Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

With airlines like this, I'd rather swim

First published at The Punch on 20th September, 2010.

No one ever said it was easy being a multi-billion dollar airline provider.

The rise of low-cost airlines has lead to the cost of airfare plummeting as competition becomes fierce – prices become transparent, comparisons are easier, fuel costs are up, and airlines have been cutting as much cost as possible in order to both make trafficking people cheaper, and keeping ahead of the competitor by offering the cheapest prices.

I still fondly remember my first flight, where at the tender age of fifteen, I was on a plane from Sydney to the Gold Coast with a complimentary muffin and watching episodes of Mr.Bean on the screens. Those days are long gone.

1. Everything is now an optional extra:

Everything associated with plane travel bar the seat you sit on (give it time…) is now considered an optional extra. You’re still permitted to take the barest amount of luggage possible, but if you want to have some food, take extra luggage, have leg room, or choose a seat, you’re slugged with a fee for your troubles.

Tiger Airways recently took it one step further and made the process of checking in now a costly option – you can check in for free up to days earlier online, or you can pay a fee and check in at the airport in person.

The assumption is that it will mean they employ less people at the counter as a result… but I’m sure it will lead to instances of people checking in days beforehand, but for some reason or another, never turning up at the airport.

If this results in late planes waiting for passengers that never arrive, I apologise for everyone trying to fly Sydney to Melbourne on Monday 13th.

2. Too fat to fly:

Many airlines are now imposing a ‘fat levy’, in which a person who is deemed too fat to fly comfortably is charged an extra seat for ‘safety reasons’. While no Australian airline are currently imposing this rule, it’s interesting that with the average plane seat being 43 centimetres wide, it doesn’t take much to fall into the fat criteria.

While many people (who are presumably less than this margin) don’t seem to have a problem with overweight passengers being charged for the extra seat, it can bring bad publicity to an airline – much like the case of director Kevin Smith’s treatment at the hands of Southwest Airlines .

3. Creative use of employees:

Captain Chelsey Sullenberger (who landed a plane safely on the Hudson River) raised the problem last year by identifying that most pilots have to take a second job in order to make ends meet.

Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, is toying with the idea of doing away with co-pilots all together and letting the flight attendant take over that job.

Closer to home, we’ve got both Jetstar and regional airline REX, shortening their pilot training to 18 months and 200 hours in-the-air time, saving salary costs in the process.

4. Never take breathing for granted:

The ban of in-flight smoking has been a boon for the airline industry – they can promote it as being better for your health, but in reality, you should almost be missing those carefree tobacco filled days.

Without smoking, the cabin air is recycled a lot less frequently than it used to be, and leads to more carbon dioxide in airplanes. Airlines now save up to 6% fuel costs – a cost cutting boon to be sure, but the decrease in oxygen on planes is thought to have lead to some undesirable cases of what the media has named ‘air rage’.

5. Offset your carbon – you’ll feel like a better person:

Whether or not you believe money paid to carbon offsetting is actually put towards anything worthwhile, it is rather like papal indulgences from the middle ages, in which a person could pay some money to the church and be given written permission to commit sin.

Another aspect of the argument is that even if the extra money you pay goes towards reducing carbon emissions, wouldn’t that be the sort of activity that a socially responsible company that makes use of the sky should be engaged in anyway?

6. More equals… well… more:

Ever feel a bit cramped in airplanes these days? There’s the potential it could soon be much worse. Marvel in wonder at what are being called ‘saddle seats’.

Not only are they recommended by 4 out of 5 cowboys, but they reduce the necessary seat space from 30 inches to 23 inches. Time will tell whether jet setters will be happy shelling out extra fees for a proper seat, or whether one day we’ll all be resigned to sitting in ‘cattle class’.

Most people can grumble about the decline in the travel experience and accept these as a sign of the time.

But are we happy with air travel becoming less of a comfortable experience, and more like an inconvenience to get to a destination?


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This entry was posted on September 30, 2010 by in lifestyle and tagged , , , , , .
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