Turley’s War on the Skies (and everywhere else)

What sort of whiny terrorist sympathizer would complain about waiting three hours on a TSA security line, just because they’ve yet to stop any terrorist ever?  What about the children?

You have likely been reading about the scandalous situation at our airports where TSA security points have created chokepoints due to a lack of planning and staffing in the latest failure of this agency. Thousands of passengers are missing their flights due to massive lines and the airports are now suggesting that people come THREE HOURS in advance.

The reason is obvious incompetence in failing to plan for rising numbers of passengers and to properly staff security checkpoints. Yet, no one is being held accountable. The public is just again left paying billions to the government, which cannot meet the most basic obligations to the public. We no longer expect competence from our government.

No longer? As if it’s easy for the government to protect us in this ever changing, ever threatening world?  So what if the TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist. What about the next one, the one who will blow up your children?  Don’t you care at all?

But then, three hour wait times in TSA lines is only the beginning of the brave new world of air travel.

We have been following the increasing lines at security checkpoints in our airports due to budget cuts and TSA incompetence while airlines pile on extra charges for passengers while reducing both room and comfort to the level of cattle cars. As passengers are treated with level more regard than cattle by TSA and the airlines, the airlines themselves are racking up huge profits. Indeed, the most recent report shows that U.S. airlines had a combined $25.6 billion in net earnings last year. Yet, the airlines successfully lobbied to kill a bill in Congress that would have required such things as the publication of leg room on seats.

Sit down. Turley’s not done yet.

The after-tax profit for 25 airlines with scheduled passenger service was more than three times the $7.5 billion reported in 2014. Not only that but average fuel prices are 35% lower than the prior year. This is the sixth consecutive years of profits for the industry.

Remember how the airlines justified those baggage fees on fuel costs? Well, they are not rescinding them. Indeed, baggage fees rose to $3.8 billion last year and reservation change fees totaled $3 billion.

So the airline industry has treated us like total dirt, increasing fees, decreasing service, while the government makes us wait three hours on line for the pleasure? Turley finally gets to the point.

[A]irlines have succeeded in changing the expectations of travelers. For those of us who remember air travel as comfortable and low stress, the status of travel today is nothing short of a scandal. I used to enjoy flying and now I avoid it whenever possible. It is punishing and degrading. Yet, the airlines knew that such memories would fade with the new generation and that they could lower expectations while increasing profits. They gambled on people accepting cramped conditions with few comforts and they won.

But it’s not just airlines. It’s pretty much everything, as we’ve been trained to expect to be treated like dirt and thank business for the insult, with our continued patronage and our attitude.  We buy things that are bigger, shinier, more complicated, more expensive, and last about an hour beyond their warranty. If that. And people adore it.

We’ve been indoctrinated into a disposable consumer world, where we pay ridiculous sums of money for a shiny toy with a useful life of a couple years at best, after which it goes away so we can buy the next shiny toy. Yes, I’m talking about smartphones.

A few years back, companies gave away cellphones to entice you to use their services. Sure, the cost of the services was exorbitant, and built in the cost of the “free” phones, but at least you got a free phone. Now, the cost remains exorbitant, but you have to pay for the phone as well. See how they did that?

Where air travel was once an experience in itself, it has become solely a means to an end. It is the equivalent of replacing every fine restaurant with a vending machine on the theory that people only want food at the lowest possible cost. Call me a dinosaur if you will, but I will never forget the golden age of travel when airlines prided themselves on not just the arrival at a location but experience in getting there.

I remember when people dressed up to travel by air. When even coach passengers were given a meal. When the meal was served on actual plates. When the kid behind us couldn’t kick the back of the seat because his legs wouldn’t reach that far.

But why should the airlines be any different than any other industry, recognizing how little we will expect. There was a time when refrigerators not only worked, but would work perfectly for 20, 30, 40 years. No, they didn’t call Peapod when the milk ran low, but they did keep the milk cold. For decades. True, you had to figure out on your own that you were low on milk.

