existence, it’d be because I reformed the world in such a way that this type of inequality wasn’t really a possibility. But nobody’s asking me. 😉Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Conceivably you could attain a position where you could take real steps toward the one but not the other; I was kind implying such a situation. But I hear you.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to Michael Drew says:

      The problem is that people still largely shop by top line price. Airlines have tried differientiating on quality of service, extra leg room for “steerage”, free meals and the like. In the end, this turned out to make a lot less money than cramming people in and, at best, creating a middle class between first and basic coach with extra leg room. The success of the discount airlines is what led to the stripping out of benefits like meals.

      American’s new class follows a failed 2000 initiative called “More Room in Coach,” in which the airline removed 12 to 16 seats from many of its planes to add more leg room throughout the economy cabins. The airline reversed the plan several years later because having fewer seats reduced its revenue.

      Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mo says:

        Which brings us back to gradiation. Adding extra legroom to all seats didn’t prove to be a winner, but adding another class of seats (“Economy Plus” is what United calls it, but everyone has their own term) has proven to be successful. Because for some people, it’s worth paying extra. However, a lot of people weren’t interested in them.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mo says:

        I think the people that are complaining the most about inequality at airlines are people who have to travel a lot by air for work or other reasons but have to take economy for one reason or another. Not everybody works for an employer that could afford to put them in first or business class. Its this class of frequent flyer that also complains about security theater at airports.

        Most people travel by air, at most, for one trip a year. If you have to fly by air only for one trip a year than your really going to be most concerned by cost and safety rather than comfort. This is especially true if your paying for a family vacation and want to keep it affordable. These people favor cheap seats over comfort and do not mind security theater because they don’t have to travel that much.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mo says:

        Jetblue does pretty well with its planes. and they’re pretty decent.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Mo says:

        Lee,

        If someone flies a lot for work, presumably they will rack up airline status and free upgrades. When I had the lowest medallion status on Delta, flying out of LGA, I would get upgraded about 50% of the time. Unless they typically travel on a heavy high staus leg (LA-NYC) you can get it pretty regularly.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Drew says:

      It sounds to me like the issue here really is deterioration at the bottom end

      This is a fairly predictable outcome of rising oil prices combined with on-line ticket search engines that rank based on price. People go on Expedia and buy based on price and convenience, not on legroom and in-flight meals. Squeezed between consumers demanding the lowest price possible and oil prices increasing severalfold in the last fifteen years, they really had no other option but to cut costs by cutting service.

      It’s the Times, so the inequality boilerplate is de rigeur, but it’s not really relevant; as Will points out, people would likely be paying more for the same service if it weren’t for people overpaying for first class.Report

      • Yeah, that’s about right I think, Brandon.

        But either deteriorating quality (which I realize is disputed, but apparently this guy cares about space above all) at the same or even better prices (and I do think this is about deterioration since the early Aughts, since which time prices are basically flat), or, in a different world where price competition didn’t become quite such the order of the industry (i.e. Southwest basically just doesn’t come along, a plausible but unlikely alternative scenario), rising prices for steady quality (i.e. not continuously shrinking leg room at the most basic fare level) is going to engender complaints. I don’t really see what’s surprising or objectionable about that.

        As I’ve been saying, this is at base just a complaint about the experience of what you describe – it really doesn’t take causes into account. We can criticize the latter with some justification, but I don’t think it renders the basic thing the piece is – a complaint about what is perceived as falling service standards in the industry combined with an observation about the way the market response – graduated pricing – incorporates the trend toward finer and finer economic stratification seen in broader society – invalid, even when placed in juxtaposition to the fairly absurd level of luxury now able to be purchased for the right price that is new to the flying experience for anyone.

        It’s a portrait, not a clear condemnation; I submit that the reason there has been a reaction to it is that they realize it’s not actually very pretty picture, despite the fact that there’s a decent justification for each part of it.Report

      • Honestly, the only thing* that bothers me even on an appearances level are the lines. Not just the security lines which I think are fundamentally indispensable, but the gate lines which I think are dispensable, but nonetheless look bad.

        Whatever complaint I might have about the smaller seats is compensated for by (a) the existence of substantially more comfortable seats for only a marginal upcharge, which didn’t exist a few years ago, and (b) features these seats have like individual video screens and the like. This is genuinely progress, both in real and in appearance terms.

        If there is a thing to be concerned about here, at least in terms of visuals and maybe not just there, it’s what he didn’t see (and what other commenters here have mentioned): the people who don’t even fly with us commoners anymore.

        * – I have had some flights where passengers in coach were prohibited from using the first class restroom, even if they were in the front row and even if there was a line at the back of the plane and no line at the front of it. I’m honestly not sure how defensible that is or isn’t, but the visuals on that were pretty bad. I haven’t run into that in a while, though.Report

      • People go on Expedia and buy based on price and convenience, not on legroom and in-flight meals.

        I’d also add that I think people buy based on price in some part because it’s the most easily communicated and understood and verified piece of information available in such transactions. If there were an efficient and reliable way to transmit and verify information about the flight experience, I think people would take such factors into account more. How many times have you flown and said, “Well, if I’d known it would blow this hard, i’d have paid the extra 40 bucks to fly _______”?

        What that market information reality (very fluid transfer of price info; much more sketchy transfer of quality info) did was give airlines nothing or very little to compete on except price. The result was that quality had to fall to a level where literally customers were experiencing excruciating pain as a result of the lack of incentive to compete on (really, ability to communicate on) quality before airlines finally responded.

        They did so with graduated pricing, which is perfectly appropriate as far as I’m concerned. But that’s not really reason not to react to the reality that they’re still offering such cramped basic service if one is inclined to. For Will, it might make him feel good to have the option “at this point in his life” to pay extra money for leg room that others on the same flight won’t have, and not segregated by class in any way. Others, though, may have their utility from the extra (if it can be called extra) leg room somewhat lessened by the knowledge that they only have it because they have the extra dollars for it – that others on the plane have to live without it. They may feel this is significant enough as a class distinction.

        Anyway, the point is just that just because there’s a reason why the baseline flying experience has deteriorated isn’t really reason not to complain about that.Report

      • Will,

        Earlier you said that getting from A to B is really all that matters. The caveat I’m trying to add is that getting from A to B in something less than excruciating pain matters too, and should be a basic presumption in airfare. We can differ on that spec but basically agree on the getting there part.

        What I can’t really accept once we’ve done that, though, is for you to then turn around and say that individual entertainment screens on all the seatbacks, even the ones in front of a riding space that is likely to cause a significant number of riders excruciating pain during the trip, constitute “genuine[] progress.” It’s not – not toward what we should agree is the basic service being offered here – consumer transportation. Consumer transportation doesn’t need to come with individual entertainment screens, but it ought to come, in every case, without excruciating pain for customers without special health considerations (which neither being reasonably overweight nor over six feet tall amounts to).Report

      • Michael, I do think that getting from Point A to Point B, and the affordability thereof, is paramount. And so I am in favor of things that make that more it more affordable.

        Which brings us to the argument that things have gotten worse…

        Okay, if we want to talk about the experience, let’s talk about the ways that the experience has gotten better. Such as the televisions.

        Which brings us to the argument that what he’s talking about is legroom space…

        I’m not sure this is true, but even if it is, then let’s talk about the legspace. Namely that I can get more legspace in coach today than I could ten years ago, when Economy Plus didn’t exist.

        Which brings us to the notion that it shouldn’t cost more to get adequate legroom.

        But it has always cost more to get adequate legroom. That’s not new. It’s just that adequate legroom had previously been reserved for people who shelled out serious money for first class (or had an employer that did such, or flew enough to have the FFM to do such). Now you don’t have to.

        And yeah, it costs more, but his entire argument – which isn’t an argument, you say – shows a blatant disregard for price. His lamentations – which you say he is not really lamenting – are the loss of things that jacked up prices. But now, with legroom options the likes of which have never been in reach for somebody like me, is he going to complain about price? Except that maybe you’re arguing that he’s not actually complaining about anything, either. Just observing.

        I have approached it on my terms (which is misleading, or something). I have tried to approach it on his (which you can’t accept because I am being inconsistent?).

        So am I to attach no meaning to what he says? It seems like any meaning I try to attach to it is wrong. And any response I have to it is misleading, or misunderstanding. All this while you express agreement with people who seem to me to be be making the same critiques that I am.

        Maybe I’m just not writing clearly at all.Report

      • As I said to Brandon, complaining about diminished quality, even in the context of better prices, isn’t unreasonable. And as I also said, I think what’s really driving this sense for people is that things have continued to get worse and worse on the space front over time recently, even as airfares have been flat (2003-now). It’s not the case that legroom has always been this skimpy – it’s gotten worse just in the last ten years. That’s the basic point he’s making, I think. Yes, it’s always cost more to get significantly more legroom than other passengers, but it’s not always been the case that a basic ticket didn’t come with adequate legroom. To a frequent traveller, I imagine an inch less legroom could very plausibly be inadequate when you’re used to an inch more. Moreover, during that time, airlines have also aggressively pursued a full-plane imperative that they had not done nearly so doggedly before, which, however much it is their prerogative to do so, still constitutes nothing but a significant further reduction in space available to riders.

        If individual screens and the opportunity to pay more for adequate leg room make up for all of that for you, that’s great, but it needn’t for him. And there is real deterioration on the space front, certainly via full flights, but also via actual decreases in space to complain about.

        As to your frustrations about communication and terms and what have you, I feel okay about the exchanges; I’ve just made my points about what I feel are misunderstandings or inconsistencies in your views. I’m going to leave all that to you to figure out; I’ll just say that I don’t understand how your basically just saying that he ought to care more about individual screens is engaging on his terms, nor how, whether that’s the case or not should affect whether it’s possible you read the piece to imply claims that it didn’t really make. I could be wrong about either thing certainly, but they could also both be true. I don’t really understand why you’re entitled to the presumption that both these disconnects can’t be going on in your readings of it.

        As to what I’ve said (complaining/not complaining, lamenting/not lamenting, observing, condemning, etc.), I’ve been clear, and you’re ungenerous to suggest otherwise. I’ve said he’s complaining about deterioration in the basic-fare service, lamenting, though with tongue somewhat in cheek, the loss of how things were in the 60’s (on which point I agree with you that he blatantly disregards increased access), on equality mostly presenting a portrait and not an argument as such, except on mobility to first class for the vast bulk of coach riders (and certainly not just that “inequality is bad”), and not really condemning any of this. And I’ve agreed that he pretty much ignores the causes, justifications, and upsides of the things he either observes or complains about, which to me signals a basic unseriousness about the effort, which to Chris signifies bad blogging, but to me, while I wouldn’t call this good blogging, signals that it really wasn’t meant to be taken as seriously as we’ve taken it here in the first place. Report

      • Perhaps I am dim, but I genuinely don’t understand how you think I am supposed to read the piece. I don’t think we’re going to understand each other on this point. I will address a few things:

        1. I haven’t denied that the seats have gotten smaller. I have argued, rather, that seat space has always sucked. That it sucks more now doesn’t mean that it didn’t used to suck. And now there is an opportunity for it to suck less, which is an advance that I think it takes effort to overlook.

