Travel upgrades we’d like to see in 2016

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Your holiday wish list is a distant memory by now, which is just as well, because you’re probably not getting what you wanted from the travel industry in 2016.

No, really. The only thing this business can be relied on to deliver, year after year, is a more efficient way of taking money from you when you hit the road.

But there’s hope. Once you dispense with the fantasies of “free” travel and the return of what-you-see-is-what-you-get prices, there are things you might realistically expect to get this year. Some of more intrinsic value, some less.

Free the Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi connection fees are the most hated charges among travelers, according to a recent survey by MileCards.com.

“The notion that airline passengers have to pay for it is appalling,” says Megan Stetzel, a frequent traveler who writes a food blog. “For international travelers, Wi-Fi is their only way to connect with home to assure loved ones of safe arrivals or to look up hotels or transportation in the surrounding area.”

OK, maybe 2016 won’t be the year of free Wi-Fi, but more hotels are coming to terms with the fact that wireless Internet is a basic utility, like water or electricity. Charging guests extra for it is sure to trigger ill will.

Bring back the trains
“If I could change anything about travel in 2016, it would be to start rapidly increasing the number of high-speed rail lines between major cities in the USA so we could scale back our dependence on indifferent airlines and overtaxed air traffic control systems,” says Tim Leffel, an industry-watcher and blogger.

Indeed, travelers hate having to pay a slew of extra fees to get into a cramped airplane that’s more uncomfortable than your average bus. But there’s hope on the horizon. High-speed rail projects in California and Florida could accelerate our path to independence from the airline oligopoly.

Roll out the welcome mat
Remember when they called it the “hospitality” industry? Ann Fastiggi, head of the hospitality practice at RSR Partners, an executive search firm, does. So do I. Large airports have lost sight of that almost completely, she says.

“How unwelcoming has JFK been recently?” she asks. “Yes, the terminals are improving, but once you leave the building — wow!”

Don’t look now, but New York’s other airport, LaGuardia, is about to undergo a $4 billion transformation, which will make it far more hospitable, and that includes much-improved mass transit options.

Fix the TSA
“Please, oh, please,” frequent flier Laura Sinton says. “Change the TSA process. It’s the most unpleasant part of air travel. It’s ineffective, cumbersome and doesn’t make anyone feel safer.”

Congress has repeatedly called for overhauling the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems, so this is in the realm of possibility. Maybe a good step would be a little politeness.

“The agents should stop yelling at you like gym teachers as soon as you enter the screening area,” says Sarah Sloboda, a photographer who travels often. Or how about removing all of those full-body scanners? They’ve generated health and privacy concerns and are nearing the end of their projected life expectancy, anyway.

USA TODAY
TSA can now require full-body scans, trumping pat-down option

End the class division
Jennifer McNeil, a frequent traveler who works for a British marketing agency, says she’s finished feeling like a “second-class citizen” whenever she flies. “I know you get what you pay for,” she says. “But it’s really cruel for 90 percent of the flying public. Can’t they throw us some sort of bone, like a pillow and blanket?”

Change is slow, but it is happening. There’s a growing sense that the class divide on planes is too wide. The loyalty programs that created an entire generation of entitled air travelers are just beginning to be reformed. Things will get better. They can’t get any worse.

USA TODAY
Coach class continues downward spiral

The reality of travel in 2016 is this: There’s a lot to be optimistic about. Travel companies are tuning in to their customers — not just the super-elites — and giving them what they want. Fast, reliable Internet connections, security with dignity, customer-friendly airports and, yes, even a better air travel experience. It may not happen tomorrow, but soon. You have to believe.

Don’t do this in 2016

Here are three mistakes you shouldn’t make this year.

Don’t stress out. Take a deep breath when you leave your house. “Negative attitudes won’t make the plane leave on time, the traffic on the freeway start moving, or the train fix its technical issues,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, the chief operating officer of a credit card management company and a frequent flier. “It would be wonderful if people could just relax while traveling.”

Don’t be a scaredy-cat. David Capaldi, who runs a luxury travel company, was chagrined when his clients instinctively canceled their trips after the Paris terrorist attacks. “Every time something bad happens in another Western country, the American public seems to quickly jump to the conclusion that traveling anywhere outside the U.S. is dangerous,” he says. “It isn’t.”

Don’t be inconsiderate. Politeness is often in short supply on the road. Sharon Kenny, a guidebook author and frequent traveler from Naples, Fla., wishes it weren’t, particularly when it comes to infectious diseases. “I would love to see it become acceptable for people to wear those disposable face masks if they are sick with a cold or the flu and still insist on flying and coughing,” she says. That’s already considered acceptable in Japan, so why not in the USA?

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 our help forum.

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  • Randy Culpepper

    “The notion that airline passengers have to pay for it [wi-fi] is appalling”….that you have to pay a fee for a service that has a very real variable cost is appalling? Seriously?

    Regarding the class division complainer…if you need a blanket and pillow when you fly, why not bring your own? There’s certainly no rule against it.