So we’re dinosaurs?  Fair enough. We expect the goods and services we buy to work, to serve their function, to reflect value, to not treat us like cattle. So if we’re dinosaurs, why aren’t you a dinosaur too?

As long as people keep excusing, forgiving, rationalizing the failure of goods and services to provide more than empty promises, and shrug off failure and being treated like fools, businesses will happily continue to dish out crap and treat you like cattle. Is that really the future you want for yourself?

Maybe the curmudgeons aren’t as mean and demanding as you think. Maybe our memory of products that work, less shiny but of far better value, is something you ought to pay attention to. Maybe our refusal to take in stride the downward spiral of service to perpetually reduce expectations is the key to our being provided actual good service rather than cute commercials where businesses pretend to love us.

Maybe the curmudgeons are right. Maybe you better come to that realization before your entire world of disposable crap and cattle-like treatment is the best you’re ever going to do. Suck it up. Refuse to buy that next iPhone, even if it has the jack on the other end. At some point, you either call bullshit or just put your credit debit card online and let businesses charge at will.

48 thoughts on “Turley’s War on the Skies (and everywhere else)

  1. REvers

    Ah, the good old days of air travel. My mother bought me a new suit because we were going to fly to DC for her to accept a journalism award. This was in 1971 or so, and one simply did not dress poorly on airplanes. And we got to fly on a jet! The stews were smokin’ hot, too, which was fairly important to a 15 year old boy.

    Times change, and often not for the better.

  2. Rick

    Yes, it’s true that air travel, by some metrics, used to be nicer. But, it used to be lots worse too only we forget that part. A coast to coast trip that takes 4 hours now took 14 to 16 hours in a small, noisy, un-pressurized plane that had to fly at low altitudes through turbulence and bad weather. They had to give you a box lunch of cold chicken and warm drinks because there was no other choice. The trip took 4 to 6 stops and was not crowded because only the well-to-do could afford to travel. 14 seats on the plane was normal, 21 was amazing.
    Now all the unpleasant people you can avoid on the street are sitting next to you on the plane in their shorts and tees, drinking beer and shouting at their kids 2 rows ahead. It still beats whatever form of transportation is second.

    1. SHG Post author

      We’re talking about air travel on Earth, not whatever fantasy world you live in. Sorry for the confusion.

      1. Rick

        Humm, as grumpy as you are I assumed you were older and would have flown in a DC-3 at some point.

        1. SHG Post author

          That’s not the point. It amazes me how fairly obvious things so easily elude some people. Think TWA and Pan Am in the 60s through the 80s, not the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

          1. Rick

            Okay, got it. Ticket prices in 2016 dollars were double or more than what they are now, plane crashes were fairly common, planes couldn’t land in fog or bad weather, you were surrounded by people smoking, cigarettes, pipes and cigars and blacks were virtually excluded from flying by high ticket prices and racist policies. Other than that it was nice.

            I flew across the Pacific in 1967 on a 707 with a total of 5 other passengers and 8 stewardesses ( that’s what they were then). Now that was a great flight!

            1. SHG Post author

              Amazing how you nailed that airlines were racist, because that’s really a great reason why everyone should accept being treated like shit today. Brilliant.

            2. Sgt. Schultz

              If you aren’t nicer to the sanctimonious morons, they’re not going to leave comments and the rest of us will have nothing to laugh at. Can’t you think of anyone besides yourself once in a while?

  3. Marc Scribner

    I won’t take issue with much of this, since it is your perspective, but I do take issue with the characterization of airlines somehow priming consumers to accept less for more, or even less for less (not to mention the airline industry is historically unprofitable and harping about a fuel-shock-driven “good few years in 30” is a bit amusing). Going back to 15 years ago, American Airlines famously discovered after removing rows across their fleet that non-business passengers wouldn’t pay even a few bucks more for the extra legroom. They lost money and promptly added rows back to their aircraft. It wasn’t airlines lowering the expectations of passengers; this was passengers lowering the expectations of airlines. Perhaps you could argue that things had already gotten so bad that this mindset was ingrained in consumers, but that greatly reduces the odds of a Dinosaurs’ Renaissance ever occurring. (Sorry.) I see no evidence for the allegation that these trends are driven by producers, but see plenty of evidence they are driven by consumers, as one would expect of a reasonably competitive market.

