Readers’ Turn: The Elite Bloat of Frequent Fliers


Each Tuesday, The Upshot’s newsletter will feature a selection of comments from an article that resonated with our readers in the past week.

Josh Barro’s article about airlines’ solution to the problem of having too many frequent fliers with various levels of elite status — make it harder to be elite, and present the changes as a gain for your customers — drew many heartfelt and often funny laments about modern air travel.

PCBgirl of New Jersey:

Nowhere in modern life is your “status” more visible than when you travel, especially when you fly. It’s not just the airlines, it’s also at the car rental counter, where the elite members whisk past you while you schlep your bags through the maze of ropes. It’s in the private club rooms at the airport where elites get some peace and quiet while you sit on those awful chairs with arms so that you can’t lie down or even be comfortable. I have curtailed my business travel to places I can reach by car because I’ve just had it with being treated like veal. C’mon socialist revolution!

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Scott Menchin

Corvid of Bellingham, Wash.:

Here are my ingredients for an elite experience when flying the unfriendly skies: 1) a soft-sided carry-on that can be conveniently wedged almost anywhere and 2) prescribed alprazolam, which so reduces cognitive overload as to transform any coach seat into a convenient location for staring peaceably into space or intermittent napping. Rest assured that status is the last thing (among few things) on my mind in this setting. Next best thing to suspended animation.

PJ of Colorado

Maybe the airlines should have the economy passengers line up on either side while the elite passengers board, like the staff in “Downton Abbey.” They’d really get a kick out of that.

K Henderson of NYC:

I love the calm snarkiness of this essay, and it went right over the heads of some making comments here.

If there is ever a moment where I am made to feel like a consumer, it is when I have already bought a ticket and am waiting to board. Everyone has been assigned literally several different levels of gold and silver status. It is hilarious and sad. I don’t take it seriously since the costs of tickets is absurd anyway.

Roger of Queens:

As an infrequent flier with a status somewhere between lead and copper, I am quite pleased with the fact that there are people willing to pay $1,000 for a round trip from N.Y.C. to San Diego, in return for an extra few inches of legroom and a free cocktail. Thanks to their subsidy, I can make the same trip in the back of the plane for $400, which barely even covers my share of the fuel cost.

Carey of Park City, Utah:

I’m a Delta “Platinum” and I couldn’t care less about the status label. What I want is comfort and convenience, just like everyone else who boards a plane. Solution? Because of location, some seats will always be better than others. But at least we can lobby the F.A.A. to regulate passenger seat size to a comfortable minimum so that there are no horrible seats on a plane (like every middle seat in coach class these days!). In the meantime, please don’t pick on the frequent fliers — we are not the enemy. The airlines created the “class system.” Frequent fliers (me) are simply using the best option we have for getting a better flying experience. (The other option would be to buy a more expensive ticket. But most of us are not 1 percenters — we just have jobs that require travel.)

Richard Bell of Edgewater, N.J.:

As someone who flew more than 400,000/year internationally for work, I can definitely echo other travelers’ sentiments. My friends all think it’s a great glamorous thing, but it’s a miserable experience, and I flew on Virgin, which is heads and shoulders above anything mentioned in this article. At the end of these trips, I couldn’t wait to sit on my couch and sleep in my bed. As far as I’m concerned, the people who equate their self-worth with their airline status can have it! I ended up giving the miles to family members and friends.

Rick of Summit, N.J.:

On my United statement, I get a Rodney Dangerfield. It says “Status: No status.”

This article was initially published as a letter to subscribers of The Upshot’s weekly newsletter. You can sign up for the email here to get this and all of the best of The Upshot.



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