Hey airlines, thanks for nothing!

Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
What annoys you the most about air travel?

Is it the chaos that awaits when you pull up to the curb at the airport terminal this time of year? How about the indignity of being screened by the TSA? Or maybe just knowing that you’re paying more but getting so much less?

Now take a deep breath and say it with me: “Thank you.”

As we approach Thanksgiving, I, for one, am feeling grateful.

So is Mary Jo Baas, a consultant from Milwaukee. She sees the upside in the deep cuts in services and amenities, particularly in economy class.

“I remember being offered free miniature bottles of liquor every time the flight attendant passed by, especially on international flights,” she says. “I never see that anymore.”

But you won’t hear her complaining.

“I’m thankful,” she says. “There aren’t as many drunk, obnoxious passengers on flights anymore.”

Airlines also used to parcel out snacks, and on longer flights they even served meals. Joan Wallace, a retirement consultant in Boise, doesn’t miss that.

“I prefer to bring my own food,” she says. “The lunch I prepare at home is higher quality, healthier, and I get exactly what I want at a lower cost.”

In their relentless efforts to cut costs, have airlines unintentionally done us a favor?

We’re drinking less and eating healthier, thanks to the accountants who drew lines through the in-flight amenities we used to complain about. That might be difficult to prove, but it’s nice to think that a lack of services has inadvertently benefitted us.

Thanks, deregulation.

While we’re talking silver linings, why not swivel around and look at the other side of the gate? The Transportation Security Administration is famous for its nonsense rules. Among the oddest are the liquid-and-gel restrictions, some of which are mysteriously waived for elite-level frequent fliers who belong to its clubby “Pre-Check” program. The “special” air travelers who belong to Pre-Check are allowed to keep their liquids in their carry-ons.

I’m grateful for the TSA’s liquid restrictions. Before the silly 3-1-1 rule went into effect as a knee-jerk reaction to a terrorist threat we’ve all forgotten about, passengers packed way too many lotions and potions in their suitcases. When their planes became pressurized, the liquids oozed all over the place. What a mess!

Now that we’re limited to one quart-size, clear, plastic, zip-top bag with no more than 3.4 ounces, air travelers are packing smarter. I haven’t experienced a single leak since 2006, the year the gel rule was imposed on us.

You know what? I think it’s great. The TSA should keep the rule even after they give the “all clear” on our carry-on liquids, which should have happened about five years ago. But hey, who’s counting?

If you think being thankful for the hassles is a sick exercise that only serves the airline industry, maybe you should talk to Dean Starovasnik, a frequent air traveler who is a director for an engineering company in Norcross, Ga. He’s thankful for his home airport, the endlessly confusing Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It’s the world’s busiest airport, so of course it’s a labyrinth.

“For an inexperienced traveler, it can be intimidating,” he admits.

“But Atlanta has all the bells and whistles that many smaller airports don’t. These include TSA Pre-Check, Delta Sky Club rooms, lots of convenient parking choices and some very nice, healthy and varied — though somewhat expensive — dining options.”

I have similar feelings about my home airport, Orlando International, except that it’s created with the tourist in mind, and everything is easy. Unless you’re sitting in one of those legendary lie-flat seats, airports may be the best part of air travel today. Thanks for that.

Whether they’re lost, short on sunblock thanks to TSA restrictions, or starving, air travelers can be remarkably understanding and grateful for the little things.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Are you a grateful passenger this Thanksgiving?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Alan Gore

    What do I find most annoying? That the one justification we keep getting for all the petty indignities of today’s air travel is “You’re saving so much money now…” Yet whenever I go online to price out any given trip, I never seem to find those super-cheap fares being used as an excuse for bad conditions. I long for the days when we could just call our travel agent and ask for the “APEX fare.” Today’s remaining TAs no longer deign to mess with individual round trips.

  • NakinaAce

    I think you people are nuts. The experience is so bad now it is hard to believe they will figure out a way to make it worse – but they will!

  • SoBeSparky

    “Or maybe just knowing that you’re paying more but getting so much less?”


    “In the 18 years BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995, inflation-adjusted fares declined 16.9 percent compared to a 53.1 percent increase in overall consumer prices (Table 2). See BTS Air Fare web page for historic data.” From USDOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

    I am tired of “Internet Legends” created by false “facts.” See this source: http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/press_releases/bts048_13

  • Timothy Woody

    Although air travel is less expensive – yes, I said less expensive – than 35 years ago when I flew to Hawaii from the west coast for around $400, there are several things I’m not thankful for. I’m not thankful for seats with legroom only fit for children under 12 (OK, I’m 6′-6″ so I’m pretty uncomfortable, but I don’t want to afford business or first class). I’m not thankful for having to pay for my luggage to fly with me (This causes overhead bins to get fully packed and under seat storage to get filled to overflowing). I’m also not thankful for all of the TSA restrictions (This makes my initial travel experience a stress and takes away from the anticipation of my trip). I am not grateful that on most airlines food is no longer even an option (Granted, airline food was never very good unless in first class, but at least it was an option).

