Good Question: Will flying ever get better?

Good Question

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Several passengers on United flight 3411 from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, captured video as a man was dragged off the plane by authorities after he apparently refused to leave from an overbooked flight.

By now, you’ve probably seen video of the doctor literally getting dragged off a plane because United Airlines had overbooked the flight and he didn’t want to give up his seat. The fact that it went viral so quickly attests to the fact that a lot of people think traveling by air is the pits.


Will it ever improve, or will it get worse?

The answer to this week’s Good Question is a speculative one. In some ways, we have every reason to believe the commercial flight experience will include more turbulence. From security checkpoints to incredibly little legroom, few things have improved overall during the past few decades. But some promising developments are also on the horizon. So put up your tray tables while I present the good and bad about the future of flight.

We’ll start with the bad.

Bad news

Did you know airlines are actually doing quite well for themselves?

During the Great Recession, airlines consolidated — Delta and Northwest Airlines, United and Continental, Southwest and AirTran Airways, and American and US Airways left four domestic airlines in control of 80 percent of seats. Less competition and supply (they also reduced the number of flights) have translated into higher prices for you.

According to a New York Times article titled “Airlines reap record profits, and passengers get peanuts,” the plummeting price of jet fuel should have meant ticket prices would drop, but the big airlines’ focus has been on upping profits, not customer happiness.

Remember that next time the flight attendant won’t give you the entire can of soda.

Maybe the federal government will do something about this mess. Indeed, individual lawmakers have called for change in wake of the United fiasco.

“Airlines must start treating passengers with respect, not like cargo,” tweeted Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.

But, according to a CNN editor, public attention will not be focused on this matter long enough for Congress to react to it.

Worse, many in Congress and the White House may not want to make a change as airlines made a record amount of political contributions in 2016.

Good news

The Big Four may control most of the industry in the U.S., but they’re not the only ones in the skies.

Smaller airlines like Spirit, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air are passing on savings from lower fuel prices to passengers, according to the New York Times article. Even if you don’t fly on a smaller airline, the bigger ones have slashed their prices for some flights to be competitive with the small upstarts. Perhaps enough of this competition will cause all airfares to drop eventually.

And, thanks to technology, you may no longer feel like a head of human cattle — or, at least, you may forget you’re in cramped quarters. Innovations in the works include personalized in-flight entertainment, virtual reality experiences and sleeping cocoons, but it remains to be seen if they come to a plane near you.

Or perhaps the air travel industry too bogged down in corporate culture and politics to change. Other technologies may replace it, like the Hyperloop, a high-speed train one company says will move “people and things at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket.” But who knows when that’s going to be a reality?

Whether the airlines remain the same, change or simply go away, one thing is clear — you deserve that entire can of soda.

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