        2. The “on his terms” was in reference to the experience of the flight, for those that are not in first class. I don’t care as much about experience, but if we’re going to talk about experience, then it seems wrong to just focus on the aspects that have gotten worse. Because some things have gotten better. I see nothing inconsistent here.

        3. If the position is “He only cares about the things that have gotten worse, but references to what have gotten better are beside the point, and that the stuff that has gotten worse is better than the alternatives…” well, okay. I think that’s a poor way to look at it. Not illegitimate, and maybe not unreasonable for a kvetchfest, but wrong-headed, in my view, as anything more than that.

        But I guess #3 brings us back to our disconnect over what the purpose of this piece was. I said what I wanted to say at 1:16, I guess. And Aitch approached it more snarkily at 6:17. If it’s just observational to the point that to take issue with (to argue that it is overlooking or downplaying other very significant things) it is to misunderstand it, I want my article-view back. I actually dislike the piece more than when I thought I merely disagreed with it.Report

      • After my last paragraph there, you genuinely don’t know how I think you should see the piece? Or you just genuinely don’t want to see it that way?

        1. He didn’t overlook it; he mentions it. He also notes the subtle but real social gradations that it creates, which changes the experience of the flight for him. He seems concerned with what kind of experience those who don’t pay for extra room get. Seems fair enough to me. On seat size, it sucks that it went from small to smaller. You seem to discount that because they were always way to small for you (which sucks), but if they were one size for basically forty years and then got an inch smaller, that’s actually a pretty big deal in its own right.

        2. Fair enough. It seems to me it’s fair to be more focussed on certain aspects of the experience (like pain) over others (like crappy TV screens). (Or like a decrease in seat size versus not caring because seat size always sucked.) Perhaps he should have taken account of TV screens and I would certainly say internet, and just doesn’t care enough about those things to do so. But both of those are worth a lot more when you’re not in pain. In any case, a lot of this just comes down to what one values in the service, including price.

        3. I mean, his basic overall sense is that the experience has gotten crappier. So if that’s your sense and you want to express it, you kind of need to say what’s making you feel that way. He’s one guy; others’ experience will of course differ. It doesn’t seem wrongheaded to give your reasons for your baseline feeling about flying these days and not taking much account of features you don’t really care about. It’s an incomplete view I guess, but product reviews of all kinds take editorial decisions to emphasize what the review thinks matters and downplay what doesn’t. That’s what the genre consists of.

        To take issue with it is not to misunderstand it; I never said it was. To misunderstand what it says is to misunderstand it, and I think you did that at various times in the discussion, not egregiously but to some extent.

        James misunderstands it too – I don’t see any outrage in the piece, nor do I see where it conveys a lack of understanding or surprise that lots of money buys nice stuff. It just expresses wonder at how nice the stuff people apparently want to buy (rent) for their flights is these days.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        You’re right, Michael, I misundetstood it. I took the writer seriosly instead ofcrealizing that he wan’t trying to be serious at all.

        No, I disagree. You can’t write this off as just about his subjective experience. He’s trying to parlay his experience into a larger statement, which is what we all do, so it’s legitimate to respond on those tems.

        And nowhere in the article did I see Atlas recognize that on,y the well off coukd fly back in his idealized 60s. He waxes eloquent about how there were no class divisions on planes back then, ignoring that the division was between those who could affrd to get on a plane and those who couldn’t.

        He also blames “the upgrading urge” for the change, which is false. What kept prices high, service great, and poor people on the ground back then was price regulation of the airlines. They were banned from competing on price–a liberal regulation of the economy that fucked over poorvpeople, mind you–so they competed on service and amenities. Once they were deregulated they discovered that most potential passengers were price-sensitive, preferring a lower price to all the perks. But some were willing to pay for the perks,and some are willing to pay for some, but not all, the perks.

        The author didn’t do his homework before writing this resoundingly stupid piece, and deserves harsh criticism. Will’s criticism is not off-base, but spot on.Report

      • I responded to the couple of things you said in that comment that Will mentioned, James.

        I nowhere have said that the criticisms you have of the piece aren’t valid. OTOH, I do think that the notion that it doesn’t even occur to him that only the well-off could fly in the 60s (is that true? what do you mean by well-off? didn’t middle-class people sometimes fly back then, as a luxury, meaning that they actually expected the experience to be at least a little luxurious? do you just mean “not poor” by “well-off”?) is hard enough to believe (though it could be true) that it was one of the things that led me to conclude this piece was not meant to be taken very seriously.

        But I’ve not told anyone they shouldn’t criticize him for not mentioning such basic factors.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Hi, I own a book publishing company, and just got back from an intercontinental flight to Europe, where I was doin’ some business and seein’ some sights, and I want to lodge a complaint. I didn’t have enough leg room when I, who own a book publishing company, took my intercontinental flight to Europe, where I was doin’ some business and seein’ some sights. I’m serious and not serious at the same time — serious about the fact that I, who own a book publishing company, didn’t enjoy my intercontinental flight to Europe, where I was doin’ some business and seein’ some sights, as much as I might have because my legs were a bit cramped and I had to see other people with more leg room, some of whom even had outlets to charge their shit. Also, I’m funny, because I mention the fat dude who hogs the arm rest. What’s up with that guy?!

        Again, if this is a serious piece, it’s a piece of shit. I mean, it’s not like people haven’t been lamenting the loss of footroom, or complaining about the difference between economy and business/first class for, like, forever, so as a serious piece it’s not even remotely insightful or original, and it doesn’t really say anything about inequality. If it’s meant to be whimsical and humorous, it comes off as neither, and Seinfeld did it better:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NienKmtknIReport

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        So basically, no, the crappiness of air travel for people who can’t pay the extra to get enough room won’t ever be a legitimate topic for inclusion in any discussion of inequality, even in a semi-or-less-than-semi-serious moment.

        As I suggested earlier, that was kind of the feeling I was getting from you all along, Chris. It’s a totally understandable view.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Look, when I don’t fly Southwest (which doesn’t have First Class), I sneer at the people sitting in First Class as I make my way down the aisle to my shitty economy class seats somewhere near the back of the plane, and I complain about leg room. I think a lot of the actions of airlines over the last decade are worth complaining about, especially bag fees. Hell, I even call Southwest the Greyhound of the skies, and complain about not being able to afford to fly on a nicer airline. But you know who else complains about these things? Everybody who flies economy. You know how many times such complaints have shown up in print? Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of infinity. They’ve been printed infinity times. Why on Earth do we need to hear it again, in a not particularly well-written article that, in addition to being authored by a guy who gets invited to write pieces for the New York Times because that’s his fishin’ crowd, ends up essentially looking down on the people in economy, “the melting pot of American coach” with a bunch of tired cliches about airplane passengers?

        If you want to take that as a broader claim about what is legitimate to write about and what isn’t, go ahead. I mean, I have such opinions, and you’re probably not off. But in this case, I’m just saying that this is a piece of shit.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        And I, who do not own a book publishing company, but who has flown more miles than is strictly good for anyone, have come to view air travel as more than a mere inconvenience. Being shut up in a large pressurised beer can with other similarly suffering human beings, this is a sort of Purgatory.

        There is no excuse for what’s going in aircraft these days. I’ve crossed the Atlantic in a steamship, on propeller driven aircraft and on jets of many sorts, military and civilian. Things have never been so bad as they are now. The people who run these airlines do not care and nobody can make them care.

        If ever there were tired and poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wretched refuse from teeming shores, it’s those poor bastards in Economy Class who have to contend with changing a baby’s diaper somewhere over the North Atlantic, those who have been trapped in the window seat next to a quarrelling couple, or worse, contending with the garrulous soul who simply will not shut up. After the computer’s battery dies (excuse me to death for complaining about the lack of an electrical plug) and the book loses its charms, when sleep eludes the hapless passenger and claustrophobia nibbles at the edges of consciousness like an old toothless woman eating a hot cross bun, I’d like to observe the First Class passengers have nice blankets and pillows and can get up and walk around — and we’re all moving at the same speed across the Atlantic.

        Colui che mai non vide cosa nova
        produsse esto visibile parlare,
        novello a noi perché qui non si trova.

        Canto X. He who has never seen anything new / hath made this speech visible / new to us who never found it.Report

      • I’m not sure how I’ve managed to make you feel like I’m somehow in the way of you thinking the thing is a piece of shit, Chris. Think it, baby! Say it! Preach!Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        So basically, no, the crappiness of air travel for people who can’t pay the extra to get enough room won’t ever be a legitimate topic for inclusion in any discussion of inequality, even in a semi-or-less-than-semi-serious moment.

        Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Sigh. Now all we need is a Hitler reference and we’ll be at the best of the internets.Report

      • I asked that upthread; it looked to me like his send-up of the idea of talking about this was pretty much an acknowledgement that he doesn’t think such complaints really have a place in a discussion of inequality. He’s subsequently said “you’re probably not off,” but that here’s he’s really just saying the execution is bad. Fair enough. What is it you think you’re adding here, James?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Frankly, Michael, I’m just poking at you because I really don’t get what you’re on about. It seems to be a mix of “we shouldn’t tret his article as serious because he was just riffin’ on his own experience,” and “we should seriously consider the issues he’s pointing to.” But you made stupid overstatement if the type I particularly despise, so I gave it all respect due it.

        Seriously, you msy think you’re being clear, but I’m not gettng it.Report

      • After my last paragraph there, you genuinely don’t know how I think you should see the piece? Or you just genuinely don’t want to see it that way?

        Truthfully, I don’t understand any of it. But I suspect that it comes down to the second. By which I mean, if I saw what you saw in the piece, what you say would probably make sense to me. But since I don’t, I am relatively lost as to whether or not I am supposed to see substance in the piece worth addressing, or not. And to what extent addressing, beyond a perfunctory agreement that yes seats are getting smaller and meals are no longer served, represents a misunderstanding. Or not.

        I see a lamentation of the fact that coach doesn’t include what it used to, and that this is indicative of inequality. And I think that’s wrongheaded because it’s looking at the wrong things. And if we actually took it as a problem, it would do things that would actually make it worse for those he is lamenting about.

        And, speaking as someone who has dealt with pain in flight for his entire life, dealt with it last week and will be dealing with it again tomorrow, I think the emphasis that he is placing on this – rather than affordability of flight – is wrongheaded. Especially given that it’s more avoidable than ever, and complaining about the additional cost of doing so rings hollow when his entire piece reflects an indifference to price.

        I have a hard time reading this as anything but a lament that things are less equal because we’re not pricing more people out of flying altogether. A continued failure to understand, possibly. (Definitely not a fear that he is actually making a point and objecting on that basis.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Did you notice the sarcasm of what I was responding to? I’m entitled to a little latitude in response to an outburst like that.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        to both –

        You’re entitled to think whatever you want. I don’t think what I’ve said is contradictory. It’s a not-very serious post pointing to issues that are real and that we can consider seriously, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the incompleteness of the view he takes, and I’ve been saying that all along.

