They don’t travel economy and they don’t fly with kids — and they say air travel can feel like “hell.”
On the front lines of the airline debate are people you don’t think about much. But recent statistics show that these passengers are turning their backs on flying — in droves.
A whopping 18 percent of adults waited more than five hours for a delayed or canceled flight in 2018, according to a study published Monday by YouGov and the airline group Airlines for America. Nearly 23 percent flew on a plane less than three hours, the study said. Almost 40 percent of adults said they were not comfortable with bumping another passenger for safety reasons. The airline advocacy group’s figures showed nearly 3 in 4 people say it’s just not safe to fly now.
Airlines for America says it recognizes those challenges and is helping travelers in the most customer-friendly ways possible. By staying on schedule and taking on extra flights to meet consumer demand, airlines have extended more than 1 million extra flights to date this year — nearly double last year’s total.
The numbers don’t surprise some of the entrepreneurs behind the so-called no-frills airlines. But they are alarmed by the public reception given to the industry in general, saying consumers are treating the industry like the bad guys in the piece of news coverage that accompanies every air mishap.
Alain St. Ange of AirHelp, an outfit that provides travel claims for people who have already taken the exotic route, sees air travel as an industry in transition that must modernize as more travelers seek out alternatives that save money, shorten wait times and offer fewer frills than traditional carriers.
“I find it morally reprehensible that airlines get a free pass from people who decide to make their travel misery public in the form of unfair, misleading and often damaging comparisons and misrepresentations,” he said.
Air travel has always been a tough business, with large upfront costs, hard-to-achieve profits and major obstacles to flight success. But as more passengers look for ways to avoid paying the hefty price of a first-class, business or first-class ticket, most airlines are offering a glimmer of hope.
Airlines are making profits, the sector has posted double-digit gains for two consecutive years and fees associated with everything from checked baggage to seat selection are a way of life, said Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier, which is preparing to close its merger with Continental.
“Some experts estimate a new or revamped airline could make $100 million in its first year,” he said.
But some consumers are responding to the new realities by giving up.
FrayChills shows a photo of its interior at Albuquerque International Sunport. Images©2019 Getty Images
The founders of FrayChills found no fault in their flight, but when an airline representative told them they could upgrade their seat for $25, they did what many other fliers do — they passed.
“I kind of figured, if I’m not not getting anything out of it, I’m going to look for a reason to upgrade,” said Allie Leuthart, an engineering consultant from Illinois who works in Miami, was flying to Chicago and arrived two hours late to her appointment when they went to board the plane.
She had a grand total of $20 to spend — all the credit on her frequent flier miles. “I didn’t have any real choice but to pay,” Leuthart said. “It’s not a very nice experience to have a conversation with a real live corporate machine and then have them tell you that your experience is bad and I don’t want to hear any of it.”
Another frequent flier who didn’t wish to be named said he’s grown accustomed to what he calls the airline’s “screw you money” attitude: “Basically, the more you pay for the ticket, the less you like it when it arrives.”
Dalio, the literary agent, said it was a long time before he would get on an airplane after pushing through a $600 round-trip ticket. “The last time I did it, the fine print said that if there was a mechanical failure, I would have to get off the plane and sit on the runway,” he said. “I got such a great deal that I kind of wanted to make a buck out of it.”
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