United Airlines Boeing 757 at LAX

United Airlines Boeing 757 at LAX

In April, the LA Times posted an anti-airline story that got me going. Now, the Washington Times has the airline business all wrong and I can’t stay silent. Armstrong Williams, who wrote the story,  seems to mostly be a political correspondent, but decided to use his experience of flying to talk about the airline biz.

In a nutshell, Williams argues that airlines are in a race to the bottom. That they are some how all working together to provide the worse service possible to passengers, while earning the most money possible. Many of his arguments are weak and mis-informed, but they seem to be common arguments you see in the media against airlines. I think it is time to stand up to some of these points:

No, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the airlines. Also, the utter agony and different standards for every airport of what can and can’t pass through security screening is baffling.

Wait, how can the blame solely land on the airlines, but it also sucks at the airports? This is the only mention of hating on something other than the airlines, but he doesn’t mention that airport security has nothing to do with the airlines and everything to do with the US government. At least we can both agree that airport security is slacking.

When do you last recall getting a meal or a cup of coffee without having to hand the flight attendant a major credit card? The seats are smaller, more uncomfortable, certainly more dirty than they have ever been… Want a blanket? That’s $5, please. Want to watch TV? Another $5, please.

Ah, the common argument that the airlines are packing the people in and charging for everything. Those evil, evil airlines, right? What Williams forgets to mention is the drop of average airfare for people flying around the country. Plus, food, drink, blankets, in-flight entertainment all cost the airlines money. If I do not want these amenities, why should I pay for them in my airfare? Sounds like Williams wants the cheaper fares and all those amenities that used to come free with lower fares.

I’ve flown to New York only twice from D.C. since 9/11, and the Acela train is my only mode of transportation to and from the Big Apple. The Acela is truly a rare gift from heaven and Earth when you think hard and long about future travel plans.

We agree here — partly. I think taking the train to many east coast destinations makes sense. No big check-in process, no TSA and less hassle. Odd how Williams doesn’t seem to mention that meals in First Class on the Acela line is free, but people not in First Class have to pay for their food. Why doesn’t he get upset that he doesn’t get free food and drinks on the train, yet expects it in the air?

To add insult to injury, major air carriers either don’t seem to notice the plight of travelers or don’t seem to care. What they care most about is fleecing your wallet for the cost of your airline ticket.

Why do so many people feel that airlines are not caring about the passengers? Sure, there might be some airlines that are less about a passenger’s well being versus profit, but surely not all of them. Plus I think Williams and many others forget that airlines are not charities. They are in the business to make profit and grow. Making profit (which has been difficult for many years for airlines) is not a bad thing and shouldn’t be treated like it. There is a lot of competition between airlines and if you do not like how an airline does something, do not fly them. However, you might find that cost of your ticket and level of service might be closely related — are you willing to pay more?

When oil spiked at more than $155 per barrel years ago, airlines were first in line to complain they were going under if they couldn’t increase fares. They added surcharges for baggage to help defray the costs of the additional fuel. Today, oil is hovering around half the price of its all-time highs. Are the baggage fees gone? Heck, no.

Airlines lost a lot of money with 9/11 and the high oil prices and many went into debt or filed for bankruptcy. Although at this point most airlines are doing quite well, they need to pay back their previous debts. I have no misconceptions that these fees would go away. If passengers keep paying them, why should airlines remove them? Airlines do not function in a vacuum and just make up fees that hurt their business. Passengers continue to pay them and airlines make money off them.

WILLIAMS (quote from an AOL travel article he uses):
“But what you may not know is airlines are now considering flying during the holidays a privilege, and have instituted a surcharge for traveling on peak days. This ‘premium’ fee of $10 to $30 is added to the cost of your ticket if you fly throughout much of December and the beginning of January. Be wary of deceptively cheap fares, as these tickets are often driven up by add-on fees for holiday air travel.”

Supply and demand. Why the heck wouldn’t airlines charge more for tickets during busy times versus non-busy times? It is about being a smart traveler. Watch your final costs and make sure they are what you were expecting. That goes with any business.

Signs now warn, “Doors close promptly 10 minutes before takeoff” so carriers can cancel seat assignments for confirmed passengers and offer them to standby passengers. At the same time, flight delays are at near-record highs, with average lapses inching toward hours, not minutes.

Wrong! Did he even look at airline delay statistics before writing this (I can tell you no, actually read-on he admits he didn’t either)? In 2010 there were more on-time flights seen since 2003. I am sure if Williams was a stand-by passenger waiting to get home early to his family, he might have a different opinion. Airlines do not have boarding rules just to screw over passengers. It is to make sure that planes leave on time so they do not get delayed and upset more passengers.

Come to think of it, have you noticed that all the airlines seem to have adopted their own “race to the bottom”?

No, I have not. I have seen new low cost airlines offering amenities like LiveTV and in-flight internet. Heck even the legacy airlines are starting to provide more amenities to passengers to keep up with the smaller airlines. Airlines are trying to give passengers what they want: cheap prices and amenities, which is a difficult combination.

Maybe I’m just complaining. I haven’t really offered statistics or any economic models to support my claims. But do I really need to?

Yes Williams, you do need to. I know I am “only” a blogger, but I surely do not post things that are inaccurate (at least I try not to and quickly update when it is pointed out to me). I prefer not to just join in common hype against airlines and spread hatred for an industry that doesn’t deserve it.