        EDIT:

        Cite:

        I think Mark hits the nail on the head, where what he’s really complaining about is the customization. And I get that to some extent. I don’t think I’d much like how it feels to be able to pay that bit more for more leg room that could have been shared by everybody at an approximately equal price (i.e. not as much higher as the seat I can now get that has enough room is than the seat the lower-polloi-than-myself choose/can get) – like I’m able to get something that should come with a ticket (enough room not to hurt on leaving) while others have to endure not having it. The counter is of course that this may have allowed a lot of people to fly that previously couldn’t, or in any case certainly choose to save the money when they’d like to.

        IOW, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his initial reaction, and since I read the piece as much less of a polemic about inequality than Will does, I don’t really think the failure to consider that side of it is such a huge problem. It is a problem, though.

        Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Deregulation of the airline industry has produced logistical nightmares. Fares have declined, more people are travelling — and every major airline has declared bankruptcy at least once since deregulation.

        The long haul flight situation is now worse than ever, resembling nothing so much as the slave ships with their holds stuffed full of Africans, making the terrible crossing.

        Deregulation hasn’t encouraged competition. It’s substantially reduced competition. Would that our Libertarian friends cared about the way new competitors are squeezed out by price wars, only to see fares rise once the New Kid on the Block goes away.

        We’re substantially worse off now than ever. The airline industry is proof positive deregulation doesn’t work, that the gods answer the idiot’s prayers. Our airline fleets are older than ever, the overbooking situation is horrible and getting worse, delays galore. Putting aside all the seemingly-petty complaints about leg room and lack of service, there’s no question air travel is an unregulated mess.Report

      • Will,

        Yes, you are supposed to see substance in the piece. Wheter it’s worth responding to, or whether the tone suggests it maybe not even meant to be worth your time to do so (and whether it might nonetheless be) is completely up to you. I have not been meaning to tell you you shouldn’t respond. I’ve been telling you I think there are some things you initially got wrong in what it was trying to say, and how serious it’s meant to be.

        Really, nowhere do I suggest you shouldn’t respond; you’d save yourself a lot of time and wondering if you would just notice that and only respond to what I have said.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        OK, have the latitude you’re apparently notnallowing others. I mean, how else am I to interpet your unhappiness with my sarcastic response to your sarcasm, while you plea for latitude for your sarcastic respone to Chris’s (I think?) sarcasm? Three acts of sarcasm, but only one that should be given latitude?

        Look, my friendly recommendation is to cut your losses. You’re arguing, so far as I can tell, that we not take the author seriously but take his issues seriously. Well, that’s not automatically self-contradictory, but it’s definitely unusual enough thst it’s an uphill climb while carrying the burden of proof. And you’ve got three intelligent people from three different places on the political spectrum bewildered. Maybe that suggests you really aren’t making a powerful argument as clearly as you think?Report

      • I’m not unhappy. And if you’re acknowledging that your response to me was just as off-base as my reaction to Chris’ comment, which itself took latitude, which I didn’t take issue with, merely responded in kind, was, which if you want we can agree was not very since he pretty much said he thinks what I thought the statement suggested he thinks we’re all good.

        My only frustration with your comment was that what I said to Chris absolutely didn’t involve you, and he’d responded for himself already. You were just rudely butting in and acting like the fairness-in-reading police in something you weren’t a party to.

        As to my previously not allowing latitude, the previous responses I’ve been responding to haven’t been at all sarcastic; they’ve purported to be straightforward and accurate, so I took them as such.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Blaise, In one breath you point out that deregulation has led to airlines going bankrupt, and in the next you claim deregulation has reduced competition. But you don’t grasp that it’s increased competition that has led to bankruptcies.

        In the regulated days it was extremely hard to start up a new airline. Routes were regulated, fares were regulated–that is, minimum fares were set to prevent price competition on routes–and landing slots were doled out to extant airlines.

        Since deregulation airlines can fly any routes forvwhich they can get landing slots for, slots are more readily available (the allocation was made more competitive and airlines can, at many airports, trade or resell them), and they can engage in price competition on those routes. That’s why we’ve seen real, and even nominal, dollar price declines in fares, and why we’ve had a plethora of new airlines challenging the biggies. Not all challengers have been successful, but quite a few have. And of course that’s what markets are about.

        One area where competition is not always sufficient is at certain hub airports, where one airline dominates. In those cases prices are higher than comparable routes between non-dominated airports. But even in that case there is still more price competition rhan before deregulation, because some is mirevthan none.

        One source of actual data is hereReport

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Jesus, Michael, I’ve been in this conversation, with this new system it’s not always clear who’s being responded to, and you didn’t specify. It looked to me like it could have been a response to Chris, to Todd, or to all three of us.

        But I guess your sarcasm is the only one justified. And it’s really funny that you’re complaining about the fairness in reading police when that’s exactly what you were doing in your objections to how Todd and I read this guy’s piece. Christ, just lard yourself up with special privilege to do what you damn others for. But I’ll grant you one wish–I’ll step out.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, James. There are a finite number of gates in major metro airports, all run by some quasi-municipal authority. If an FNG upstart competitor moves into an airport, he has to compete for gate access. The predictable response from the existing airlines is to lower their prices from that airport, thus driving off the FNG. Once the FNG is gone, they raise prices again.

        I really don’t want to hear about the Old Days. The deregulation went through in the 70s and there’s no comparison from then to now. The facts speak for themselves: not one airline from the 70s has avoided bankruptcy, some more than one BK. Why all those BKs? Because of what I’ve said in the first paragraph. Pay attention, now: if the only way to drive off competition is to sell a ticket at a loss, resulting in bankruptcy, slamming the shareholder and debtor alike, something is wrong in the system.

        The airlines don’t run their own airports. Therefore, there’s no actual market. Essentially, the airlines are a glorified taxi service, entirely dependent on the price of fuel and the vagaries of the economy. Their business models are all wrong. There’s no more juice to be squeezed out of these old turnips. The long haul market has completely broken down and the short-haul market is dominated by regional hubs, the result of consolidation. Let’s not indulge in wishful thinking about competition in the airline space. The only competition at this stage is a ruinous war of attrition nobody’s going to win, least of all the consumer.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The predictable response from the existing airlines is to lower their prices from that airport, thus driving off the FNG. Once the FNG is gone, they raise prices again

        Nice theory (although it’s pretty outdated); too bad practice doesn’t conform to it. Under your theory Southwest didn’t ever expand out of Texas. Spirit Airlines (founded 1980), diesn’t exist. Or AirTran (founded 1992). Or American Eagle (founded 1984). Or Frontier (founded 1994). Or JetBlue (founded 1998). Or Sun Country (founded 1982). Or Virgin America (founded 2004).

        Now, not only are you demonstrably wrong on the facts, let’s look at your logic. You claim price competition led to the legacy airlines’ bankruptcy, then you claim they xan afford to lower prices to drive out the FNG. You can’t have it both ways. The FNG’s actually managed to undercut the legacy airlines through lower costs and more efficient business models. That’s why–contra your alternate history–there’s so many FNGs still flying while the legacy airlines have struggled through bankruptcy and mergers.

        Now pay attention, cupcake. Next time do your homework, so you can give me an actual challenge. Maybe you should just stick to reminding me how mean you are. If you hold your breath and wish really hard, maybe you can finally achieve your long-held dream of intimidating me.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Jesus, Michael, I’ve been in this conversation, with this new system it’s not always clear who’s being responded to,

        The key is for all of us to use the “@” sign liberally — @jesus, @michael-drewReport

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Heh. Hanley. That is surely the worst line of business logic I’ve heard in years. Now let me tell you the real story of Southwest Airlines. It began operating within Texas so it could avoid regulation. It’s been avoiding regulation ever since, flying the oldest and junkiest fleet of any major airline, paying all sorts of fines. It’s a wreck.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        That is surely the worst line of business logic I’ve heard in years.

        I may be overstepping something that I might be accused of stepping in to, but it seems to me Hanley isn’t offering his view as a logical argument but rather as a description. Irrespective of “logic”.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Stillwater is right.

        Bored now, Blaise. Don’t forget to remind me soon of how mean you are–I’m afraid I might forget.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        @kenb,

        I use it all the time. Maybe not in a helpful way, though.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Mine is a nice theory and has the added benefit of conforming to the factual history. Some pigeon roosting in the eaves of the Ivory Tower shitting fact-free hypotheticals and counterfactuals upon my head does not dispose me to kindly responses.

        Every major airline has gone bankrupt at least once. When Delta Air Lines went bankrupt, it took four of the top seven airlines into BK with it. The industry is precessing and wobbling like a top losing momentum. How many times do these airlines have to go through a BK before someone gets the point here?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Blaise, you’re repeating the one thing you said that I concurred with–bankruptcies for the legacy airlines. But you can’t prove me wrong by harping on the one point where you and I agree.

        I’m going to bed now. And tommorow let’s go back to ignoring each other’s existence, eh?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Hanley, you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. You really don’t. The long haul air passenger market is broken. The result of a decade of fucking up and consolidation has reduced the count to four main US carriers, all of whom are being crushed by rising fuel prices and a sick economy — and no new competitors on the horizon.

        Fewer routes are being flown, regional airports are closing or on reduced support. As the smaller airlines, mostly locked into the short- and medium-haul routes, proceed to cannibalise each other, new aircraft sales remain dormant. The same old buckets of bolts are still flying: Southwest Airlines is still flying 165 Boeing 737s 20.8 years old. Delta’s fleet has an average age of 16.8 years, still flying 178 of the old MD80s, average age 20.7 years.

        And you think this market is working? Isn’t it about time for you to call me a liar or something worse?Report

      • I know it’s your favorite accusation to make around here that people aren’t allowing for others what they allow for themselves, James, but here it’s just not the case that I’ve said anyone else’s sarcasm isn’t justified or denied it latitude that I wanted for mine. Nothing in an exchange where I take latitude in responding to sarcasm that takes latitude and then say that the initial latitude taken justifies mine establishes a record of saying that any of that previous latitude isn’t justified.Report

      • Also: Todd?

        I don’t know about a Todd in this discussion. I’ve been having a discussion with Will about his reading of the piece. Will wrote the OP. If I’m being the reading police by having a discussion about Will’s reading of a piece he chose to OP about, well, fine. Your reading of the piece came into my comments only because Will cited it in that discussion with me.

        If you were confused whether I was talking to Chris (even though there is a record of the thread of my asking that question earlier and the timing makes it fairly clear I was responding to his sarcastic send-up), then that was the issue. But the fact is that what happened was that Chris also entered in that discussion, we had an exchange, we renewed that exchange, we then concluded that exchange, and then you to took aim at one of the things I said in that exchange with Chris after it was concluded, saying my sarcastic comment was out of line even as a response to his sarcastic comment. If that happened because you were confused about who I was talking to, great then we know why it happened, but that’s what happened. It sure seemed to me like you were picking out something that was a response to Chris and deciding you were going to take issue with it after he’d already responded as he saw fit.

        If you think that’s the same as just engaging Will on his reading of a piece he chose to make an OP with open comments about, well, then you thinking that can just sit here in the record.Report

      • …But in any case, if you didn’t realize it was a reply to Chris in particular, then obviously I’m frustrated a lot less by your involving yourself. I didn’t know that. But it’s not like I’m spontaneously complaining about the language police thing – you asked! I understand that’s how things roll around here – sometimes people point out when someone says something stupid in a conversation they’re not even a part of. It’s not like I called you out: you literally probed as to what was up with what you perceived as my unhappiness, which in my mind didn’t exist at any remarkable level, and which I wasn’t particularly trying to express. So I was explaining what was up with whatever frustration was coming through, at your request.Report

  3. Avatar j r says:

    “I am often sensitive to these kinds of arguments.”

