There’s no question about it: airlines want you to suffer. From waiting in long security lines that move at a snail’s pace to the struggle to find a cab at your destination, every moment of air travel is an exercise in hellish inefficiency. That’s not to mention all the terrible people on planes. Flying really is a nightmare.
It would be one thing if air travel had to be the worst for some reason. But in reality, the ways airlines make you miserable are not only calculated, but they are a part of the business model. There are endless ways airlines make flying horrible, and they do it to make more money. These are just some of the dirty facts about flying that make it clear airlines care more about the bottom line than they do about the comfort of their customers.
They’re Literally Trying To Make Air Travel Worse
The airline industry makes money off something called “calculated misery.” The majority of their money comes from charging extra fees for perks like more legroom, extra luggage, and faster boarding time. That means the baseline service needs to be intolerable, so people are willing to pay more for a modicum of comfort.
This cruel model makes money for airlines, so there’s no incentive for them to stop.
They Intentionally Overbook Flights
Airlines overbook flights on a regular basis. Why? Because they know not everyone will show up. They use algorithms to determine when they will overbook, how much to overbook, and the likelihood of needing to de-plane a few passengers. And while airlines ask for volunteers before involuntarily kicking anyone off a flight, every airline is legally allowed to choose the people they remove.
Unfortunately, there’s no federal law dictating why airlines boot passengers, meaning the selection process can be all up to the crew of that particular aircraft.
They Shrink Seats To Force More Passengers Onto Planes
Does it seem like airplane cabins are getting more cramped? You’re not imagining things. Since the 1970’s, plane seats have shrunk from an average width of 18 inches to 16.5 inches, and spacing between rows has gone from 35 inches to 31 inches. Why? Money, of course.
Smaller seats and narrower rows mean more paying customers can be squeezed onto each flight.
They Don’t Clean Their Water
The water in airplanes is absolutely disgusting. It’s so disgusting, in fact, that flight attendants usually even refuse to drink the coffee or tea. Bacteria levels in a plane’s spigot water can be well over the allowed US limit. And while airlines will often claim to comply with EPA standards, that usually only happens after they are forced by the EPA to retest their water after it fails to meet regulations.
Failure happens shockingly often; one in every eight planes fall short of the EPA’s standards on a regular basis. And, the longer your flight is, the dirtier the water.
They Don’t Wash The Blankets Or Pillows
Don’t trust a plane’s blankets or pillows if you’re flying coach. While some former flight attendants will tell you they wash the pillows and blankets in the mornings before the plane’s first flight, most of them are re-folded after use and given to coach passengers on the next flight.
First-class usually gets fresh blankets and pillows by all accounts.
They Charge Huge Fees For Rescheduling A Flight
If you’re taking a fairly quick flight and need to reschedule, you may find the airline rescheduling fee is actually higher than your ticket price. Airlines are allowed to charge these fees because they claim they pay for the opportunity costs the company would incur if you missed your flight.
There are some steps you can take to avoid these fees. The US Department Of Transportation allows you to change or cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking it without legally facing any fees. You can book two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket so that your flight times can be flexible. Or, you could just not show at all; fines for missing a flight can be cheaper than a rescheduling fee.
They Manhandle Your Fragile Luggage
A Redditor/airport worker warned about how baggage is handled:
“Don’t expect handlers to handle your baggage with great care. Most employees don’t throw with it. But when in a belly of an airplane where you can’t work with a straight back and try to fit 200 pieces in a compartment. Think what you will do with the last 50 pieces of baggage… So don’t put stuff in like bottles of wine / laptops etc. ‘Cause the handlers don’t know what’s in it and they only act on how heavy a piece of luggage is.”
As one airport employee put it, “Your bags will not be treated with care, if you don’t want something to break then wrap it up really well.”
They Delay Food Service Until More People Fall Asleep
It seems like food is rarely served on planes anymore. When it is, you’ll be lucky to get a meal yourself. According to an anonymous flight attendant, “On night flights, we sometimes hold off on meal service as long as we can so that you’ll be asleep and we’ll have less to do.”
They Slow Down The Boarding Process So You Pay More
Most airlines board planes from back to front. That makes the process incredibly slow, which in turn hopefully makes people pay extra for priority boarding, first-class tickets, or other costly perks that allow them to get on the plane faster.
They Don’t Update Their Terrible WiFi
Try streaming a movie mid-flight. You can’t without dealing with buffer times that make your forehead feel like it’s going to burst out of your skull. Why is the WiFi so bad? It has to do with the provider. Gogo provides most airlines with service. The company started before the majority of the population had a smartphone or tablet, meaning its technology is aging rapidly and bandwidth is getting more and more rare.
The second generation of “air-to-ground” Internet technology is still being rolled out, but not all airlines are opting in immediately. Upgrading the Internet airline-wide costs a lot of money, and airlines aren’t exactly swimming in cash. Grounding a plane to install new tech for half a week would cost the airlines tens of thousands of dollars per plane. If customers are willing to pay ridiculous sums of money for spotty in-flight WiFi, why would airlines waste money trying to improve the system?
They Lie About When You Can Use Your Phone
Older phone technology would interfere with airplane controls, but these days it’s highly unlikely that any smartphone or device would create a problem. However, airplanes strictly limit phone use, largely because of customer preference. That goes for voice calls, too, according to an aviation safety expert:
“As for cell phone use on aircraft, the technology exists, but the hesitance is, again, public demand. More passengers view this as an annoyance rather than a benefit of travel. It is bad enough being a passenger close to people who talk loudly to their neighboring passengers; add cell phone use and the result may be worse than the few seat reclining events of late.”