I work with a number of clients across the globe, so I spend a lot of time up in the air. The other day, as I boarded yet another A319 to SFO, I started reflecting on my experience.
My first thoughts were of all the annoyances – the lost luggage, delayed flights, high prices - and I was convinced that the airline industry is controlled by 19th century robber barons who eat Oysters Rockefeller and use their gilded monocles to count my money.
Realizing that this may have been slightly jaded, I dug a little deeper, contemplating what changes airlines have made to meet the demands of the Gen Y flier, what still needs to be done, and what young travelers can do to make things better in the meantime.
First off, let’s acknowledge that a significant part of the hassle of air travel is completely out of the hands of the airlines. The screening, scanning, disrobing, prodding, and wasting of perfectly-good $7 coffee is handled by the TSA, whose often thankless job is to prevent another 9/11. Most of us are willing to trade a little civil liberty for this protection, but there things that you can do to make the process a little smoother. Definitely check out the Global Entry program.
For $100 (and an interview and background check), you can breeze through a shorter security line, fully-dressed. It can also save you a lot of time when returning from abroad. If you do go through regular security, don’t be a “line dresser;” grab your stuff and move out of the way before putting your shoes, belt and jacket back on.
Gen Y is exceptionally adaptable. While this may make them more forgiving when unpredictable weather forces a change in itinerary, it does not mean that they have a greater tolerance for incompetence. There is no excuse for routinely overselling seats, understaffing, and losing luggage. If you are the victim of a delay that is caused by the airline (meaning not a blizzard or your wicked hangover), then you have a right to recompense. Most airlines have procedures for making passengers happy when they have messed up. Shouting at the gate agent will almost certainly not help, but do ask about hotel and meal vouchers, upgrade certificates, or bonus miles.
Pick Your Seat
To the airlines’ credit, they have made it very easy to book a flight. The industry was one of the first to offer online booking, with various search options and real-time seat availability. This certainly appeals to Gen Y’s desire for customizable experiences. Some paid features also speak to this – baggage fees, snack boxes, cable TV – where you only pay for the services that you choose to use. However, this can easily cross the line into “nickel and dime” territory, as some airlines game the system in order to display the “lowest fares” in a search result. But, by the time you pay for all of the “extras,” including carry-on baggage fees, soft drinks, and any non-middle seat, it can end up costing more. Before you book, be sure that you are getting what you are paying for.
Gen Y loves its devices. Phones, tablets, laptops, readers, music and gaming platforms – it’s not uncommon to see people surrounded by their technology. Consuming media requires a lot of battery juice and bandwidth. There’s no doubt that FAA regulations had, until very recently, provided a good excuse for the airlines not to invest in providing power and Wi-Fi. However, that has all changed and Gen Y has very little patience for being trapped in these flying dead zones for hours at a time.
Progress is being made, but it is a slow process. Expect it to take time for airlines to give up charging for internet connection. In the meantime, I recommend portable battery chargers that you can switch on when your devices run low. This will save you from a mad dash for outlets upon landing.
Sticking The Landing
They say that Gen Y has no brand loyalty. I disagree. Yes, price is always going to be a factor, but a great product can trump this by making its customers part of a community. This is an arena where I think airlines are doing a pretty good job. Let’s face it, most plane rides are basically the same. So, why choose one carrier over another? One reason is style.
Alaska Airlines serves free Northwest-crafted beer and wines on the PDX/SEA route. Southwest has really leaned into its niche as the low-cost airline. Even Air New Zealand channeled author J.R.R. Tolkien for a Middle Earth-inspired safety video. Another huge reason is rewards program perks. It is often worth a few extra bucks to fly the same airline consistently if you fly enough to build up status. This can eventually save you money through free checked luggage, priority seat selection, and first class upgrades.
Maybe someday we will have a practical alternative to air travel. Until then, don’t let the airlines take you for granted. Look for companies that provide value, service, and dependability. And if you see me in airport bar somewhere, be sure to come over and say hello.