    Why? You admit that the argument fails even on the economic merits. Those people are over-paying for those amenities with an expensive ticket that helps keep your ticket cheaper. Unless you are very wealthy or have an extremely high utility for bad airline food, the bare bones economy seat will almost always result in the most consumer surplus.

    And, of course, you’re right about the point of flying. Moreover, you’re flying! You’re doing what human beings dreamed of doing for as long as there have been human beings. And you’re doing it at a price that even the poorest Americans can afford to do from time to time. Are there ways to improve it? Yes, but reducing somebody else’s experience for the sake of our cro-magnon hindbrain’s sense of fairness is not the right way to bring about improvement.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to j r says:

      I guess my fear, at least like in the DMV case, is that once the upper classes don’t have to deal with something, then there’s little impetus to deal with the problems because those whose opinions “matter” are satisfied. Despite my mild defense of the line-cutting below, I have an objection to the wealthy’s ability to cut through the security line because it makes security lines in general less of an issue with people whose opinions matter.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Will Truman says:

        My issue with the security line is that those are required/staffed by the government. As such, they should not have class differentiation. Though, I will say this applies for short security line for elite passengers and not the TSA PreCheck lines, which are open to everyone.Report

      • Mo, I agree. That’s also why I had a problem with the North Carolina DMV. It’s government, and so inequality (or egalitarianism) is of greater concern.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Will Truman says:

        That’s fine, but it’s important to note that first class isn’t hereditary. And a good number of people in any first class cabin are likely there on an upgrade or are splurging because of a special occasion. The people who don’t know what economy is like aren’t in first class, they’re on a private jet.

        Part of the problem here is that there are different types of inequality. There is inequality where the rich and the powerful are able to make themselves better off by making the poor and powerless worse off. And there is inequality were some people are able to purchase a higher quality of good or service in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact everyone else and, in fact, often makes everyone else better off by either subsidizing everyone else or by increasing the demand for today’s luxuries helping them to become tomorrow’s necessities.

        Unfortunately, both instances feel pretty much the same. And that means we have to stop defaulting to feelings and instead bring some rational analysis to these situations. Once you do that, you realize that air travel simply isn’t one of the instances of inequality that is particularly troubling to anything but our egos.Report

      • JR, what you say is accurate, which is why the inequality posed here doesn’t particularly bother me. Or that this manifestation of inequality is relatively benign or even beneficial.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    I flew from Atlanta to J-burg (18+ hr flight IIRC) in “Economy”. It cost me about 1,600 USD. An acquantaince used miles and flew in First Class. The USD price was @ 16K. She had all those amenities and an almost horizontal reclinging seat, while I sat in the back and deat with some bozo’s kid kicking my seat back for 4 hours. Would I like to have been in FC? Hell yes. Was I prepared to pay cash for the difference? Nope.

    Back in the late 80’s it cost me 3K per person to fly from the US West coat to Florida-in economy. You know, I think I’ll accept that trade off.

    I would like bigger seats and better pitch, and I’m prepared to pay for it, at least on the margins.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Are the first and business class seats really subsidizing the economy seats? I’ve seen this asserted several times but I have never seen it demonstrated with numbers. I’m not saying its not true but I’d like to see some evidence for this proposition beyond a mere assertion. I

    I also think that airlines can do certain things that would make the flying experience seem more fair and egalitarian withotu actually having to do anything about the amenities offered in different classes. Chaning the bording procedure would ease a lot of the bad feelings. Currently, people with special needs and small kids plus different classes of privileged passengers get to board first. If the airline companies decided to board from the back of the plane to front of the plane, making first and business class passengers wait their turn, a lot of people would feel less bitter about the difference in the level of amenities. The same thing concerns checking backage or going through security. Everybody should be treated the same before they board the flight unless they have a legitimate special need. After they board the plane than you can treat them differently.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The reason why it is said that first class subsidizes coach is that the profit margins on first class are huge. Take those away, and those profits have to be made somewhere. That’s going to involve either raising prices in coach or further cutting services. Or going back to the days of losing money.

      With regard to early boarding, the question is whether that induces people to pay more money. Because, if it does, the same argument applies. They get money there that, if they didn’t, they would have to extract another way. If waiting longer in line helps keep things affordable, then I am not sure there is a huge problem here.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

        A first class seat takes up more square feet than an economy class seat. I’m curious as to how much MORE room, and what that does to the numbers.

        I’m sure first class is a large premium, I’m more curious as to how much it really is. The worst first class seats I’ve seen lately took up at least the room of 1 1/2 regular seats, and probably closer to two.

        If economy seating is (to make up numbers) 500 round trip, and the first class is 1500 — then the premium isn’t a thousand, but somewhere between 750 and 500. (And that’s not counting more room for their food, dedicated stewards, etc).Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Will Truman says:

        Morat, see my comment above. I do have a problem with their ability to bipass security lines.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

        I was reading someone — Kevin Drum, I think? — who pointed out some analysis of the airline industry pre and post deregulation.

        I wasn’t convinced of his conclusion (“Deregulation of the airline industry didn’t save us money, it cost us money, and airlines look like one of those things — like roads — that we’re not willing to directly pay the full costs of, but are obviously willing to heavily subsidize”) but the numbers were…interesting.

        Interesting enough, at the least, to call into question how we handle air traffic in this country. I’ve got issues with everything from the BS security theater of the TSA to pricing to regulation of flights.

        I avoid flying these days — the TSA is a huge hassle, and at 6 feet tall ‘economy’ is deeply uncomfortable on the best days. It seems an invitation to DVT on cross-Atlantic flights.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        Aren’t first-class seats something like ten times the price of regular seats?Report

      • Brandon, 3x to 4x is the norm.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to LeeEsq says:

      All revenue is fungible, so if the people in first class are overpaying for their amenities, they are de facto subsidizing everyone else. It’s hard to place a value on what you get in first class, but I doubt that whatever treatment you’re getting for 8 hours on a plane is worth a couple-few nights at a five-star hotel plus a dinner or two at a Michelin starred restaurant.Report

  6. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I hate flying. I’d now rather drive a thousand miles than fly. Used to love flying.

    The petty indignities of being squashed into less space, the lack of service, the general idiocy of the flying public, the callous indifference of the flight crews (who are suffering right along with the passengers!) — all that’s understandable, if not entirely tolerable.

    Getting through the airport and going through security has become intolerable. I swear, if I have to endure another go-round with TSA, I will detonate and make world headlines. Taking off my shoes and belt — okay, I’ve been losing a little weight over the last few years and when I take off my belt, my jeans want to slide down. The petty indignities — the piggy-eyed, unprofessional, luggage-stealing TSA bastards frisking me. Land of the Free, my ass. When it comes to my ass, I put on a belt in the morning and I do not intend to take it off until I’m good and ready, thereby keeping my pants up and my ass covered. Shoes also.

    Meanwhile, the Bizjet Crowd get to walk out to their aircraft, no TSA to rootle around in their luggage, looking for stealable goodies like so many hogs in search of truffles.

    The aim of terrorism is always to force the State’s hand with every incident, making the State intrude ever-farther into ordinary people’s lives, thus alienating the citizenry from the State. The airlines, well, they’re awful and they know it. Some airlines do care, Southwest isn’t quite as awful as the others. They know how to run a no-frills operation: no bone china on their aircraft but Southwest doesn’t fly long-haul runs. When Jefferson said all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed, surely he had TSA at O’Hell Airport in mind.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I have been blessed with the ability to fall asleep on the plane before we even start taxing for takeoff. As such, I always found flying to be a pleasant experience. Chicago’s O’Hare was my favorite airport in the world. I’d hope for a three hour layover so I could put some Pink Floyd in the old walkman and ride the underground walkways for the duration.

      The TSA, however, has ruined it for me. I can count the number of flights I’ve taken since 9/11 on one hand.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Flying puts me to to sleep as well. When I was younger, I could read a whole book on a flight from Tennessee to California. Now I’m lucky if we reach 3,000 feet before I’m in REM sleep.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Once woke up with a start on board a Delta flight. Had to look in my pocket for my boarding pass to figure out if I was flying to or from Atlanta. As long as I’m in comfortable clothes, with a bottle of water and a book, I can manage about six hours of continuous flying. Aircraft air is so dry I always wake up parched as a mummy.

        But the transatlantic or transpacific run requires more planning. Jet lag is a nightmare so I have to order my sleep for a few days before.

        Why can’t aircraft manage to provide a charging outlet? Nobody ever watches those stupid pay-per-view things or those in-flight phones on the backs of the seats. Pull them out and give us something we can use. How about some amenities for infants and parents of small children? Surely there are enough children coming aboard aircraft for them to be considered.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Hey, I just read that Houston is joining several other cities in having a new service — pay X amount a year, and travel without rigorous screening. They do a check on you and then as long as you pay your yearly fee, you’re considered risk-free!

      Hooray for capitalism!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to morat20 says:

        Good Lord, they’re coming out and giving the game away.

        Surely folks will notice… right?

        Right?Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to morat20 says:

        This is TSA PreCheck. It’s $85 and lasts for 5 years (or $17/year). However, you also have to undergo a background check for them to clear you. It was previously available to other enrollees of Trusted Traveler programs, like Global Entry* or NEXUS (the fast pass between the US and Canada).

        * Which is $100 for 5 years and allows expedited entry through customs and passport control, but requires background check and fingerprintingReport

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20 says:

        Thankfully, no terrorist organization would be smart enough to find a guy that could pass that check and use him.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to morat20 says:

        You don’t skip the line 100% of the time and in essence you go through pre-911 type screening. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people on that list have their travel patterns scrutinized more closely in the backend.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to morat20 says:

        Mo, I’d be really shocked if they did.

        Because let’s face it — the No Fly List is an utter joke. More of a joke than Florida’s voter scrub list.

        And security screening? Pointless. 9/11 changed the game — you can blow UP a plane still, but you can’t fly one into a building. Heck, 9/11 ended plane hijackings for good. No pilot will ever cooperate with a hijacker again.

        Since we all know the TSA stuff is pointless, including the TSA, why on EARTH would they bother doing extra work on the back end?

        Taking off our shoes? Pointless. Body-scanners? Pointless. X-ray machines? Fairly pointless, but quick and occasionally reminds idiots that guns and knives aren’t allowed on planes. Container rules and size limits? Pointless.

        99% of everything the TSA is pointless, and everyone including the TSA knows it.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to morat20 says:

        I agree 100% on the security theater being worthless.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Meanwhile, the Bizjet Crowd get to walk out to their aircraft, no TSA to rootle around in their luggage, looking for stealable goodies like so many hogs in search of truffles.