    That said, I am grateful for the options I have for travel and that I live somewhere that there are so many places to travel to. And I am thankful to still be able to enjoy traveling.

  • KarlaKatz

    Well, Chris, after reading his article, I can’t wait to read about your wonderful trip to the Unicorn ranch, just 2 golden-paved roads past the rainbow factory. And, don’t forget to include some quick pics of the fairies flitting and hovering above the chocolate/strawberry river.

  • bigboofer

    I’m so glad they made the whole experience so missable that I rarely fly anymore. I feel sorry for the business people that don’t have any choice but to fly. Now they making our frequent flyer miles less valuable as well.

  • TonyA_says

    No Commission on Airline Fares. Nothing’s free. DIY it or pay the service fee.

  • $16635417

    From the DOT website, Nov. 6 press release:

    The average domestic air fare decreased to $378 in the second quarter of 2013, down 3.6 percent from the average fare of $392 in the second quarter of 2012, measured in constant 2013 dollars, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported today.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    No, I’m not a grateful passenger this Thanksgiving, I’m the driver!

  • sirwired

    Pre-Check is by no means limited to “elite-level frequent flyers.” If you aren’t a frequent flyer, you can pay $100 to register for Global Entry and then apply for Pre-Check. This sounds unfair, until you realize that if you DO receive “permission” to apply through an FF program, it costs you $85 instead.

    An additional one-time fee of $15 for people that don’t fly very much but want to shorten security waits doesn’t seem that bad to me at all.

  • jim6555

    I am thankful for Spirit Airlines. Their initial fares are way below those of their competitors and I can even tell all of my friends that I booked a seat from Tampa to Detroit for only $45 each way.Spirit even provides certain “privileges” with that $45 fare.They allow me to pay extra for using a credit card to purchase a ticket online, to purchase a seat assignment, to purchase a soft drink or even a cup of water in the air, to pay $5 to print my boarding pass at the airport, to pay only $35 to put my bag in the overhead as long as I pay for that before I get to the airport. Doing so saves me $65 over the $100 charge for bringing a bag on board without paying the fee in advance, Oh, and Spirit even helps me fulfill a fantasy. I’ve always dreamed about being a sardine packed into a metal can with almost no wiggle room.

    I understand that Spirit is working very hard to bring another honor to our great country. They want to surpass Ryanair as the carrier having the most fees in the airline in the world. We can’t let that pesky Irish airline get the best of us. Thank you Spirit for all that you are doing to bring honor to the United States. I look forward to that exciting day where every possible step in the booking process and in aircraft operations will yield revenue for you.

  • sirwired

    Compared to fares during “regulation”, just about any coach fare besides walk-up is dirt-cheap.

    And given the current cost of fuel, today’s fares are cheap by any measure. No, fares do not adjust automatically every week to the price of crude, but surely you can understand that there’s a bit of a cost difference when the inflation-adjusted price of oil has gone up by a factor of 5 vs. 15 years ago. Despite what you might think, airlines did NOT recapture all of that cost increase through fares.

    So what happened to all the amenities, CS waivers, widespread fee-free luggage, etc.? They went into the fuel tank.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I usually don’t advocate for “more government in my life,” but I would LOVE for there to be a federal requirement on seat size and pitch.
    I swear even those “economy plus” seats are getting closer and skinnier…

    Cattle headed off to slaughter are required to have a certain amount of space for humane transport. What about us?

  • http://www.jeffkolkerart.com Jeff Kolker

    I’m thankful I’m staying home for Thanksgiving. :)

  • Another Jeanne in Nebraska

    Chris, I am grateful. Air travel is a very necessary part of what I, and many others need to do to make a living. Businesses, mine included, reward their best customers because they want them to keep spending money. The perks I get from airlines and hotels for traveling 150+ days a year don’t make up for being gone that much but do make it a little more palatable. And when TSA offered me precheck status (I didn’t request it), you can bet I took it – after years of pat-downs, as I choose never to go through the scanner.

    Southwest Airlines saves me thousands of dollars every year because in
    addition to no change fees and 2 free checked bags for any passenger,
    the many tickets we buy means my business partner/husband flies free
    whenever I fly. Thank you, Southwest.