    1. SHG Post author

      To young people, 15 years seems like forever. Not so to dinosaurs. Your data point was long after the trend began, and during a period when airlines were dying. Pan Am collapsed in 1991. The impetus was that travelers would suffer so airlines could find a way to survive, as no one wanted to see air travel die. But if you look back 30-50 years, the problem becomes far more obvious.

      People weren’t trained to accept crap overnight. It’s been a long process, and it’s not as painful bit by bit, until you can take the long view of where we started and where we are now. That’s the perspective.

      1. Marc Scribner

        AA’s Bob Crandall lamented airline deregulation for cheapening air travel too. Ending the government-enforced cartel led to rapidly declining airfares and industry profitability–and service quality. But the masses could now afford to fly. 9/11 was the last big shock. I remember reading a mid-’90s article about how all-business class Midwest Express spent almost $30 per passenger on meals. That was quickly ended after 2001. The terrorists won.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t recall the food ever being worth $30 per meal (including first class, as was my personal preference). But the terrorists couldn’t have come along at a more convenient time for the airlines or the government.

      2. tim

        To young people, 15 years seems like forever. Not so to dinosaurs.

        Aren’t your timeframes a little arbitrary? Considering that humans couldn’t fly commercially at all until a 102 years ago – i think things have improved a bit over that experience.

        Now I only began flying after deregulation but am I the only one that remembers how awful the airports and the flights were in the 80s and 90s? They had no choice but to shove free food and drink at you just to make it to your destination. I wouldn’t give up 2016 business class and airline lounges on Japan Airlines for business class on NWA in the 1990s [cringe]. Heck – I wouldn’t give up 2016 coach service on Japan Airlines for business class on NWA in the 1990s. With TSA pre-check I’m through security in about 30 seconds and with tools like tripit I know exactly how delayed my flight will be and can plan accordingly.

        I simply don’t get the nostalgia for the air travel in less reliable vehicles with less tools to get stuff done.

        1. SHG Post author

          My first thought was to respond to your comment, but then I realized, there’s no need. Res ipsa loquitur, as Turley says.

  4. Tom

    In our near monopoly economy, choice of alternatives is an illusion perpetuated to make you feel better about your lack of choices. If you don’t want to play their game at all, then enjoy a Ted Kaczynski lifestyle in a cabin in the woods but beyond that, sadly, the large companies have you by the short hairs and they know it.

  5. DaveL

    TSA security points have created chokepoints due to a lack of planning and staffing in the latest failure of this agency. Thousands of passengers are missing their flights due to massive lines and the airports are now suggesting that people come THREE HOURS in advance.

    I hate to break up the nostalgia, but isn’t there another problem here besides terrible customer service and missed flights? In the name of security, we’ve now created choke points where massive lines of people gather outside the airport’s secure area. You couldn’t come up with a worse security plan if you tried.

    1. Marc Whipple

      Crowds are never hard to find. Hundred-ton guided missiles loaded with fuel and hostages are a bit rarer.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think the whole thing is a farce, but just on the point of “security points create vulnerable targets,” I don’t find that convincing. I even seem to recall at least a few people claiming that airport ticket counter shootings show that security is a Good Thing, because otherwise they might have hijacked a plane instead.

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  7. Corporate Tool

    Having just flown traveled in new improved airline seats in the 30th row of a plane designed for 27, I will raise my voice . . . as soon as my GPS gets me to the hotel. Funny, I wouldn’t have expected it on such as narrow cliffside road but

  8. Jim Tyre

    In the earlier days of TSA, I had a stash of lapel pins. They had a picture of an airplane on them and read “Suspected Terrorist,” because we all are. It was “fun” to wear them when flying, as long as I didn’t need to reach my destination by any particular time. My stash is dwindling, but just for you, Scott, I’ll let you have one as long as you promise to wear it while going through TSA and then write about it.

      1. Jim Tyre

        Even an indirect comparison to Stew is ample good cause for me to demand a refund for my subsription to SJ. Now.