      This. During one stretch of my tech career, I was the guy the CTO took to certain meetings with companies looking to sell us interesting new embedded hardware and/or software, so I got to take maybe a half-dozen trips on the corporate jet. First Class is how you fly when you’re not rich enough to fly in real luxury. I recall a trip from Southern California to Colorado and the flight plan put us at an altitude that was close enough to the tops of the little thunderheads popping up over Arizona that things began to get bouncy (not that bad, just irritating). After about five minutes of that, the plane stood on its tail and scooted up several thousand feet to where things were smooth. The pilot came on then: “Apologies for the delay in getting out of the turbulence, gentlemen, but air traffic control was a little slow today about changing our flight profile.”

      Air travel is one of those things where the average person has no idea how much different things are for the truly wealthy.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I’d agree that some security would be usefull at the airports, but really, the TSA is useless.

      I’ve know people that have accidently gone though security with ammuntion in the carry on bags and it was missed. Weapons are routinely missed during testing of screeners when they are given ADVANCE warning there will be tests. I know of bags put on flights and the passengers not on board. Security? don’t make me laugh.

      We’d all benefit if the TSA just would go away. I’ll take the risk of some radical trying to blow the plane if they be eleminated. But not…must have security theatre for the rubes.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Damon says:

        I happen to frequent one airport that missed a rifle, and another that missed a hunting knife.

        In both cases, it came to light because the person did so unintentionally and informed the TSA. Which is pretty gutsy, in my opinion. I’d probably keep my head low for fear that out of embarrassment they would be particularly hostile. (This happened at a former job. I had a problem on my check significantly in my favor and informed HR. For a couple of weeks I was treated like someone that had tried to cheat them.)Report

  7. Avatar Chris says:

    As someone who is (perhaps over)sensitive to issues of inequality, I have to admit that this is somewhere down near the bottom of the list of things I worry about. It’s about at the level of my concern over the difference between the quality of leather on the driver’s seats in the 7 series vs those in the 3 series. Even if we weren’t already talking about distinctions between people who have the money to fly, we’d still be talking about inequalities that are a symptom, rather than a cause. It’s not like getting rid of First Class on planes would solve any real issues of inequality. It’d just put more seats on the plane (and make the prices go up a bit), so that the folks who can afford to fly have to wait a little longer to board.Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I don’t mind the existence of first and business class and economy class. This existed on ships as well with first, second, third, and steerage classes. Nor do I mind needing to pay for or bring on food for most flights. Though I would complain for any flight that lasted longer than New York to California. I don’t even mind paying 25 dollars to check a bag.

    Here is what bothers me:

    1. The speedy security lines for first class passengers or people who are “gold star” members or stuff like that. Everyone should do security together.

    2. Extreme extra fees for heavy bags.

    3. We are no getting beyond first class and economy class. I’ve noticed that airlines are now charging a bit extra for certain seats in economy. They call this “economy select” or some such. Usually it is only 20-30 dollars extra but it still strikes me as being too much.

    What is interesting though is what you noted above. The airline industry is notoriously unprofitable. Very few people if anyone have found a way to make flying a profitable industry. However we need it because a 5-14 hour flight to Europe (depending on point of departure) is preferable than 2-3 days on a ship.Report

    • I wholly agree with you on item #1.

      On #2, I’m sympathetic to your concern, though I can think of legitimate reasons for that – logically, you should just get charged a graded fee per pound of overage rather than an automatic outrageous penalty. However, it may be that for safety reasons having the huge penalty as a deterrent is preferable – especially with increasingly full flights, there’s a need to make sure the aircraft’s weight is properly managed, so it may be that you need to create a really strong disincentive to bringing overweight luggage on board in order to keep things within a predictable margin. I’m just speculating about this, though, and could very well be wrong.

      On #3, I actually think this is a good thing – it creates a medium where you can get some extra benefits without being amongst the privileged elites. As someone who’s well over 6′ tall, I have to admit that it’s an increasingly tempting option, though I’ve not yet shelled out the extra bucks for it.Report

      • I think #2 and #3 are entirely justified. Extra heavy bags require special handling or potential safety risks for employees (and are harder to pack). It’s better all around if you have two moderate sized bags than a single huge one. Might be better if they had tiers (more than two of them), but it’s still reasonable.

        $20-30 is a bargain for the extra leg room. The floor real estate means less seats and they have to recoup that money. In some cases (like front seats and exit rows) the rows would have to be longer anyway, but there they charge it for consistency. I am biased on this, because I am almost 6.5′ tall and the advent of Economy Plus is something I’d been asking for a long time back.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I believe that once bags go over a certain weight (IIRC 60 lbs), baggage handlers can’t lift them due to risk of injury and union rules. So there is a reason why there’s a discontinuous price function.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I just noticed that number 2 is rather inconsistent. I’ve flown back to the East Coast three times since 2012. My bag was always heavier on the return flights because of purchases (usually books at the Strand). The extra fee was waived twice for reasons unknown, not even mentioned. The third time, I needed to remove several items and bring them as carry on in a scramble.Report

      • There is usually a 50lb limit, which I know because Clancy’s suitcase brushes up against that often because it has a capacity of about 50lbs. If there are any abnormally heavy items, like books, it’ll go over. They have never formally waived it, but due to the line will sometimes write down a smaller number rather than have us shuffle things around and let the line build up.Report

      • Regarding #3:

        For our wedding a few weeks ago, we had had to have flown to Denver my wife’s parents (one 70-something and the other 60-something, neither very mobile and neither having flown for something like 40 years) and her sister, sister’s husband, and two young children (10 months and 4 years old). We paid (well, my mother in law paid) the small upgrade for them to have extra leg room. The whole adventure was pricey, but that was very much worth the cost.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

      ND,

      I am with you one 1, dubious about 2 because extra weight does require more fuel usage (I travel light–let the heavy travelers pay their real share instead of free-riding on me, or learn how to pack sensibly), but totally opposed on 3.

      I have moderate to severe leg pain if I don’t have sufficient space. I can’t afford biz class, but can afford a few bucks more for the extra couple of inches of leg room or seat width. I recently flew Spirit for 5 hours to LA, and was nearly in tears from pain when we landed, because I swear their seats were tighter than any I’d ever eperienced before. They’re usually $25-30 cheaper than any other flight, but I’ll never fly them again, because at that margin it’s not worthwhile to me.

      So while you’re looking at marginal inequality or something, I’m looking at avoiding real pain, and being able to walk out of the airport without hobbling like a 70 year old veteran of the NFL.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        See, that’s my real concern. My sister, though not particularly tall, had bad knees-and indeed was recovering from knee surgery when we went on a flight last year. She desperately needed that extra space. Fortunately, there was a seat next to the emergency door available–I don’t believe she was even charged for it.

        What I don’t really know, because I’m someone who takes airplane trips about once a decade, is how present seating condition compare to earlier days. If seating has always been this cramped, I’m grudingly okay with it. If seating is becoming more cramped than ever at the same time that an up-charge for extra leg room is introduced, that’s exploitation.

        In 19th century Britain, railways would intentionally sabotage third-class carriages so as to encourage anyone who could afford it to travel second class. Not just offer poor service–some would literally bring in buckets of soot and dump them over the seats.

        At some point, a line is being crossed. If airlines are intentionally making seating small enough that it causes people physical pain, that’s the line. Because when premiums are actual premiums, I’ve got no problem with people paying extra for them. When companies treat customers badly, with an option to pay extra for basic human decency, isn’t that just purposely being nasty to poor people?Report

      • Alan, I believe that the seats have gotten more cramped. But the premium Economy Plus (and such) seats are tons, tons larger than coach has been in my life. So you’re paying more for getting more. As for the cramped coach, well they are getting a chance to pay less than they would, if there were less rows. I really don’t think that counts as exploitation. Especially given that Economy Plus seats are far, far less expensive than coach used to be. This isn’t a case where they are intentionally making things miserable to force people to upgrade. I think it’s a case of they are dealing with limited space and are trying to pack as many people in economics permit.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        FYI, I just found online that Spirit’s “seat pitch” (how airlines measure leg room, it’s the distance from some point on the seat to the same point on the seat in front of it) fir its non-reclining seats–what I was in–is 28 inches. Other airlines seem to most run from 31-34, with a few even larger (another site lists more, but I don’t want to link it because of moderation). This is probably why Spirit makes these seats non-reclining; there’s not enough room to recline even a bit without being right in the face of the person behind you.

        But 3-6 inches less legroom than others! JetBlue, I saw one one site, offers extra legroom for a mere $10 more. I’d take that deal in a heartbeat.Report

  9. Avatar Kim says:

    I would like to invite the author, and James Atlas as well,
    to learn a little about an industry before writing about it.

    The Upper Class does not fly First Class anymore.
    They fly out of General Aviation and without any TSA to boot.

    Southwest and Jetblue are getting rid of First Class, because
    nobody wants to pay for it.

    Are you really prepared to say that it is “acceptable” for those
    with clotting issues to be unable to fly? As it is now, it is a
    health hazard.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

      The Upper Class does not fly First Class anymore. They fly out of General Aviation and without any TSA to boot.

      That doesn’t change the fact that there are class distinctions between who flies first class and who flies elsewhere.

      Southwest and Jetblue are getting rid of First Class, because
      nobody wants to pay for it.

      I meant to mention this, actually. Increasing numbers of flights with the big airlines seem to not have first class. This is arguably a product more of plane size than anything (increased reliance on small planes), but I think the separation between those who bypass major airlines and others increasingly going into coach.

      Are you really prepared to say that it is “acceptable” for those
      with clotting issues to be unable to fly?

      On most flights, or an increasing number of them, they have an “economy plus” option that they did not have before. Assuming that the issue is space.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kim says:

      That depends. I knew a really rich guy who could have afforded his own private jet but decided the upkeep costs were not worth it and he flew first class. Usually between the U.S. and Israel.

      So how would you describe people who take first class?Report

  10. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Undiscussed in all of this… I actually do have a real problem with one of the airline upcharges. It makes me quite angry and I consider it fundamentally problematic.

    Anyone want to guess what it is?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      Hmmm… charing heavier/larger passengers for a second seat? That really ISN’T an upcharge though. I’m pretty sure none of them have begun charging for the restroom. Not yet at least.

      I got nothing.

      I will say that I object to the checked bag fees. Not because they are unfair, but I think they are counter-productive. What ends up happening is people keep carrying on more and more stuff. This drastically slows down the entire security, boarding, and deplaning process. How many collective hours are lost because EVERYONE gets on board with a roller suitcase? What is the cost to society that we’ve made a 45 minute flight between major east coast cities take longer than a drive because of all that crap and now people return to the roads?

      EVERYTHING would be better if we were required to check all but the smallest of bags. No suitcases in the cabin. Give everyone back 90 minutes of their day. More productivity!Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        You know what the solution that is, right? Charging for carry-ons!Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        BOOMSHAKALAKA!

        I think if we really stepped back and looked at the value of time lost, we’d do a whole host of things differently.

        Another area, and at the risk of being crass, is how we handle highway accidents. I once sat in a 3 hour traffic jam on I-95 in Connecticut due to an accident. The injured and dead had been cleared, but the powers-that-be thought it necessary to shut down the whole southbound portion to investigate. Everyone had to funnel off a single exit before getting right back on 300 yards down the road. The delay was for miles. Oh, and this was the Sunday of 4th of July weekend. Grand. Add up all the lost hours, all the extra emissions, etc., and I can’t imagine that whatever they were seeking to find in what I’m sure was a horrible and grissley but not entirely otherworldly accident justifies it. But, that is how it always seems to go.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    A couple of years ago, I did about 50K miles of business travel, almost all of it in regular coach. (I did occasionally get bumped to business class, but it was always on relatively short legs, never on the transcontinental ones.) The notion that people in this situation have ready access to upgrades is a false one. For one thing, 50K miles doesn’t earn you much these days. For another, an upgrade applies to a full-fare coach seat, and employers do not want to pay for full-fare coach.

