Air Travel: Chasing Elusive Miles… and Smiles

On a recent flight back from the States I half-heartedly listened to the Delta captain as we approached Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, half-heartedly because like most frequent flyers I’d heard it before and was busy stuffing things into my backpack.

As usual, the captain thanked the elite status, the first class, the business class, the gold card frequent flyers etc. This time though, I heard him thank one unnamed loyalty programme member in particular who apparently had accumulated so many flying miles it reminded me of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”.

The speech was, of course, the standard sales speech destined for those in economy class listening and longing for access to airline lounges, accelerated boarding, upgrades, more leg space, extra drinks, better food etc. and after eight hours wedged in a cramped main cabin seat, I for one was listening, even if it was half-heartedly.

On the Run

Economy class is a melting pot of travellers. There are the explorer level frequent flyers, like me, who never seem to make it to the next level; there are business travellers, professionals from cost-conscious tech companies, i.e. me again. There are the people who want the prestige of flying a brand at the cheapest price possible and there are the folks who just want to get from A to B.

Whatever the reason, whatever the constraints, people like me will continue flying and no matter how much lawmakers talk of banning short-haul domestic flights, as is currently being debated in France (link in French), airlines will continue exploiting the demand and offering affordable air travel until such time as market trends, or legislation, force them to rethink their strategy or go out of business.

♪Have Your Passport and Baggages Ready♪

Airport authorities, operators and airlines probably are dedicating the necessary time and effort managing today’s problems while planning for the future, e.g. by adding more planes during peak periods; building runways and terminals, (Heathrow); whole new airports (Istanbul), or connecting intra-city airports serving as mega-hubs such as London or Moscow.

So with all this AI assisted efficiency why are flights invariably late or delayed? Most delays are minor, generally 10 or 15 minutes, occasionally by 30 or 45, sometimes… even 90 minutes, which if you’re in transit is panic guaranteed. I even had a flight cancelled in 2003 because of a Tornado in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Delays are disruptions you take into account when booking a flight, e.g. avoid 60-minute layovers because you never know. The disruptions you can’t anticipate though, and the ones that require all the phlegm and forgiving of a Swami, are the flights that just don’t turn up, no replacement, no word of explanation, no apology, nothing. This happened to me on a B.A. flight to London in February 2018. It was the one trip I had to honour and needed to get London on time for and the plane was three hours late.

B.A., with their market dominance and quasi-monopoly of flights to the UK – and no, Ryanair is not an option – had one job to do: Get that one plane to London on time so I could fulfil a family obligation and BA failed. Frustrating as it was for me, it was nothing more than an operational glitch with one of the hundreds of planes they had flying that day. Consequently, and because business is business, I now only fly B.A. to the UK if there is no alternative or on company-paid trips.

The debate though is whether delays, of human origin, happen because a) there are so many planes flying flight controllers can’t keep up, b) planes are taking longer to reach destinations because they’re flying slower than 40 years ago, or c) planes are bumping into one another manoeuvring at gates because airlines rush to get their planes back in the air and making money.

Speak to Me

But if there’s one thing that could lure a delay weary economy class traveller like me into paying more it’s more leg room. Believe me, I’ve been tempted, and still am, to pay extra to fit my 1m86 frame into a ~20-inch wide seat with ~7 inches extra legroom premium economy sized seat. In fact, that, plus access to airline lounges, was the real reason for chasing elusive miles and smiles.

But now it seems I might not have to anymore. Airlines, like KLM, are realizing that while elite products are attractive, the bulk of the profit may come from selling add-ons and extras to travellers like me who consider travel time part of a journey and are willing to pay to make the journey that little bit more enjoyable. Yup, I think I’ll add some lounge time to the our next flight. Indulgence? Oh yes, summer vacation starts with the flight so why not indulge yourself.

[Edited]

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About nickrichards38

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