OPINION: Fixing Flying (Part 1)

Those of us who traveled by air during the holiday season can testify to the sorry state of air travel in the United States. That can be remedied, and I believe one of the surest ways to make things better for the traveling public is re-regulation.

As a frequent airline traveler for business and personal reasons (as well as a former travel reporter), I've said for some time that there are two very simple things the airlines can do that will help ensure their long-term survival: stop nickel-and-diming us, and stop treating passengers like cattle.

If you fly even once or twice a year you'll recall when, a couple of years ago, the nation's airlines stated charging passengers for things we'd never had to pay for before: charges for checking bags, charges for soft drinks in coach, even charges to rent pillows and blankets. These were all justified by the airlines as things they needed to do to stay in business amid rapidly rising costs, especially for fuel.

The cost of fuel is well off its highs, but many of the charges remain in place.

And the cramped, cattle-car conditions continue. Virtually all U.S. airlines do the same thing: cram as many people as possible into the airplane, both by filling as many seats as possible and making those seats as small as possible.

In addition to being downright uncomfortable, the lack of legroom and narrow seats increase most everyone’s tension level. At the end of one crowded flight, I saw two men nearly come to blows because one had accidentally grabbed the other’s identical-looking carry-on. Such mistakes are understandable and, under most circumstances, readily forgiven but I’m certain the stresses of flying in such confined conditions, along with overhead bins that have become jam-packed because of the new baggage policies, contributed to their shortened tempers.

The airlines, however, don't seem inclined to make the necessary changes on their own, so I believe it's high time we make our Senators and Representatives pass some legislation that will actually help their constituents. More next time. In the interim, check out this article by Christopher Elliott, a travel columnist for MSNBC.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.