    For me, at least, this wasn’t an equality issue, because all of us were in the same boat. If fact, one one flight from SF to Chicago, where I had been upgraded to a comfortable, roomy seat in business class, I saw my CEO, who was about 8 inches taller than I am, walk past me on his way to coach. Poor guy. (And in case you were wondering, no, I’m not nearly that generous.)Report

  12. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    For the record, everyone on Emirates gets the amenities kit, and the fresh warm washcloth to freshen your face when you board and in the morning of an overnight flight. I know, because I was in steerage myself.

    But I wonder if this guy has looked at the relative prices paid, and if he’s aware that the well off also live in nicer houses, drive nicer car, and eat at better restaraunts than the rest of us. I hope he’s in good shape, because it’s going to take a lot of energy to sustain his outrage at all of these advantages of wealth.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      James, do you ever think there is a time where the advantages of wealth become troublesome for some reason? Wealth comes with advantages but are all of these advantages good or do some have some serious negative consequences for society as a whole and should be eliminated as much as possible for the social peace?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I really only care when the wealthy are able to pay the authorities to allow them to violate the laws, or pay them to harm the non-wealthy.

        No TSA for bizjet passengers don’t bother me because having TSA for be even sillier security theater–there’s no general rule for the security and safety of all, for social order, being violated here. Speedy security lines for first class pasengers irks me, but not enough to really spend any time fretting over. (Hell, if they set a fee for it and dedicated that fee to some good purpose, whether better customer service training for TSA agents or rebuilding Haitian homes I’d stand up and applaud it

        But if the first classerson could bribe TSA to keep me off a flight because I’m wearing my Motorhead “Eat the Rich” shirt, or I mocked hs penny loafers, then I’d fret.

        Likewise, if folks in luxury cars get to speed but folks like me get ticketed.

        In other words, it’s not wealth or inequality per se that bother me, but corruption. And while wealth can of course aid corruption, they’re neither synonomous nor does the one lead inevitably to unacceptable amounts of the other.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        If the wealthy were able to buy elections. or, worse still, buy a Court that would declare buying elections to be a Constitutional right, then I’d worry.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        James, I’m largely in agreement but with a few caveats. I think that inequality at a certain point becomes politically dangerous and leads to a bit of social instability that should be avoided. I’m not really for violent revolutions and civil wars. If that means we need to do some wealth redistribution to promote the social peace than so be it.

        I also think that too much wealth inequality does lead to corruption and that its kind of unavoidable. Late 19th century American politics is really solid evidence of this. The entire Senate was basically owned by the wealthy and served as a lobby for the wealthy even more than the current Senate does. To avoid this you need certain things like the progressive income taxes, estate taxes, and direct elections for all elected officials. No indirect elections should be permitted.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Mike–Do you think it’s harder or easier to buy an election in the U.S. than half a century or a century ago? Dyou think there’s any distinction between “buying” and “influencing.” Do you think “constitutional right to buy an election” is the most thoughtful and accurate description of CU’s holding that you can come up with?

        LeeEsq–Do you think culture might have something to do with the difference between the levels of corruption in Latin America and the U.S? Do you think corruption in the U.S. is greater or lesser than it was a half century or century ago?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Listen to what President Romney has to say about buying elections.

        Seriously, the threat with money and politics totally isn’t buying elections. The threat is buying candidates.

        But what are ya gonna do?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        It’s much more difficult to buy elections when the other side is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on them too.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Do you think it’s harder or easier to buy an election in the U.S. than half a century or a century ago?

        It’s easier. Just more expensive. Case in point: Bloomberg’s wins in NYC.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        Easier than a century ago, when there was no mass media. Probably harder than a half-century ago, wen the media were more concentrated.

        It’s a difference of degree, not kind.

        BvG was an illegitimate ruling that gave the White House to the Republicans. CU was an over-broad ruling that favored Republicans. Shelby ignored the most relevant part of the Constitution and favored Republicans. What doubt is left for those SOBs to get the benefit of?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Blaise and Mike,

        Neitht of you have a firm grap on political history, nor do you have a good understanding of political dynamics, and you bothbfail to seecthe difference between influencing and buying.

        In the good old days you long for, the actual precinct vote counts could be bought for with cold hard cash. Today that s much harder, both because the DOJ is more ready to investigate and becase the mass media is eager to report on scandal. A mass medua makes it harder to buy elections, despite mass advertisng, because it scandal sells.

        And advertsing desn’t buy elections, it influences voters. But Chris is inisightful where you two rely on simplistic liberal tropes–with two candidates each spending millions on campaigns, it’s not easy to use your advertsing to sway people. The data shw that the person who spends the most is not remotely a guaranteed winner, if the election is at ll competitive (not gerrymandered, your opponent wasn’t Jeri Ryan’s husband).

        Mike–I agreed Bush v. Gore was bad. What I’d like to see you defend is your claim that the Court was bought.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        P.S. I can’t help but notice how casually liberals use the wordc”theft” in this case, while, of course, thinking anyone who saysc”taxes are theft” has grossly abused the meaning of the word.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Court wasn’t “bought” per se; it was packed with shameless partisans.

        And do you really not recall W’s war chest, that allowed him to blanket the GOP primary states with ads in 2000? It was in all the papers.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Court wasn’t “bought” per se; it was packed with shameless partisans.

        Yeah, like that’s a new thing. Perhaps you’ve heard of a Chief Justice named John Marshall?

        Or, since you’re complaining about conservative decisions, are you under the impression that the Republican appointments are peculiarly partisan, despite the well-known tendency of some Republican appointees to drift leftward (Warren, Blackmun and Kennedy, to name some notable examples) and the lack of a corresponding pattern among Democratic appointees?

        Get real, Mike. You seem surprisingly unfamiliar with the historical context of the Court.

        And do you really not recall W’s war chest, that allowed him to blanket the GOP primary states with ads in 2000? It was in all the papers.

        Which continues to ignore the important question: does successful advertising equal “stealing”? I suppose when an Outback Steak House commercial persuades mevto eat there instead of at the Texas Road House it’s “stolen” my business? would say that anyone who uses the word “steal” in such a riduculous manner has lost any standing to complain about the “taxes are theft” mantra.

        Anyway, you’re relying on one case, when the actual evidence shows that outspending your opponent doesn’t guarantee victory. Here, I’ll give you a single case: billionaire Matty Maroun, owner of the only bridge between Detroit and Windsor, spent over $2 million on a series of brilliantly deceptive and, I thought, persuasive ads in support of his own ballot measure that would have made it difficult for the state to build a competing bridge. The ads were almost completely unopposed–there was no organized constituency to fund opposing ads. And yet Maroun lost…badly.

        Are you persuaded that spending doesn’t matter? Of course not. It’s a single case and you shouldn’t be persuaded. But you expect the case of Bush 2000 to be a sufficient argument? Are you serious?

        Also, you’re ignorng that money tends to flow to front-runners, confounding cause and effect.

        Every ideology has its partucularly shallow version, full of tropes and slogans, and supported by confirmation-bias inducing anecdotes. That’s what I’m seeng here.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to LeeEsq says:

        My grasp of political history, weak as it is, is replete with memories of simpler times, when bought politicians stayed bought and when political machines were less prone to breakdowns. Influence peddling and the Revolving Door has blurred all the lines between a Bought Politician and a Rented One — or perhaps we should call it Leasing.

        But let’s not quibble about such things or hurl cardboard thunderbolts from atop the Ivory Tower, casting aspersions on who understands Political Dynamics. That’s very silly. There’s more money in politics these days and it seems to end up in the same pockets as before. If the likes of Hizzoner Da Mare Daley and Pendergast have become extinct and do not sell elections outright, their replacements are no less amoral in the quid-pro-quo of political outcomes. The dynamics are different: politics are not as local as once they were.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

        That’s right, Blaise, I shouldn’t be condescending or insulting to others; that’s your sovereign territory. Just bugger off now, Mr. Puff ‘n’ Blow. Or stick around and remind me how mean you are; somebody might have forgotten to fear you in the last weekmor so.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @jm3z-aitch , a comment I heard… somewhere, don’t remember where exactly, seems spot on.

        That the money in politics nowadays doesn’t so much determine the outcome or perhaps even result in corruption. But it does determine what the candidates are talking about.

        Example: As a result of concerted efforts by deep pockets like billionaire Pete Peterson, everyone “knows” that SS is insolvent. Except… it isn’t really. The program is solvent for something like another 25 years and can be extended by relatively minor tweaking. And the fact that disbursements are scheduled to exceed receipts this year of next is proof of that insolvency… not! That’s exactly how the thing was set up by Reagan and Tip O’Neil back in the ’80s to deal with the Baby Boom demographic bubble.

        I mean, how is a program that is maybe going to run into problems 25 years down the road a screaming, fishing emergency worthy of shutting down the government, now? Answer: It isn’t. Unless you have the money to make it one.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Rod, exactly. I don’t much at all worry about money buying elections. I worry about money buying candidates. But I cannot think of a solution that work fix it which I would actually support.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The program is solvent for something like another 25 years and can be extended by relatively minor tweaking

        This is a half-truth at best. It’s solvent only in the sense that there are treasury bills in the trust fund, which means that to continue paying scheduled benefits, general revenues will have to be diverted to Social Security, at a time when the government is already running very large deficits.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Some people say that this is only fair, since for many years FICA taxes were diverted to general government expenditures, which is where those treasury bills in the trust fund came from. This kind of makes sense until you actually think about it for a minute and realize that the generation that borrowed social security revenues while working is the same generation that will get subsidized by general revenues in retirement.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @brandon-berg , your thinking is so confused on this subject, likely from marinating in rw rhetoric, that it’s hard to know where to start.

        Yes, the SS trust fund consists of Treasury Bills. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. How else would you expect to hold $2.6T? Cash? Under a really, fishing huge mattress? Oh, I know… invest it in the stock market. (The one that just crashed a few years ago and gyrates on a fairly regular basis.) Do you really want the government investing $2.6T in the private equity and bond markets, thereby picking winners and losers? It’s bad enough that some state governments and cities do that with their pension accounts.

        No, you want the SS surplus to be invested neutrally in Treasuries. Why? Because that’s $2.6T that the Feds didn’t have to borrow from the private investment market. That’s $2.6T that was left in private hands to be invested in private industry as those private individuals and institutions saw fit. That’s why it’s a feature and not a bug. The only buggy part is that politicians of both parties have been using the SS surplus to offset the deficit of the rest of the government to make the deficit and debt numbers look not as bad as they really were. The problem isn’t what they did; it was that they weren’t being honest about it. (I’m led to believe that there was also some shenanigans during the Bush years that flat out stole it to fund the Iraq war, but I don’t know enough about that to speak authoritatively on the subject.)

