Airplanes once had lounges and even piano bars, in coach. Here's why flying now sucks

Originally published at: Airplanes once had lounges and even piano bars, in coach. Here's why flying now sucks. | Boing Boing


Here’s why flying now sucks.

In a word: corporate greed.

(Okay, in two words.)


Well, I was going to go with deregulation, but your corporate greed works, too. :wink:


Airline companies suck.

Prove me wrong.


Yeah. Corporate greed of course largely drives deregulation.

The video actually gets into deregulation in some interesting ways, but oddly, also avoids the topic of corporate greed. Hmmm…


The saga of this checked bag is also instructive. Thread…


I’m old enough to remember having been forced to dress up to fly when I was a little kid, and vaguely remember sneaking up to the upper deck lounge on a 747. The service and amenities experience of flying sucks now in comparison, but it still was somewhat democratised by de-regulation to the point where a lot of people who were completely priced out of flying suddenly could starting around 1979.

I’m expecting that flying on jets is again going to get prohibitively expensive again for most people, this time due to carbon surcharges dictated by the climate emergency. However, given the corporate greed mentioned above and the management culture of the airlines, I highly doubt that will result in a return of lounges and other luxuries for coach passengers. American carriers will probably deal with lower load factors by extending business class, bringing back first class, and creating a scarcity of (still pricey) coach seats in an even more cramped section in the back or on a lower deck (maybe half the plane’s cabin footprint instead of the current 3/4+).


Its always been about “corporate greed”, though, since that term is really just a proxy for “making money”, which is what most companies are trying to do.
Prices used to be astronomical, so they used lounges and “glamour” to attract customers to the experience. There was nothing inherently better or less “greedy” about that. It was just the carrot available to make them money.


Sorry bub, no pub.

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I think (I was a toddler, so I don’t quite remember) I took my first transatlantic flight 50 years ago this year. Things were very different. I remember flying with PanAm, British Airways, National, Wardair, and TWA in the 1970s and 1980s. I have a memory of being in the top-deck lounge of a 747 but I think that might have been a perk of being a member of the BA Junior Jet Club and getting a guided tour of the aircraft (including the flight deck).
But my abiding memory of flying in the 1970s and 1980s was the STINK. The only thing separating smoking and non-smoking sections of aircraft was a CURTAIN. These flights look glamorous. But you can’t smell them. I recall being a few rows in front of a curtain, trying to sleep, and holding the polythene-wrapped blanket over my nose to try to protect myself from the smoke.
The smell permeated everything, the seats, your clothing. It was horrible. You’d have to dryclean your outer clothing to get rid of it.
There was no seat back entertainment. You had to watch the same movie, projected onto roll-down screens, in shaky 16mm, listening to the soundtrack with headphones that were some kind of weird pneumatic tubes which made me feel nauseous.
On the whole, things on board, in coach, are better now. The one thing that is noticeably much, much worse is food service. And, perhaps, a lack of respect from customers towards flight crew. As for the experience outside the aircraft … it’s much, much worse. Airports used to be places of wonder and excitement. I nearly cried when I flew into Dulles last October, for the first time in over 30 years. All the sci-fi pomp has been replaced with Starbucks and jetways.


“Why flying stopped being glamorous.”
Doesn’t seem so mysterious: it became affordable. Riding in a stretch limo is more “glamorous” than riding the bus.


I also am old enough to remember those things.
Some time in the Carter administration, we flew out to visit friends in FLA. What I didn’t know until later was that my mom’s friend (whom we were visiting) paid for our airfare because we couldn’t afford it.


I should’ve said “escalating corporate greed.” It’s obviously gotten worse with the burgeoning of neoliberalism. Starting with exponential increases in CEO salaries, and continuing on to shareholder demands for short-term gains above all else, and etc etc.


This, about 15 years ago: A summer hire told us of an acquaintance who had a job loading luggage onto the carousels at LAX. In an unsurprising coupling of thievery and imbecility, the acquaintance told our summer hire that he occasionally grabbed luggage before they hit the carousels. He stole them. I have no reason to believe that the practice still exists, although one can hope that airlines have smartened up and installed surveillance cams in the logical locations.




… wasn’t that because we were little kids though?

Didn’t the seats used to be comfortable instead of torturous because we were only 4½ feet tall?


While I’m sure that’s partly true, I highly doubt that the airlines just straight-up passed the savings along to their customers when they dramatically decreased the quality of the flight experience. It seems like they could, for example, have one fewer row of seats to give everyone an amount of leg room that doesn’t abrade away their kneecaps, or give them an entire can of soda instead of half a can in a plastic cup, or provide pillows that aren’t so small as to literally be as useful as nothing at all, all without going bankrupt. Admittedly those are assumptions, though- I wasn’t even alive in the age of humane air travel, let alone old enough to know what a ticket cost and how much that would amount to in modern dollars.


As discussed in the video, prices were a) astronomical [1], and b) fixed. That (b) is the important part. What routes could be flown, how many seats were available, and what prices charged, were mandated by a federal government body. Mind-boggling today, but true. Since airlines couldn’t compete on price (by law!), they had to find other ways to draw customers. So, onboard lounges etc appeared.

An inflation-adjusted 1970 ticket from New York to London would cost around $5k in 2022 US dollars. These days, fuel is a lot more expensive and they still seem to be able to turn a profit charging around 1/8th as much, so I can easily imagine there was room left over in the budget back then for a piano bar. When I travel, I try to save money on transport and hotels and spend it on interesting adventures instead. I know I’ll enjoy them more than a comfier few in-flight hours. And I doubt I’d pay an extra $4k for a few hours in a piano bar.

[1] Prices were astronomical for international flights anyway - inflation-adjusted domestic flights from 1970 were actually pretty reasonable.


Yep, talking to adults who travelled back then, airports have always been terrible places to hang out.


Not even if the evening’s entertainment were being provided by The Piano Man?