Flying – like insurance is increasingly a grudge purchase
I can say without fear of contradiction that flying has lost its allure since Covid. Despite the emergence of some feisty new competitors there is little joy to be had in pretzelling oneself into the sardine-can conditions of economy on either domestic or international routes. For those of you wondering: “What’s economy?” It’s where those who board long after you are staring malevolently at your warm washcloths and glasses of pre-flight bubbly to beyond the curtain where battles over armrests, legroom and the shortage of storage of carry-on items become a matter of life and limb.
I suspect air-travel was designed by the British who have a reputation for orderly queuing. It all starts at check-in where you are required to join too many people at too few check-in desks waiting to hand over luggage to seldom pleasant staff eager to send you off to a booth to pay the equivalent of a kings ransom for every kilogram your bag is overweight. You can be a 120 kg World Cup rugby superstar and provided your luggage is under the limit, you are okay. Don’t dare be a 49kg woman with an extra kilo or two in the checked in luggage because you will be sent on the walk of shame and early bankruptcy as airlines have figured out what the likes of RyanAir did years ago – make the blighters pay for not sticking to your T’s and C’s.
No sooner is your bag checked in, than you join the security queue where invariably there is some twit with a water bottle or a tube of toothpaste that causes security to go into full-Rambo mode. Once through there it’s time for the queue at passport control. The UK has done away with checking passports on exit and only bothers for those coming in, which if you are on a foreign document could take you two hours at your destination. Once through check in, security and passport control, there is little time to shop despite the enticements of duty-free before you are required to join another queue, this time to board the aircraft, first through getting your boarding pass and passport checked again to ensure that you have not somehow managed to change your identity, and just when you think you are home free, there is the queue inside the airbridge before you join a queue on the aircraft blocked by people unsure as to what their seat number is and re-arranging their carry on luggage standing in the aisle.
First and Business get to go first so they can stow their luggage without any interference from the riff-raff, next parents with babies and the infirm and the regular fliers with their gold and platinum statuses gained by virtue of the fact that their companies send them all over the world and this is the only perk they have. Then it’s bedlam as those in the cheap seats jostle for position so that they can grab the overhead luggage bins. Whomever came up with the idea that “under the seat in front of you” is the solution to cabin luggage on a 12 hour flight needs their head checked. Then there is always the problem that the person who has deliberately chosen the window seat is usually the last in any particular row to board requiring at very least some in-seat gymnastics by those already present.
Enter Wilma. One airline’s answer to the boarding problem.
Wilma: Window, Middle Aisle.
Those with window seats board first followed by those with middle seats and finally those with aisle seats. No doubt it will lead to airlines charging a premium on window seats because by the time those that prefer sitting with an open space next to them get in, their luggage is unlikely to find a gap in overhead bins. United Airlines hopes it will stop passengers getting in each other’s way.
Other systems have been tried – the “reverse pyramid” and the Steffen boarding method, which has people boarding who sit two rows apart so they can stow their luggage simultaneously. None of those has proved particularly useful and this is doomed to fail unless airlines up the maximum amount you can check into the hold and seriously limit and enforce carry on limits with ruthless efficiency.
Before you think this is being done for your benefit- it’s being done to improve airline efficiency. Every minute saved is a step closer to them calling themselves “on time” – which in case you are wondering is the time at which they push back to the time they park at the arrivals airport.
You would have a far better idea about the real time cost of air travel if you timed your door-to-door journey.
The problem is not just on the plane, its from the moment you leave home and hit congestion toward the airport which when it was laid out 50 years in a rural landscape was quick and easy to access. The airports themselves are more congested than ever as people seeking to avoid iniquitous parking charges jostle for place against the vehicle hailing services and assorted vehicles going about their business. And once you are inside, the whole fight spelled out above starts to play out.
Wilma. Good luck to you.
Thank goodness for zoom meetings.