        As to your second point, from the inception of SS to sometime in the Reagan years, the SS program was strictly pay-as-you-go. Current workers paid for the benefits of current retirees; it was a straight-forward income transfer thing. I understand if you find that distasteful, but understand also that the concept of ‘insolvency’ doesn’t even apply to that kind of program. It’s all income and expense; assets and liabilities don’t enter into it.

        That changed in the mid-80’s when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil, fearing the consequences on the program of a retiring Baby Boom generation, worked out a plan whereby the SS payroll tax was doubled with the excess going into a trust fund. The Baby Boomers were the first generation to finance both their parent’s retirement and their own simultaneously. And remarkably for something forecast that far in advance, the program was projected to start running current account deficits and drawing on the trust fund just about… now. Right on schedule, exactly as planned.

        So basically, Brandon, every point you made is exactly back-ass-wards. I attribute that to pure confirmation bias; listening to people telling you what you want to hear based on your political prejudices. I understand if you don’t like the concept of a public pension program. I disagree but I understand and accept that you hold a different opinion. But you could at least try to get the nuts and bolts of it right.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Rod:
        Yes, I know all that. The parts that are correct, anyway. I didn’t say that the government should have invested the FICA surplus in anything other than treasury bills, only that that is in fact what they were invested in and that these are not assets in any meaningful sense.

        It simply isn’t true that the Baby Boomers funded their own retirement in addition to their parents’. Not via taxes, anyway. Every penny they paid, and then some, was spent as soon as it came in. Higher taxes or not, it all went to fund current spending.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        So if you held a T-Bill in your investment portfolio, you wouldn’t consider it an asset??

        Congratulations, you’ve just created a Kobayashi Maru situation. Jeebus, how many times have I heard conservatives/libertarians bleating about “unfunded obligations”, a figure which seems to roughly double every six months or so when it’s touted on some rw gabfest, BTW!!?? And now, you’ve ruled out the only plausible and sensible way that such a program could be funded in the way you seem to imagine it must be.

        Disingenuous much??Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Yes, of course it would be an asset to me, because I’m not the one who has to make good on it. A debt instrument is an asset to anyone except the issuer, to whom it’s completely worthless. Likewise, if I were to write a check to the government, that would be an asset to the government, but it would be worthless to me.

        Suppose it’s 2025 and Social Security is running a $100B deficit. Consider what the government has to do to continue paying out scheduled benefits under two scenarios:

        1. There are at least $100B worth of treasury notes in the trust fund: The SSA sells the treasury bills on the open market and uses the proceeds to make up the shortfall.
        2. There is no trust fund: The government issues $100B worth of new treasury bills, sells them on the open market, and gives the proceeds to the SSA, which uses them to make up the shortfall.

        The government’s actions are effectively the same in both cases. It issues $100B worth of new public debt to make up the shortfall. You can also have scenarios where the government chooses to raise taxes or cut benefits rather than issue more debt, but in no case do the treasury bills make any difference. Because they’re not assets to the issuer.

        Now, obviously, Social Security isn’t insolvent in the sense that the government simply cannot possibly pay out the scheduled benefits. We’re not at the peak of the Laffer Curve, so the government can always raise taxes, or cut expenditures in other areas. So you can say, in that heavily qualified sense, that it’s solvent.

        But there’s also a sense in which Social Security has never been solvent. The tax rates needed to pay out Social Security’s scheduled benefits have been increasing since its inception*. At no point has it ever been indefinitely sustainable in its current form. That’s not criticism for failing to do the impossible—it could be made indefinitely sustainable by defining the retirement age in a way that maintains a fixed ratio of workers to retirees.

        *Note the wording. I’m well aware that rates have been unchanged for over 20 years, but over that time the rate actually needed to pay out scheduled benefits has increased.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        That changed in the mid-80?s when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil, fearing the consequences on the program of a retiring Baby Boom generation, worked out a plan whereby the SS payroll tax was doubled with the excess going into a trust fund.

        By the way, this needs an asterisk as well. Yes, nominal Social Security revenues doubled in the ’80s. But Social Security tax rates increased only about 22%, from 5.08% in 1980 to 6.2% in 1990. The rest of the growth in revenues was due to inflation and economic growth. The rate increases were roughly in line with what prior decades had seen.Report

  13. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    James, I do think that culture does have something to do with corruption differences between countries. Some cultures do have elements in them that make them more prone to corruption than others. However, culture isn’t the only thing. If people believe that corruption is in their self-interest than many of them would engage in acts of corruption/

    Overall, overt corruption is probably much less now than it was century ago. The political machines were still in existence in 1913 but corruption was on the wane because of reforms like direct election of senators. Half a century ago probably had less corruption because the regulatory state was more powerful. Its hard to tell without exact data.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Nah, half a century ago the machines were still powerful in many places because the Feds had not started bringing outside legal pressure, and some states, including but not quite limited to the South, still allowed one privileged group to use the machinery of government to totally fuck over another group–and not just by running more ads. LBJ flat out stole several of his elections, including his first election to the Senate, having got really serious about stealing them right after having been outstolen in an earlier election. Kennedy almost certainly committed election fraud in 1960, and one prominent theory about why Nixon didn’t challenge it was that he’d engaged in fraud, too. Things are better now.

      Is the potential still there? Of course; Americans are humans. But I can’t get myself worked up about it when the long-term trend has been in the opposite direction. And I suspect that much of the concern is based on lack of knowledge of that trend.Report

  14. Avatar Shazbot11 says:

    I think you are missing Atlas’s point. (Though his piece is written in a way that gives rise to this confusion, so some of this is on him.)

    The main problem is that which causes inequality in the U.S. And inequality is not caused by differences in first class and economy flights. Rather, the the differences in the two kinds of seats are a symptom (one fairly unimportant, but very visible, in a way) of inequality. Atlas is not complaining that there is such a difference in the quality of the seating in the hopes that rectifying this difference will do anything good. (It is uncharitable to think he is that stupid.)

    Rather, he seems to wants to minimize the causes of inequality (he doesn’t say how, but presumably things like unionization, higher minimum wages, free college education, socialized health care, etc., paid for with higher taxes on the rich, whatever) in the hopes that more people could afford a little luxury in their flights (say nicer meals and a touch more legroom for more of the whole plane) at the cost of making the few who can afford first class, a little less likely to buy it that often.

    Moreover, he seems to make a point that noted Communitarian Michael Sandel (the Harvard prof who has the free online MOOC about justice that is excellent, IMO) calls “the Sky Boxification” of America. Here is a simple version:

    “The more things money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another. We see this when we go to a baseball game and gaze up at the skyboxes, or down from them, as the case may be. The disappearance of the class-mixing experiment once found at the ballpark represents a loss not only for those looking up but also for those looking down.

    Something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

    Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”

    In other words, a world where there are two many experiences of class division and not enough mixing of everyone from all walks of life is toxic for society. I’m not sure that I agree, but I think that is closer to Atlas’s argument than suggesting that he thinks changing seating arrangements on planes would do much good, on its own.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11 says:

      That has been brought up, but even in that context it’s a bad example for a whole host of reasons. McArdle had a better one just recently with amusement park lines. In the inequality symposium, MA had a better one when he talked about sporting event ticket prices. Neither of these examples are/were great, but both are a lot better than this one. There were better examples in the subject of airline travel than the ones he focused on.Report

      • What are those last, Will? Maybe you’ve said, but I’m unclear on it if you have.Report

      • Bizjets, private jets, and security line bypasses all represent something where I have a very hard time arguing the social benefit negating the discomfort I feel on the class implications.Report

      • I’m with you on the security lines – you shouldn’t be able to buy your way out of those.

        The others aren’t really on the same subject of the piece, which was consumer airline travel, though, fair enough, they’re on the subject as you stated it – airline travel.

        I guess for those it’s like James says – people have lots of money; companies have lots of money. They’re gonna buy stuff like that. I don’t know how to get bothered by the pruchases themselves. Sure, we should tax them a lot more, because that spending doesn’t create as many utils in them in total as would splitting up a lot of their money and giving it to lots and lots of people who can buy burritos and shoes with it. But after we do that, there’ll still be plenty of people rich enough to buy themselves a jet. And good for them.

        To me, it not obvious that that’s an objectively better thing to talk about when it comes to inequality in the air than letting flying conditions float down to very uncomfortable levels for a basic ticket and then backdooring decent conditions back in at graduated pricing (and in distinct plane sections). That, too, has class implications. After all, as you say, it’s a function of the discomfort you happen to feel about them. You feel this much about these; he feels that much about those. It’s not objective; it’s opinion. What’s objective is that both actually are related to inequality in the sky; they’re things we can look at and think about and talk about what we think of them.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        Inequality is a comparison operator. Will’s point, it seems to me, is this: By making flight affordable to the masses, sacrifices had to be made. And those sacrifices were made, not by everyone but by the Steerage Class.

        Just how much indignity is tolerable? Is that really a consumer decision? Cramming ever more rows into these old hulks, extorting people for checking luggage,knowing it’s going to create a nightmare as everyone stuffs everything into the overhead bins, these airline companies don’t give a shit running up fees for everything.

        Do you really want to fly on some Dollar Store of the Air? If you don’t, you have the option of paying three times more. Them’s your options. One of these days, someone’s going to demand some minimum standards for air travel — and we may rely on certain people to raise a big stink when it happens. Well we’ve already got the Big Stink, the recirculated air in these Flying Beer Cans.

        Inequality is a comparison operator. As long as Steerage Class can be fucked over, it will be fucked over.Report

      • Right. Speaking of Seinfeld as Chris did, I’ve been thinking about Kramer keeping guests in his dresser drawers. Is there a limit to how affordable we think flying should be? Maybe? Maybe not?I guess my point all along has been, what’s so bad about discussing that? It doesn’t seem like such a bad thing that a guy writes something pointing at those issues, causing us to talk about them.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

        Do you really want to fly on some Dollar Store of the Air? If you don’t, you have the option of paying three times more. Them’s your options.

        That’s often not true. And it’s less true now than it was before recently, because of the increasing ubiquity of a premium economy option.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        If ever there was an oxymoron, it is Premium Economy.Report

      • Absolutely, Will. That was typical hyperbole from Blase.

        All I’ve been saying is that the development of these gradations does nevertheless have class and equality implications, especially when the baseline conditions keep getting crappier and crappier after fares have pretty much bottomed out. We’ve just split up coach into crappier-than-it-used-to-be and roomier-than-it-used-to-be sections. Maybe that’s awesome! But I think we oughta allow that that’s a non-objective judgement.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        Hyperbole it might be, but you’ve just restated my point, Michael. As long as the Steerage Class can be fucked over, it will be.Report

      • I pointed out your hyperbole only because I’m generally aligned with you on your point, or at least sympathetic, so for my own part I just wanted to acknowledge Will’s right to take exception to your exaggeration of the price increments, because he’s right about that. But that doesn’t put having varying opinions on the whole dynamic beyond the realm of the eminently reasonable.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        MSP to Paris CDG Dep 8/18 Ret: 8/25:
        Economy: $1503.
        Premium Economy: $2706
        Business: $3650
        First Class: $8781

        Kayak.com, lowest prices for each class.Report

      • That’s quite a jump, no doubt about that. It ain’t twenty bucks, anyway.Report

      • the development of these gradations does nevertheless have class and equality implications

        Sure. I’ve said in this thread (though not in response to you) that there are class implications of first class vs coach.