  9. Dragoness Eclectic

    Who’s this “we”? Is it a lawyer thing? A New Yorker thing? Both? Most people I know won’t put up with being jerked around by lousy businesses–they just take their business elsewhere.

    Like I’ve said before, if you don’t like how a business treats you, switch to their competitors, and let them know why they have your business now. There are two car dealers I won’t do business with down here anymore because they either (a) ripped me off with repairs they claimed to do but didn’t, or (b) had a long list of excuses as to why they couldn’t fix my car but would I like to buy a new one from them? Yeah, no.

    If all customers had the backbone to drop bad business like a hot rock, those sorts of businesses would vanish. The flipside of that is when you find a business with good customer service and good performance, stick with them, treat *them* right (i.e., pay your bills on time, don’t whine about the prices you agreed to, don’t be That Customer, etc) and let them know why you do business with them. It’s called ‘positive reinforcement’–sure, everyone *should* do a good job without tummy rubs, but people aren’t perfect. People appreciate hearing that you think they’re doing a good job. It encourages them to keep doing it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Have you noticed that the “we” seems to be an awful lot of people, except you. Maybe you are the most fortunate person in the world, the only one not to experience this. Maybe you are treated like shit but adon’t realize it. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. Everything is not all about you.

      What is peculiar is that even though this may not affect you, you feel this bizarre narcissistic, borderline psychotic, compulsion to tell others about your not having that experience. Let’s assume the best, and that you’re not suffering from a terminal psychotic affliction. Yay for you.

      Now, would it be okay with you if the rest of the world had a discussion about something that didn’t apply to you? You know, just as if other people existed who weren’t you? I know, but it could happen. Best of luck with therapy and psychotropic meds.

  10. neoteny

    If a cellphone (i.e. a device on which you can make voice phone calls) is all you need, you can have that for $20. A smartphone is a cellphone and a networked computer (with a high resolution screen and an extensive software system) rolled into one: it has capabilities which go far beyond the ability to make a voice phone call. That’s why people pay much more for it than $20.

    Moore’s Law might not have been published in the United States Statutes at Large … but anyone who wishes to hold forth competently on the subject of digital communication devices’ price/performance ratio ought to know about it. Without that, you only make your readers stupider on the subject.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thank you for explaining this critical distinction that has thus far eluded everyone. I blame myself for making them stupider, as they surely have no clue about cellphones and smartphones. You are a tech genius.

      1. Myles

        What is happening here today? Between the psycho dragon and this whack, it just gets stupider and stupider. Allergies?

          1. neoteny

            Maybe it has to do with the subject matter of the post, and your take on the issues.

            You’re a lawyer, Mr. Greenfield. I have a daughter who lives in NYC; if she got into legal trouble, I would definitely refer her to you: you seem very competent in your chosen profession, and looks like you indeed zealously represent your clients’ legal interests. It is likely that your fees — which some might find “ridiculous sums of money” — actually provide excellent price/performance ratio.

            But I wouldn’t want her to heed your advice on her choice of “shiny toys … smartphones”. You seem to attribute their “useful life of a couple years at best” to some kind of conspiracy/collusion between smartphone manufacturers and telecom companies, put into effect by the mad consumer persuasion skillz of their marketing departments. But you’re mistaken: the cellphone capability of smartphones (i.e. the ability to make/receive voice phone calls) extends beyond a couple of years. It is their other, much more extensive capabilities which erode quickly — because the rapid development of both hardware and software technologies which translate into useful services offered beyond the cellphone functionality.

            The “shininess” of these “toys” which you lament are these continuously improving services offered by smartphones. The measure of the value of these “toys” and services are exactly the fact that people are willing to shell money out for them — at relatively short intervals. They subjectively (!) value the new & improved services (“shininess”) enough to part with their monies in exchange for them. They subjectively (!) judge that the “sums of money” they pay for them isn’t “ridiculous” at all. Those who find the price(s) ridiculous, simply don’t buy those smartphones and their attendant services; they use cellphones, because that’s the service they want, at the lowest (“non-ridiculous” for them) price.

