Airline Esteem

I generally try not to fly during the holidays. In fact, I generally try to do as little as possible during the holidays. This plan very rarely works out for me, since all of our family lives out of town. This is especially true now that we have a child who needs to meet extended family and be paraded about like she’s the pope or something.

This means that I found myself in an airport this holiday season along with just about everyone else in the world, cramming myself and my family into several planes to visit my wife’s family. Shockingly, this post will have next to nothing to do with my kid – she can’t stand being in the car for more than about two hours, but is (surprisingly) an amazing air traveler.

One of the more confusing things that people do in airports is to start crowding the desk and “lining up” (which is in quotes because that’s not a fucking line) to get on the plane well before they start boarding. Then these folks stand around looking uncomfortable and have to wait while the first class passengers board, because, let’s face it, it’s almost never the first class passengers that do this. After first class has been comfortably seated, we commoners file past them to cram into our much smaller spaces in the rear of the plane. There is literally no way that this isn’t part of the appeal of first class air travel.

That used to be it. First class, then zoned seating – simple and effective. We all knew where we stood, and were reasonably okay with this.

On my last flight, there were no less than five different boarding calls. Granted, I had been traveling with a toddler for somewhere around eleven hours at this point, so my memory is dubious at best, but it struck me as incredibly stupid and overly long. They called for first class. Then they called for priority something or other. Then gold passengers, then silver. I blacked out for about an hour, during which time they certainly called for bronze, aluminum, tin, and adamantium passengers there. By this time half the plane had boarded. Then zone 1 seating was called, and the rest of us shuffled onto the plane.

It struck me as ridiculous that half of the plane were ‘priority’ customers. Aside from first class, there seems to be no other benefits aside from walking onto the plane first. Sure, some of these folks have access to a special lounge in the airport, but you can buy access to those for almost nothing in most cases.

Airlines are making you feel special. You feel like they recognize and appreciate your business (they don’t). They use this feeling of superiority to manipulate you – if you feel like a special customer of whatever airline, you are more likely to fly them in the future. Even zone 1 passengers, which appear to be everyone who isn’t a priority customer, get to feel special because at the very least, they are the most important commoners.

If everyone is special, then no one is. The interesting bit is that when we feel special, we often don’t notice (or care) how many other people are special. Companies have been using validation and self-esteem to manipulate us for years. We turn a blind eye to this because ignorance is better than admitting that we know we are being pandered to, and continuing to play along because we like to feel special.

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4 comments

  1. If you want elegance in air travel you must first exit the 21st century and go back to, say, 1980 or beyond. Complimentary meals for everyone on board, stewardesses (not flight attendants) fluffed your pillow, without a snarl, even in coach. You could arrive at the last minute, sans a reservation, and keep your shoes on as the clerk wrote up your ticket for an (seemingly always) available seat on the then boarding aircraft. All change is not for the better.

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