I commented to Mark a few years ago, after flying international business on Air France (thank you spousal travel benefit), that I felt like the travel environment was becoming increasingly stratified in luxury terms. He'd recently come off a year with a lot of air miles and was enjoying upgrades in both seat class and, I'll say it, status, so I knew he'd understand.
On a trip in 2009, Misa and I were allowed access to the business lounge in Charles deGaulle airport. Free food. Free booze. Newspapers in countless languages. Free wi-fi. Outlets. Toilet stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls. Showers.
Are there any passengers that wouldn't benefit from such a humane environment after a 12 hour flight? So... not only did we have access to superior food and drink, more entertainment options and a seat more comfortable than my couch at home, but we were also treated like royalty on the ground between flights. It was the airline equivalent of winning at the high-rollers table and getting a comped suite.
The long and short of it being that I've been spoiled... I ate the apple... I took the red pill, but rather than seeing a dystopian future dominated by A.I., it was like learning I'd been living in the real world all this time and now... I know kung fu.
I fly economy because I don't have the money to do otherwise. However, I look for every economical way to avoid it. Using Misa's travel benefit gives me a shot at business class when flying back to the States, but it means going via Paris, which adds at least another 8 hours of travel time including a layover. But... if that layover is spent in a business lounge, who the hell cares? My next trip to Thailand I bought with miles and, of course, went for business class (albeit during the low season). No idea what the ANA business experience will be like, but since the Japanese are fairly high on the customer service scale, I'm going to the airport 3 hours early instead of 2.
What got me thinking about this again was this article.
The smartest move the commercial airline industry ever made was to convince consumers to pay extra for what used to be the minimum. It’s even got a name: “calculated misery.”
“Calculated misery” sounds like a movie featuring a slow-boil revenge plot — one that involves social media and tears of frustration. Instead, it’s the concept that there’s money to be made by making an experience so awful that a customer will want to avoid it.
And not only is it sinister, it’s profitable — at least when it comes to air travel.
It’s common to pay extra for higher-quality products or services. And it’s natural to want to pay the lowest possible price for whatever you want or need to buy. That’s why many Americans are always looking for the best deal, regardless of what they’re shopping for.
That mindset allows airlines to use “calculated misery” to make their baseline products and services so low-quality and unpleasant that lots of people will be willing to pay more to avoid them.
At times I’d felt a little bad about my aversion to economy (and the little good that comes with it) and that I was just being elitist. Now I’m beginning to wonder if my distaste for and discomfort with economy class travel has been engineered. It’s a good article that goes into more than just the onboard treatment.
By making people pay for their checked baggage, airlines have put a premium on space in a plane’s overhead bins. They, Wu explains, know that people want to avoid paying the checked baggage fee — not to mention the risk that their bags will get lost — and will cram everything into a carry-on. This means more people bring more luggage on board with them, which in turn fills up the overhead bins very quickly, increasing the chances that there won’t be any overhead space for the last people to board the plane. The solution? Offer passengers the opportunity to pay a “priority boarding fee” to get on the plane earlier.
Wu believes “calculated misery” also includes things that might not strike us as outright cash grabs. One of the examples he cites is the inefficient way planes board. Studies have shown that boarding in a random order is faster than the methods many airlines currently use, but that hasn’t inspired those airlines to change their ways.
The thinking is that if boarding were more efficient and less stressful, there wouldn’t be any incentive for people to pay that priority boarding fee.
And even though airlines and the Transportation Security Administration are separate entities, some airlines have tried to profit off long airport security lines by offering expedited security lines to customers who pay a fee (JetBlue calls this service “Even More Speed” and offers it in selected cities).
The ingenuity of “calculated misery” is connected to the overall effect it has on travelers. If someone doesn’t pay extra for optional conveniences and upgrades, they might be put in a situation where they have sit far away from their traveling companion, or where they board the plane last and end up checking a bag they had planned to carry on because the overhead bins are full. If the person has a layover, that checked bag might get lost on the way to its destination. And the problems can continue from there.
All it takes is one bad trip to convince someone to cough up the extra money to avoid a repeat. It’s not like there are any other options, if all airlines offer equally bad basic tickets and similar experiences. And we’ll pay money over and over to avoid it.
Not really going anywhere with this, but something to think about when I ponder traveling in the near future.