            Digital communication devices aren’t like grills: if grills were like smartphones, they would simultaneously shrink in size, grow in grilling capacity and use considerably less fuel to get the job done. And if they would do that at the rate similar to smartphones, you bet that people would exchange them every couple of years for new ones.

            1. SHG Post author

              Yes, the iPhone 6S is so vastly technologically superior to the iPhone 4 that it’s inconceivable that anyone could use such a stone age device. Sheesh. That people will pay for them doesn’t reflect their “value,” but the misguided values of the people who think they so cool and buy them, which is the point.

              And I have a son at MIT, who he tells me they think this is all one huge tech joke on a clueless society that confuses tiny gimmick tweaks on shiny toys with substance so that fools will buy new ones that are marginally, if at all, different from the one they have in hand.

              By the way, I didn’t suggest anything about a “conspiracy.” That’s either your peculiar imagination or exceptionally poor reading comprehension skills.

  11. John Barleycorn

    Miele doesn’t make yankee gutters yet.

    Don’t piss into the price point breeze, but that’s another layer that this post and,  that guy from Chicago, don’t really want to disect.

    Lawyers -both practicing in “the corner office with a view”, and those that have found lawmaking a more conformable ride- have more than their fair shair of respondibility for the dragnet of staggered expectations that have all but become “permanently” stagnant.

    CDLs exempted of course. But I wonder if that niche of the guild isn’t long past the point of diminishing “expected” preformance as well?

    “Just the way it is”…has a funny way of punishing consistent crumedgons and the most diligently optmistic and deserving youth inside the same clouded crystal ball.

    You know the way…

    P.S. Sexy new formating you got going on for you there. I think it actually does make you look younger in some respects but if you want the secrets you are gonna have to make a deal. 😉


    1. SHG Post author

      On the contrary. I don’t blame business at all for doing what it’s supposed to do, maximize profit for shareholders by selling as much crap as possible and treating people as poorly as it can get away with. I blame the people who buy the crap, get treated like shit, for allowing it to happen.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Maximize is magazine verbiage.

        Sustainable profit in turn, is Zine launguage.

        P.S. I find naps to be with the higest probability of rem remembrance.

        Oh yeah fuck everyone inside the beltway and a few bubble boarders here and there where they are and may be.

        Legitimate and participation are getting

  12. Marc Whipple

    Emotionally, I sympathize, I really do. What they do to those seats ought to violate the Geneva Conentions. And I won’t argue that service – that simple competence – seems to be on a noticeable decline.

    But if you don’t like the things you are complaining about in particular, they’re easy to address: you just throw money at them. In terms of purchasing power, I suspect a first-class seat on a premier airline between any two hubs doesn’t cost more than a regular old seat did before deregulation – and it’s as spacious and has better amenities. If you want to recreate the experience of yesteryear, just expend the same amount of resources. Similarly, if you don’t want to wait in the security line, pay to use the rich people line, get the certification service thing, et cetera. There will always be bottlenecks at rush times, but the only alternative is to create a lot of line stations which will be unused 90% of the time. Somebody has to pay for those, too.

    I’m not making general excuses: there are many shenanigans for which I would happily sentence TSA and/or airline personnel to public flogging. (The plane leaves in ten minutes and has empty seats. I have a ticket for a later flight on the same route. What do you MEAN you can’t just transfer me? You could sell my seat to somebody else! What, do you not like money?) But airlines keep trying premium services, and people keep not wanting to pay for them. Revealed preferences and all that. 🙁

    1. SHG Post author

      One of the perpetual problems in the comments here is that people miss the forest through the trees. They focus on one example, nitpicking details for better or worse, while ignoring the bigger picture. And sometimes, it puts me in the position of questioning some spurious nits, even though such details really have little significance on the bigger picture, the point of the post. See the comments about the iToys? A good example of the phenomenon, where one person feels very strongly about one particular example, which others couldn’t care less about or fails to alter the calculus in the least.

      So I ponder, should I address the spurious nits, like the cost of a coach seat in 1967 versus a 1st class seat today? Nah.

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