        I think the subsequent arguments, though, are weak. I don’t think lamenting the squeeze put on baseline flight is unreasonable. But I think it’s wrong. Not wrong as in “The illuminati runs everything” or “Toledo is the capital of the United States” but wrong in the sense that I disagree with it and I see the class implications as being muckier than lamenters do. I think that trying to address the the issue directly would be bad for the very people being lamented for. I think using it as an signifier of inequality is misguided. Surely something can be found that I don’t have a positive spin to put on.

        especially when the baseline conditions keep getting crappier and crappier after fares have pretty much bottomed out.

        Considering what happened with fuel costs, that baseline flying is cheaper now than it was in 2000 is pretty remarkable.Report

      • …Also, I took you to be talking about a hypothetical time when the trend had advanced to where there was a kind of further-discounted additional class of fares with who-knows-what kind of conditions. So who knows what those price gradations would be. So perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut; I just wanted to acknowledge that Will’s right that it’s not currently a 200% difference between the bottom fare and the next grade up.Report

      • It’s true that $20 is at the low end. It’s anywhere from $20-60 on the flights I’ve taken, based mostly on distance and availability. You also get charged for each leg of the flight. So it can add up pretty quickly. I rarely see the sort of increase that Blaise cites. But I rarely take international flights.

        It’s options, though. Options that previously did not exist. I was all in favor of getting E+ up until our financial situation changed. Now, I’ll take the leg pains.Report

      • Here’s a question for older commenters and frequent fliers (particularly those who are both and have flown first class!): Historically, has the price divergence between first class and coach remained relatively constant? The Paris flight that Blaise cites has a whopping 5-6x differential. A few glances just now shows a 3-4x differential.

        When I was a kid, I was under the impression it was about 2x. Not from a reliable source, but from TV where they talked about how you could exchange one first class ticket for two coach.Report

      • Either people can reasonably see it differently than you do, Will, or they can’t. Either you’re right and they’re wrong, or it’s a matter of opinion (on which we can say some judgements might be better to some extent than others, but finally no one is right or wrong). It’s not as complicated as you’re making it. You’re avoiding this question by arguing both sides of it.

        I’d also say that lamenting their conditions or their deterioration isn’t really what we’re talking about; it’s really just whether it reasonable to have reservations about it or not that’s at stake in the discussion at this pointReport

      • I don’t have a problem saying that opinions are wrong. Including opinions I’ve held. I would bet, including opinions I hold now.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

        On the phone with mom, she tells me that she was flying Eastern Airlines in 1963 from Willow Run (near Detroit) to Greenville, South Carolina. She tells me, “If I remember right, a one-way first class ticket was $47 first class.” I asked the difference between first class and coach and she said that it wasn’t more than 10 dollars and it might have even been seven or eight. (But, she points out, this was one way.)Report

      • Can people entirely reasonably see this question differently from you?Report

      • So in 1963, could only the “well-off” take that flight?

        EDIT: @jaybird natch.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        In 1963, ordinary people did fly. They dressed up, too. See, airports were big cultural edifices, statements about a place. It was, after all, the first and last thing most people would see of a given city and a great deal of work was put into keeping them up.

        It’s something of a myth, that only the rich flew. That comes of people who never knew those times looking at the pictures. Everyone was dressed up.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        Thing is, about the early 60s, there were still steamships crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific. Passenger trains were still in operation, too. There were options. Those options are gone. Oh, you can still take the bus, you could in those days, too. But the bus was tacky and lo-rent.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

        In 1965, eight out of ten Americans had never flown.

        (Note, I would not suggest that the difference between then and now is entirely – or perhaps even mostly – due to price. I do tend to think price elasticity was involved, though.)

        I remember, quite fondly, when we stopped driving three days to visit Mom’s family back east, because we could afford to fly. It was an amazing change. This probably influences my view of the whole thing.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

        In 1965, there were still 10,000 rail passenger cars in operation. The Depression had killed off most of the interurban trains, we see the same phenomenon in the airlines with every economic decline, kills a few more off. But after WW2, with the advent of more people owning their own cars and the rise of the Interstate highway system, people just fell in love with the road. It was the heyday of the motel and the drive-in theatre.

        Can you imagine it? People would actually pile in the car, just to go driving — to nowhere, really, just to drive. They’d eat in their cars, poor saps. Nowadays, who eats in their damn car? Maybe someone in a big hurry, choking down a deathburger in the Booger King parking lot. But that’s what people did, by choice. Preferred it to a table. Dumbasses.

        But ordinary people could fly and did fly. If fewer people flew, it was because most people didn’t take their families along. Rental cars were a dicey proposition, no nice buses to take you out to the rental car lot. Travel agents were required to navigate the confusing tangle of paperwork, nobody did it on their own. But if you were just flying to another city and someone would pick you up, or you’d take a cab, you didn’t have to be rich to fly.Report

      • On the opinion versus right/wrong thing quickly, note that my question was not whether Will acknowledges that this is an opinion of his (and thus of theirs), and that he acknowledges that it follows that there can’t be a right and wrong answer. It doesn’t; clearly you can have an opinion about something that is wrong. You can have the opinion that Toledo is the capital of the U.S. But that wasn’t the question: the question was whether this is a matter of opinion. Whether Toledo is the capital of the U.S. is not a matter of opinion, whatever opinions one might have about it. But the question was whether it’s a matter of opinion whether its reasonable, or right or wrong, to have reservations about how coach service has deteriorated as (a result of) fares falling, or doubt whether the one more than balances out the other to create a situation no one should say isn’t positive (or however we might agree the question had been framed, or fail to agree on that).

        I’ve always pretty much thought that that question is pretty much dispositive of the question whether someone can just be right or wrong in their opinion relating to the matter – -i.e. if it’s truly a matter of opinion, then you really can’t be wrong. But I acknowledge there is philosophical space to differ on that, and I don’t want to get into it that deeply right now. i just wanted to make clear that I wasn’t saying that just because someone has an opinion on it, therefore, that opinion can’t be right or wrong. The issue was whether this is a matter of opinion – or of right and wrong (correct or incorrect). 😉Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

        According to the tubes, a 1963 dollar equates to six 2009 dollars. So that’s 300 bucks for a one-way ticket from Detroit to South Carolina… minus the first class fee… and that’s 240ish to 260ish.

        Checking Kayak tells me you’d pay from $238 to around $500, round trip, today. So from twice as expensive to around parity.

        I wouldn’t say that only the rich flew. My mom’s family is probably best described as “blue collar”. (But, like Blaise points out, it was an event. You’d get dressed up in church clothes like it was something special. Not like today, where people wear PJs to the airport to make the TSA somewhat more bearable.)Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Will Truman says:

        It is, perhaps, a bit simplistic to talk about who did and didn’t fly. My parents did fly, until they had us. Then they didn’t. Then prices dropped (and maybe he got a raise or two), and we did. The price elasticity of flying would manifest itself in multiple ways. Those who fly, as well as how often they fly, whether they continue to fly when they have kids, and whether people will purchase tickets for other people (so that sonny-boy can come back from college). I remain somewhat confident that there is price-elasticity involved, and I think it’s a mistake to force people to upgrade to bigger seats, pay for a meal they may not even want, and so on.

        (There are limits to this. I would not accept an airline charging people to use the restroom. So I do support a “forced upgrade” to include free restroom usage. And I could, at a point, imagine seats getting too small if there is not the reasonable ability of people to upgrade.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot11 says:

      One of the things that Andy Warhol thought was great was the whole creation of Ubiquitous Brands.

      “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it. “

      Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

        Andy forgot that the rich were drinking really nice Scotch and champagne and stuff like that all through that time: they just also enjoyed Coke. America created lots of new, cheap stuff that could be enjoyed by the rich and not-quite-poor-but-close alike, but the rich never stopped also importing the exclusive stuff they’d always liked from various parts of the Old World and from some places around the New World. But the brands never became ubiquitous because they didn’t have to be, to some extent didn’t want to be, and to some extent couldn’t.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Andy Warhol’s most famous brand was Andy Warhol. I have a Betty Crocker cookbook he illustrated. Warhol, like Picasso, cranked out so much litho crap he diluted his brand value to damned near nothing.

        Andy Warhol became a worthless human being and surrounded himself with similarly worthless scum. He kept selling those big lithos and silk screens, though. Yeah, the President drinks Coke and so does the bum on the corner. And Coca Cola has become one of the most recognised brands on the planet. But once you’ve gotten the bottle open, it’s just carbonated water and caffeine and sugar and some kola nut extract — and once you’ve gotten Warhol in focus, there’s Warhol’s filthy coterie of drug addled pleasure seekers, some still alive, amazingly, with a little cardboard man in the middle, wearing a horrible shock wig, either a genius or a fraud, probably both. Certainly a monster. America deserved Warhol, sick hog that it had become.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Warhol is what Duchamp *SHOULD* have been.

        (Also, without getting into the difference between starting a tradition and ending a behavior, the skyboxification of luxury goods is probably the best kind of inequality you could hope for. We’re all watching the same ball game. It’s just that those guys over there are having their cokes poured for them by college students with exposed midriffs. Getting rid of skyboxification will do as much to keep the elite from watching the game with us as it will to put the coke pourers out of work. I’m hoping for eventual Bronze level, Silver level, Gold level, Platinum level, Diamond level, and Unobtanium level distinctions… where everybody is envying how much better the Coke pourers must be in the level above the one they’ve clawed themselves into.)

        (Oh, and while I’m rambling, if you haven’t seen the movie Bottle Shock, you need to. Get a bottle of Stag’s Leap (something) and watch it with your significant other. It tells the story of The Judgment Of Paris. You’ll have a blast. Well, if you finish the wine.)Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        That’s a truly cogent statement, Mr. Jaybird, sir. Duchamp has always fascinated me.

        Duchamp was a mighty arbiter of taste in his own right. Only instead of hanging out at Studio 54 with his coke-snorting buddies, Duchamp became an advisor to art buyers. I sense, like Warhol certainly did, that Duchamp knew the art market was mostly hype and fraud — which isn’t to say there isn’t good art being made, there’s always good art out there. Duchamp and Warhol became masters of the art of hype and turned hype into art.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        BlaiseP, you do realize that Andy Warhol’s public persona was very different than Andy Warhol’s private persona. The private Andy Warhol was a very devote Roman Catholic that attended mass daily and volunteered at homeless shelters. His public persona was just to maintain his reputation as a bohemian.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_warhol#Religious_beliefsReport

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Andy Warhol’s Factory was the most recondite hive of fuckery imaginable — and he put a great deal of imagination into that fuckery.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        Nowaday, the rich fishes drink Mexican Coke made with real sugar while the regular folks drink the domestic HFCS stuff. (Or so I’m told. I don’t drink any of it.)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        We’re all watching the same ballgame, only now it’s in a stadium that cost a billion dollars because of all the fishing skyboxes, and guess who paid for the stadium?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        The taxpayers, naturellement. As they always do. The shortages will be divided among the peasants. Some are more equal than others, it seems.Report