I still take flights that make a refugee camp look like Club Med in terms of seating. I still have to pay resort-style prices for quickie-mart quality food.

Seriously? I am pretty sure that millions of people who have had to live in a refugee camp to survive would have a VERY different opinion than you. The amount of room you now have in airlines (compared to years ago) is directly related to consumer’s demands for lower fares. If you can fit in more seats, you can charge less per seat and still make more profit. If you want an airline experience like it used to be, pay for First Class. You will find the cost of a First Class ticket now is pretty comparable to what economy tickets used to be during what many people see as the “golden age” of airline travel.

Okay, I think I feel a bit better at least. Even though it seems obvious that Williams is misinformed and just doesn’t care, it bothers me since so many will share his opinion. I wish more people would take the time to learn about the industry before hating on it. I plan to email Williams and connect via Twitter, hoping he can learn a bit more about the airline business. If he responds, I will be sure to post an update, but I do not have high expectations.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

Delta and American Pull Information from Travel Sites

I completely agree. My mom used to work for AA and remembers what flying was like before TSA, before bag fees, when airlines still served meals in coach on JFK-LAX.

For me this falls under the category of when news outlets call 777s “a Boeing 737-300ER.” It suggests that news outlets have a blatant lack of interest in proofreading or even basic fact checking. This is such a stereotypical rant against airlines and doesn’t bother to take into consideration that flying is generally a less painful experience than it was after 9/11, and airlines are slowly coming around.

What happened to him mentioning tools like @DeltaAssist on Twitter? I’ve received such excellent customer service from them that there’s no way I would ever think that they ” don”t seem to notice the plight of travelers or don”t seem to care. What they care most about is fleecing your wallet for the cost of your airline ticket.” I’ve never gotten that feeling in the past few years, even from @SouthwestAir when a family flight was cancelled due to weather.

I applaud you for doing a breakdown like this, someone has to.

Whenever people complain about stuff like this, I like sending this chart from the ATA: http://www.airlines.org/Economics/DataAnalysis/Pages/PriceofAirTravelVersusOtherGoodsandServices.aspx

He makes a good point about Acela. On short-haul flights the train is competitive. But you’re not getting free meals there unless you pay in the cafe car or book a first class ticket.

But clearly he needs to fly Virgin America, JetBlue, or one of Delta’s newer aircraft.

The Washington Times is a hack paper that not too many of us who live here in DC pay attention to…Don’t let it get you down too much!

Even that being so, I see other journalists with the same type of opinion and try to pass it off as fact. Williams, just gets the brunt of my attention since I read his story last night :).


To follow up on the golden age / first class experience, I found a website listing the price of R/T airfare in 1960 between Cleveland and Baltimore at $75. That’s $552 in 2010 dollars. The current price for a first class ticket, $561! I suppose Mr. Williams might re-regulate the airlines if he had the choice, but you are absolutely right that all the customer service he wants is still available.

The article was obviously an attention stunt, and he got it. It seems like half the stuff Williams wrote up was either made up or exaggerated to create controversy. If he really believes this he obviously lives in a deep deep hole.

“I haven”t really offered statistics or any economic models to support my claims. But do I really need to?”

No duh you have to. I think that this statement alone shows that he made up a whole bunch of what he said. It’s not like the stats aren’t available either.

I am actually surprised how many people I have read that sound like Williams. He just did such a bad job, I couldn’t let it go.

But there are many in the media who feel once they say something it is truth. Then when they are proven wrong, no one seems to care. Sad, sad sad.


I think it’s the time we live in. The print industry is slowly going out of business, so I think they’re doing anything to get attention. And considering that many of them are struggling to keep their jobs, it gives them even more reason to say something that’s “out there.” At this point, I believe that print media’s goal is to get advertising dollars, not the truth.

“Whatever sells” seems to be the way news papers are headed.

And that is such an odd concept I continually think about. Here I am just getting a few bucks to offset my blog, but I make sure to research things and fact-check and in essence (as of now) I am paying to do it. But that is because I love this stuff so much versus trying to make a living.


I took my first flight in 1957, in the days when it was ‘an event.’ And yes, in relative terms it was *Very* expensive. There was no rif-raf on the plane, not tank tops, too-short shorts, flip-flops or the unwashed. In an effort to make air travel available to the masses, well… the flying world has changed – a lot! Whether it is for the better is not my call to make. I do know this: Unless one has a business of better ticket, it is *Not* a pleasant experience. Since I am fortunate enough to have the choice, if it is not “J” or better, I don’t go.
I enjoy your posts a lot. That does not mean that I am always going to agree with you. -Craig

This is exactly what I try to address in my blog. Just about all of the complaints people have about the airlines, once explained, make perfect sense as to why the airlines operate that way.

He has a terrible argument on why he is mad at the airlines. He wrote a completely useless article where he can not supply facts or quantify his complaints.

And for the record, I can’t remember any flight that I have been on, past or present, that hasn’t served free hot and cold drinks, and atleast some sort of snack.

#my email to AW#:


Assuming Davids ‘cut and paste’ of your comments are acurate, you made yourself look an ignoramus.

Now have the courage to stand by your comments, or publicly retract them.


Low IQ is a dangerous thing!


To Armstrong Williams I would refer a quote from Benjamin Franklin: ~ Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do. ~

Perhaps when he feels like complaining about airlines he should try walking from NY to DC instead? It would clear his head.

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