    I fly pretty regularly (one or two times per month), often coast to coast, and I’m perplexed by how many people claim that air travel has such a torturous ordeal. I’m not 100% convinced that these people aren’t setting out to have a negative experience just so they’ll have something to complain about.

  • Zarkov505

    I transit Tokyo Narita international airport on a fairly routine basis. I’ve transited Hong Kong, London Heathrow, and Frankfurt.

    The one thing I notice, every single time, is that I NEVER, EVER hear a voice raised at their equivalent of the TSA check station. NEVER.

    Contrast with the TSA stations in the US, where you hear them shout instructions about every two or three minutes.

    There are days when I think that every TSA agent in America should be required to do a one-year apprenticeship at Narita. ONLY upon successful completion of that period, *IF* Narita signs off on them, would they be allowed to work TSA in the US.

  • sirwired

    – ““The notion that airline passengers have to pay for [Wi-Fi] is appalling,”

    You can (successfully) argue that a $200 change fee for an airline reservation six months before the flight is stupid. But unlike administrative changes like that, Wi-Fi has a real, quantifiable, cost to airlines, and that cost isn’t cheap.

    – “But there’s hope on the horizon. High-speed rail projects in California
    and Florida could accelerate our path to independence from the airline
    oligopoly.”

    The proposed rail line between LA and SF is extremely cost-ineffective (even at the current cost estimates, which are likely insufficient.) If we consider transit projects to come from a single “bucket”, there are far more effective places to put it besides inter-city rail.

    – You won’t get any argument from me about the NYC airports being terrible. LGA in particular is a disgrace.

    – TSA is indeed useless security theater; in practice it’s not any better than the faster (and cheaper) rent-a-cops we had pre-9/11. But the only health concerns are in Ned’s head.

    – Brett over at crankyflier made a convincing case a couple weeks ago that while it was okay for airlines to produce the current coach product, they should have done it differently. They should have kept the product as of 15-20 years ago (roughly equivalent to today’s “coach plus”) constant, and then introduced a new class (called it “Basic” or “Value” or something) to show that they were offering a lower-service option as a choice. (Vs. what they actually did which was gradually make “standard” coach worse and worse (but cheaper!) and then upsell people to what was the old standard.) I don’t think a blanket and pillow would improve things… it’s not as if the old blanket and pillow were exactly very functional.

  • KanExplore

    Randy, I don’t fly as much as you, but I fly quite a bit. Very few things happen to me that are worth complaining about. Just as many times I think people go out of their way to provide good service to me. And as I scan the aircraft from my economy seat most people seem to be carrying on with their lives just fine. I think the complainers are a small minority. It’s not a tortuous ordeal.

    I agree with you about the wifi. Why should all passengers pay for something that only some will use? Let the market decide. In the case of hotels it has, indeed, decided that in many cases wifi needs to be included in a base price or people will book away. Maybe that will happen in the air too. In the meantime, people can either pay up or accept a few hours of respite from the online world.

  • AJPeabody

    Forget high speed trains helping much in the US. For decades one political party sees red at any expenditure for rails and has thwarted efforts to maintain Amtrack, let alone spend actual money on high speed rail lines. And the parts of the country that could benefit most, especially the Northeast Corridor from Washington, DC, to Boston votes against their party and so doesn’t deserve anything.

  • Ever try getting a pillow into airline luggage>

    If you want to bring your own pillow, you have to drive.

  • LonnieC

    “…but more hotels are coming to terms with the fact that wireless Internet is a basic utility, like water or electricity. Charging guests extra for it is sure to trigger ill will.”

    Hmmm. Let’s see now: If we just put little meters in each room for the water and electricity….

  • The Republicans may generally oppose spending money on trains in the first place, but in California, where there are no Republicans and the money has flowed freely, it’s the afraid-of-everything Democrats who have opposed HSR construction every step of the way. If it isn’t an endangered whatnot, it’s some quibble over ancestral land use.

    If we’re ever going to build trains, we need the Chinese spirit. If they want the bullet line to go in there, it just gets built.

  • MarkKelling

    I see dozens carry on their own pillows onto flights all the time. No one seems to complain about it or count a pillow as a carry on item.

  • jim6555

    Unfortunately, the Chinese spirit today can be summed up by saying “Forget about rail lines. I’ve got to call my broker and sell my stocks before their market value is down to zero.” Humor aside, the cost of proposed High Speed Rail in our country is incredibly high. Contractors plan to line their pockets by rigging bids while politicians eagerly anticipate some of the profits flow into their campaign war chests or their bank accounts. We need to get the cost factors under control to make HSR viable.

  • MarkKelling

    “For international travelers, Wi-Fi is their only way to connect with home to assure loved ones of safe arrivals or to look up hotels or transportation …”

    Wow, what did the yearly millions of world wide travelers do before there was WiFi? Were they simply stumbling around like zombies in complete confusion? There are still telephones to phone home, or you can drop a post card in the mail box. There are helpful people employed at most airports who can suggest hotels or how to get where you need to go. Hotels have concierges or even just the front desk person who provide similar suggestions.