    There was a time when only the true elite could afford air travel.. I am grateful to be flying in an age when it’s just part of what we do – like taking the bus to work. Often uncomfortable and annoying, but available.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m grateful we’re not traveling this holiday. Just gonna stay home, cook, drink, and laugh at all the idiots who go shopping.

    Seriously, if I can’t find what I want to buy on the internet, I don’t need it.

  • flutiefan

    How about some of you be thankful that I’m working on Thanksgiving so that you may get home to see your family, while I won’t.

  • AirlineEmployee

    What do I find annoying? ….This…..When airlines keep touting that every air traveler somehow has to have the perfect “experience”, like they are going to a fine restaurant or Disneyland. Also the idea that they are doing passengers a favor by “offering them the choices they want”, which in translation means – you pick your “more spend” level – pay a lot for 5 extra inches of legroom, pay for meals, pay for preboarding, pay, pay, pay. I know we will never see the return of the great days of flying, white glove service (even in coach), meals, seat choices (1st come, 1st serve, families together no matter what), etc……but a person can dream.

  • Bettina

    I cannot say that I am a grateful traveller! I used to enjoy flying to the US up to 4 times per year to spend a few days or a couple of weeks there.

    But since the advent of the TSA – no longer! Since I do not have to fly to the US, but can spend my holidays elsewhere, I do not have to put up with them. That I am thankful for.

    However, that because of their Nazi type controls (and as a German, I say that with full awareness), I no longer enjoy a destination that I loved. That I am not thankful for.

    If the US ever gets their airport security right, I will gladly come back. Until then –

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • John Keahey

    We all have different experiences. While I don’t like going through TSA checkpoints, I’ve only been treated rudely on two trips out of a few hundred. Meanwhile, in Frankfurt, Germany, and in Paris, France, I’ve been yelled at, probed, and shoved. Guess it’s a matter of perspective.

  • John Keahey

    And regarding being thankful, I’ll be in a warm place for a week, having Thanksgiving Dinner at a wonderful restaurant with my son and his wife. I see them a lot, but we haven’t spent Thanksgiving together since he moved, in his 20s, to another city. I’m thankful.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I’m thankfull for screaming children on my flight. And I can’t wait until I have to listen to some self-important dufus talking on his phone thru a six hour flight.

  • omgstfualready

    I don’t get rattled about much when getting a flight. I’m about to sit in the air. The most unnatural thing humankind can do. A long line here or a cranky person there is worth it to do something so amazing.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Precheck is 2002 screening. It worked then, so no need now for the unconstitutional scanners and criminal touching pat downs by the GeTSApo, especially the profiling of medically challenged.

    I often think of the phrase “You can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public”, when contemplating why we need to pay any money to restore our rights and have a better traveling experience at an airport.

    Osama Bin Laden won, and still wins everyday the TSA doesn’t do reasonable security which no one had an issue with in 2002/2003. The culture of fear continues and now people are “suddenly” grateful for restoration of reasonable security screening? Gutless.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    FREEDOM TO TRAVEL USA (http://fttusa.org) supports your choice Bettina. The GeTSApo (keeping with the theme….) has ruined air travel for everyone, so why should foreign tourists come to the US to deal with their overreaching procedures? Return to 2002/2003 screening and the US would be a better place.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    FREEDOM TO TRAVEL USA supports your choice Bettina. The GeTSApo (keeping with the theme….)
    has ruined air travel for everyone, so why should foreign tourists come
    to the US to deal with their overreaching procedures? Return to
    2002/2003 screening and the US would be a better place

  • Londoner1936

    I suspect that you do not speak French or German, but in our experience, as frequent passengers through CDG, and less often through FRA, that the screeners usually have a working knowledge of English … however, try being a French or German arrival with limited abilities in English, and try dealing with US customs, immigration or screening personnel who usually have no knowledge of French or German, and can be very abrupt as a result. However, at our home airport of SFO, I will agree that there are enough TSA/ICE personnel who speak Spanish or the major Asian languages; this makes life easier for passengers from those regions.

  • omgstfualready

    Yep, Frankfurt was fun for me. I had the middle of bra (in the FRONT) grabbed and pulled on like some unnatural would come out. I’m quite ahhh, full, up there and there certainly was no room for anything else. It was also while the person scanning my bag was rubbing their hand on the leather saying quite loudly how nice it was. I still feel dirty.

  • omgstfualready

    Being German may give you one insight into what a ‘Nazi type’ control is. Being raised Jewish gives me another. Your analogy is wrong, rude, and wildly inappropriate. Enjoy your holidays as you please and try to not degrade history in the meanwhile.

  • Extramail

    I AGREE 100%. I know the elite pre-checks supposedly get vetted but I don’t believe for a minute that those passengers are any safer to fly with than those who srent pre-checked. i trust my fellow passengers far more than I trust the TSA to stop an incidence.

