Cheap air travel isn't as awesome as you think it is, namely because it makes air travel suck more overall. Believe it or not, though, air travel has improved in some ways, too.
Photo by Eric Salard
Let's say your favourite restaurant started offering meals at a reduced price but you have to pay extra if you want napkins, forks, or a seat. Most of us would probably hesitate to give them our business, but that hesitation doesn't translate to airfare. We keep paying for crappy, bare bones flights. And that's not a good thing.
Flights are more affordable than ever, which, on the surface, seems like a good thing. A $100 round trip ticket across the country — what's not to love about that? On the other hand, we complain about awful airline service and crowded, cramped flights, while much of the reason air travel kind of sucks now is that airlines struggle to keep up with the cheap competition to avoid bankruptcy.
The New York Times put together a data-driven graphic piece on the pros and cons of air travel and they highlight these same points. They add that cabins are fuller and seats are more cramped than ever. It's true, legroom has indeed dwindled over the years. In the mid-'80s, US airlines had about 80-90cm of legroom, and today, you're lucky to get 75cm. And seats were once 46-47cm, while they're now down to about 43 or even 42cm.
Of course, the plus side to cheap air travel is that discount airlines have forced the major carriers to unbundle their own fares. Overall, though, customers actually pay more with this model.
A study published in the Journal of Economics & Management found that when airlines unbundle fares and introduce fees, customers pay more for the same thing:
The data also suggest that the average fare falls by less than the bag fee itself, so that the full price of a trip rises for passengers who choose to check bags... the 25th percentile fare falls by about $7.00 [$AU9] when a bag fee is adopted, an amount equal to about one-half to one-third of the fee. As a result, it appears that the full trip price rises for the average leisure passenger by at least half of the bag fee on trips when that passenger checks a bag. Non-bag-checkers among leisure passengers, however, benefit from a lower fare.
However, you at least have the option to skip those fees and pay for your bare bones flight. That flexibility can be a plus. Cheap flights make travel more accessible for people who otherwise might not fly at all.
So it's not all bad news. Plus, crunching data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, The New York Times reports:
Flights tend to be on time more often; up to over 80 per cent of the time last year. Airlines lose track of less luggage. And rates for passengers getting "bumped" from their flight — of getting denied a seat — have also fallen.
In 2007, there were seven reports of mishandled baggage for every thousand passengers in the US. In 2016, that rate dropped to less than three reports for every thousand passengers, its lowest level in that time. Even though recent news isn't the best indicator, bumped passenger rates are down, too. In 2007, there were just over 100 bumps for every one million passengers, and now there are fewer than 75 per million.
The New York Times has more interesting data to share, so their full article is definitely worth checking out. Take a look at the link below.
Why We Feel So Squeezed in the Skies [the New York Times]