Friday, June 10, 2005

The New Steerage Class

It was reported late last week that Northwest Airline is now cutting out those little bags of pretzels as a cost-cutting measure. Now there’s no food at all going to be served on all domestic flights, as if those little three-ounce bags of pretzels would be considered a meal. Beverages will still be served and the usual 1000% markup, so not only will you be crammed into your seat for hours at a time, but you’ll be robbed at $5 each time you want a can of Coke.

I don’t know about you, but the last time I flew anywhere was last August. Atlanta to Phoenix. To say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement. First, I couldn’t upgrade to first class. I need to get into first class because squeezing my 6’ 2", 195lb frame into one of what I now call ‘Steerage’ seats is next to impossible.
‘Coach’ is gone forever.

First class is what coach was twenty years ago. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be flying on and airline that still has first class. Most don’t these days.

That last flight was less comfortable than my worst flight when I was in the military. That flight, from Rhine-Main airbase in Germany to Hunter Airfield outside of Ft. Stewart, Georgia was spent lying on top of a pile of duffel bags stacked in the back of one of those old M-151 jeeps the army doesn’t use anymore in the cargo hold of a C-141.

You know you’re going to have a fabulous flight when the loadmaster is handing out Dramamine and earplugs on the ramp as you walk up. That was more comfy than my latest civilian flight.

Kind of sad if you ask me that the most horrible flight in a cargo plane was more comfy that the last domestic flight I’ve taken speaks volumes about our airline industry.

I remember vividly my first flight ever on a civilian airliner. It was a L1011 on a direct flight from Philadelphia to Dallas Ft. Worth. The US Army was paying for my ticket so I knew I was going on the cheap.
But I still had a window seat, which the airline actually let me pick, I could smoke on this flight, and last but not least I had a hot, fresh meal served on real china plates with real metal flatware and all the coffee and coke I wanted. I just rang the bell and a smiling flight attendant that actually looked like she enjoyed her job would serve me what ever I wanted. I just sat back in my big, roomy seat with tons of legroom and slept like a baby that entire flight.

That’s what first class is like now, if you can get it.

Coach is, well steerage. It’s like getting onto a greyhound bus with wings. Smelly, cramped and soiled. And you’re squeezed into a seat with the same comforts as a wooden bench. You get all this and more, because with my luck I’m usually stuck next to some shithead with chronic halitosis and terminal flatulence, who wants to tell you all about his trip to Boise for the potato convention for the entire length of the flight. All in a seat so cramped you’re in danger of a stroke caused by deep-vein thrombosis the minute you sit down.
My flight from Atlanta to Phoenix was so terrible that for the first time in over twenty years of flying I actually got nauseated. I was really expecting to see some Mexican guy in traditional garb, a multicolored serape and sombrero sit down next to me with a chicken in a bamboo cage on his lap, and look out the wind and see the luggage being tied to the fuselage with rope and guys in a 1954 Chevy pickup truck with a set of jumper cables to start the engines.

Why doesn’t the airlines just go all out? They want to save money, so why don’t they just buy all the old surplus C-130 and C-141 cargo aircraft from the airforce to replace those wonderfully luxurious A330 Airbuses (I love that name, Airbus. It’s what it is, a goddamn bus with wings) I’m positive those nylon-web jump seats I was so familiar with in my time in the army would be a vast improvement over the level of comfort and service we’re subjected to these days.

I’m pretty sure the old USAF ‘box lunches’ the air force served by grizzled old ill-humored airforce tech sergeants on those flights lasting more than a few hours would be more tasty that what’s available in-flight now.

At least in the C-130’s and C-141’s the passengers could do what we did on those flights. Lounge out on cargo palates and luggage. That is until those airline executives find out they can cram more passengers into the cargo hold by having them stand for the entire flight like straphangers on a subway car doubling the amount of money they charge in the process.

I really wish this country would learn a thing or two from The Germans, British and dare I say it, the French about running an airline? They all have Government-owned airlines and the last time I was on a British Airways flight it was pretty damn nice.

Oh, wait. We’d probably fuck that up to. Take a good hard look at Amtrak.

What ever was old is new again. It reminds me of the stories about the steerage passengers on the steamships overloaded with immigrants from Europe at the turn of the last century.

Welcome the New Steerage Class.

Isn’t it wonderful what modern technology has achieved for mankind in the last one hundred years?

Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden

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