  • Annie M

    I am thankful that I can afford to travel. As much of a pain as it is to fly, how many others would love to be able to go on a vacation but don’t have the means? I think this article is a great way to realize the glass is half full, not half empty.

  • Annie M

    I am thankful I can afford to travel when millions of others don’t have the means to do so. And living in the US I have to deal with the TSA all the time. If this is what I have to deal with to go on vacation – I feel lucky. I also have been given a hard time in Germany flying home – would that make me not want to travel back? No. One person having a bad day isn’t going to ruin a vacation for me. I guess if that is the worst thing you have to deal with in life, then you are very lucky.

  • Annie M

    So why book Spirit then?

  • Annie M

    TA’s now have to charge fees to book air tickets because the airlines no longer pay us to do it. If you are willing to pay extra, there are plenty of TA’s who will book your individual round trips for you.

  • Justin

    Ryanair isn’t so bad, if you don’t mind frequent sales pitch to buy unneeded junk. Lottery tickets, trinkets from their skymail, food, etc all being hawked.

    At least Ryanair allows one free carry on. All must fit into a single bag, including the laptop. Stuff that laptop under your coat :) if luggage is full.

    I’ve never flown spirit, but their rules are far more stringent. Ryanair planes are well maintained and plenty of legroom.

  • Justin

    I’m grateful I own and car and not every trip requires a flight to see family. Worth a 4 or 5 hour span on the road not to hassle with TSA.

  • fshaff

    I think he has his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.

  • frostysnowman

    I’m such a grateful flyer this Thanksgiving that we are driving (about 18 hours total) to see our families for the holiday.

  • frostysnowman

    I want to throw a shoe at the TV every time I see the Allegiant Air commercial that brags about how not giving away drinks (meaning you pay if you are thirsty) to everyone means their fares are so much lower than average.

  • Justin

    WHAT….Can you hear me? (Yells). Dear god I hope talking on a cell phone is struck down. Planes use to have phones on the back of seats, but prices were outrageous, so only serious business travelers used them. Fingers crossed. Cell phones won’t. Become a norm.

    The screaming child….o how I know too well.

  • BMG4ME

    Travel became a lot easier this year with the introduction of TSA Pre and finally being treated with respect again as I go through security. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Delta still offers special meals in first class wherever a meal is served, whereas other airlines who stopped doing this claimed it was because nobody offered them any more. The only problem is that I am lifetime elite status with one of those other airlines, so it will be hard to get to fly first class with Delta each year!

  • Carchar

    Yes, I do feel thankful. I’m not rich, but I do have the means to hop over to Los Angeles from New York to have Thanksgiving dinner with my grandchildren, and I’m paying about the same price as I did 15 years ago to do so.

    BTW, I have a friend who is a member of that “clubby” TSA Precheck elite set merely by joining the over-75 club. She’d rather have not have had that distinction, but she likes the perk.

  • Grant Ritchie

    I fly down to visit my Auntie Nancy every Thanksgiving, and thanks to Southwest, I’m grateful I’m fat. I get two seats for the price of one, fly comfortably, and come home even fatter. Thank you Southwest, and thank you Auntie. :-)

  • California_Dave

    I’m grateful that we live in a country where we are free to travel. Also, because the airlines are once again making a profit, they are buying new planes that are more efficient, less poluting, and more comfortable (if they didn’t sqeeze us in tighter), and more technically advanced, which makes flying safer. Yes, because so many more people are flying than ever before, it can be a hassle, but when I sit down with the family within just a few hours instead of days in a car, I count my blessings.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    One might say, “I don’t believe for a minute that those passengers are less safe than those who aren’t prechecked.”

    Based on the last few decades, EVERY American citizens is EQUALLY SAFE as measured by the historic trends. The only bomb making material detected by the TSA was on American soldiers, and the material was in their carry-ons….thus negating the scoping and groping requirement.

  • Randy Culpepper

    What is labyrinth-like about ATL? It’s seven concourses laid out in a linear fashion. Seriously, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

  • John Keahey

    Comparing the TSA to Nazis is a bit extreme. TSA can be unpleasant for a lot of folks, but they don’t take people out, line them up against a wall, and shoot them. They don’t burn down their neighborhoods, they don’t crowd people into a tiny square in front of their church or into a small walled cemetery and then machine gun them at close range. And then there’s the holocaust, but I’ll stop here. I could say some things about the way some Germans I’ve observed act in airports and other tourist attractions, but I’m too nice to do that. Get a grip, Bettina.

  • MoDare

    Thankful I’m at home laughing at all the morons who don’t learn, year after year, that traveling for Thanksgiving is a nightmare.