    Now I do feel that WiFi doesn’t necessarily have to be free. But the price most hotels and especially airlines charge for WiFi is outrageously high. Yes, it costs a lot to install the gear on a plane or in a hotel that allows everyone the possibility of using WiFi simultaneously, but they don’t have to recoup all of the cost the first time it is used!

  • MarkKelling

    Don’t joke about that. I stayed in a hotel many many years ago in Europe where you have to buy a token at the front desk to use the shower in your room. One token gave you almost enough time to shower — almost.

  • JewelEyed

    The world doesn’t operate under the same assumption that people will need those things anymore, and the reason we don’t rely on the ones that are available is that we know the shortfalls. Public telephones are disappearing (and reaching someone in another country using a public phone can be insanely expensive), individual people are likely to make mistakes, and concierges get kickbacks for recommending certain places. *Can* you use these things? Absolutely. But I’d rather use Google Maps than an outdated book of maps that has been sitting in my car for 5 years if I can, and I did.

  • JewelEyed

    It might depend on the place a little. I got pretty rough treatment the last time I dared to be carrying more than three separate items on a plane.

  • LonnieC

    It’s the end of the world….😊

  • JewelEyed

    Ah, but what about the difference in culture? Are there are a lot of irate, loud, miserable travelers moving through Narita? I think part of the problem is that there’s a wider issue of people behaving like they were raised by wolves here.

  • JewelEyed

    I dunno about Chinese trains, but I’d frankly rather have the Japanese spirit on that one.

  • Zarkov505

    Let me clarify that. Out of FRA, LHR, HKG, NRT, and DFW, the *ONLY* station where I ever hear voices raised is DFW.

    I also do not observe “irate, loud, miserable” travelers at ANY of those stations. For that matter, I also do not observe “irate, loud, miserable” travelers on strictly domestic hops in the US. For a while, I was almost commuting between Austin and Huntsville AL, and I was in Los Angeles a couple of times a year. It is *ONLY* the US TSA agents who are raising their voices.

    Yes, I will grant that there are cultural differences between Japan and the United States. The Japanese treat everyone with respect. I think it is because they figured out, a long time ago, that this was the only way they would be able to live in peace, given that Japan is so crowded.

  • Zarkov505

    When Texas was talking about building their high-speed train, one of the talking points was that it would not require any state subsidies to meet Southwest Airlines ticket prices. Eventually, Texas TGV did get around to admitting that their business plan did assume and would require ongoing massive Federal subsidies. Herb Kelleher, then-CEO of Southwest Airlines, then pointed out in his inimitable manner that Southwest Airlines was already meeting Southwest Airlines ticket prices, and not taking one thin dime of State *OR* Federal subsidies to do it.

    High-speed trains require a HUGE amount of money to be spent on track maintenance. Japan puts literally an army of men on the bullet train tracks EVERY NIGHT, to keep them in pristine condition so the trains can run the next day. A high-speed train from, say, Dallas to Houston, requires you to build and maintain (the equivalent of) a few HUNDRED miles of runway, as opposed to a couple of miles in Dallas and a couple of miles in Houston.

  • judyserienagy

    People who want wi-fi on an airplane should pay for it. What percentage of passengers use the service? To expect it for free is ridiculous. On the brighter side, a couple of United flight attendants told me recently that UA is bringing back complimentary snacks in coach … a sign of hope! As for the TSA yelling instructions … if passengers weren’t so clueless they wouldn’t have to yell. They only do this to move the line along and shorten the wait..

  • MarkKelling

    I never meant to imply that phoning home from a far corner of the planet was not expensive or that the world has not changed to where most people depend on WiFi or their smart phone data plan. Free is always more desirable, but it never has been free or even just inexpensive to contact someone back home when traveling.

    But the article stating that the **only** way to connect to home was through WiFi is simply not true.

  • MarkKelling

    As they say YMMV. It probably just depends on what mood the flight attendants are in that day or what airline you are flying.

  • I wouldn’t expect free WiFi on planes, but in hotels and airports it should be a basic right, for all the reasons mentioned here. Calling someone from a foreign country is not only ‘insanely expensive’, but requires setting up a roaming plan ahead of time, and as I found out on my last overseas trip, it may still not work. But wherever there is WiFi, you can always Skype.

  • RightNow9435

    printed maps are much better for finding one’s way around than google maps….as it gives you a TRUE perspective of a given area

  • JewelEyed

    I’m not sure what that even means. Could you elaborate a little bit?

  • Lee Delong

    yes to paragraph 3 last sentence.

  • KarlaKatz

    My inflatable angled neck pillow folds to about 2″ squared.

  • KarlaKatz

    Amen to that! WiFi availability in hotel rooms has truly become as necessary as basic lighting, etc.