Fear of Flying

US Airways is joining other major carriers in charging additional fees for checked baggage, turning an already tense boarding process into a Darwinian death match for scarce overhead luggage resources. And...

The Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier also said it would cut domestic flights, shrink the size of its fleet, slash 1,700 jobs and add a $2 fee for nonalcoholic drinks during flights.

So let me get this right... we're already prohibited from carrying beverages through security due to some bullshit, Bush scare tactic, and now the airlines want to charge us table-service prices for a fucking can of seltzer? As if flying at 30,000 feet isn't dehydrating enough?

Better carry a shitload of quarters with you the next time you fly folks, just in case the plane loses cabin pressure and you have to feed the goddamn coin slot on the oxygen mask.

For those of you too young to remember, flying wasn't always such a miserable experience. There was a time when airlines treated passengers as more than just those things they pack into the space above the cargo hold. There was a time when airlines focused on service, and treated even us plebs crammed into coach like paying customers, instead of just an inconvenience.

There was a time when flying from Florida to Seattle, if I missed a connecting flight in Houston due to "thunderstorms in Boston" or some bullshit excuse like that, they'd reticket me on the next available flight, even on a competing airline, instead of just shrugging their shoulders and leaving me and a small child to fend for ourselves in an airport for 24 hours or longer.

That's because there was a time when airlines were in the business of actually moving passengers and their luggage to their final destination. You know... back before deregulation.

I'm not saying consumers didn't benefit from deregulation; ticket prices dropped dramatically due to increased competition--hell, at under $300 round trip coast to coast, I don't think I paid a profitable fare for years--but holy crap, enough is enough already!

Perhaps it's time to consider a little reregulation, to stabilize the industry and bring a modicum of service and reliability back into the flying experience. Perhaps consumers might benefit if the fare didn't routinely fluctuate between $749 and $404 and back again, depending on which minute you logged into Expedia? Perhaps something other than "the free market" is necessary to fix an industry that has collectively lost $15 billion since deregulation?

Because if the airlines are so willing to cut corners above deck, where the paying customers can see it, I'm damn frightened to learn what they're cutting behind the scenes.

[David Goldstein blogs on WA state politics at HorsesAss.org]