While there are plenty of things to still love about air travel, we all admit we’re not exactly living in the Golden Age of the airline industry. Yes, more people than ever are traveling, passport ownership has increased, and it’s getting cheaper to visit once-unaccessible destinations. Still, air travel these days isn’t that much fun like it used to be. Here’s our list of the top 5 things we miss about the way flying used to be.
1. Meeting Friends and Family at the Gate
If you watch any sitcom or movie from the 1990s, you are bound to see a scene that used to be very common. A non-passenger walks to the gate to meet another character before or after their flight. On TV, it’s usually to proclaim their love. Remember that famous Ross and Rachel scene at the airport?
In the post-9/11 era, that’s just not going to happen. If you’re traveling solo, your entire time in the airport is going to be spent, well, alone. Just this month, Pittsburgh Airport announced they’d be making gates open to non-flyers (with the reasoning being many individuals wanting to shop and dine at the airport), though with some strict limitations. Will other airports follow? Probably not. We miss those days.
2. Free Checked Baggage
How many times have you measured, re-measured, weighed and re-weighed your luggage to be extra-sure you either weren’t going to have to pay for your bag? We understand why airlines charge for bags but is still a pain that air travelers of yesteryear didn’t have to worry about.
I’ve heard many passengers are still “surprised” when they get to the airport and realize they actually have to pay for that bag they brought along. Now, some airlines do offer free bags for certain individuals, credit card holders and the like, but it’s not always a sure thing anymore.
3. Plenty of Legroom
With airlines looking to increase profit and flyers demanding more available seats, adding more seats to an aircraft may seem like an obvious solution, until you realize everyone’s going to be crammed in there like sardines, up until the point where some legislators want to get involved. While you may think legroom was only a thing in the 50s and 60s, you may be surprised to see just how much room we’ve lost since the 90s alone. Some airlines had up to 37″ of pitch. American Airlines famously announced the “More Room Throughout Coach” campaign in the late 1990s. Those days are long gone. Now, you’re probably stuck with a seat width of 17.2 inches and a pitch of 30 inches (Spirit has 29″ pitch seats…ouch!). Let’s just be lucky the “Skyrider” never really caught on, an idea that came about in 2010, and was a saddle-style aircraft seat offering just 23 inches of pitch, and looking a whole lot like torture.
4. ‘Show and Go’ Flying
If you’ve flown internationally (or even domestically) recently, you’ve probably been frustrated by the amount of time it takes to go from curb to your flight. Most of us arrive well in advance “just in case” a security debacle ensues. If you happen to arrive at the airport during a lull, you then endure two or three hours of time just sitting around in the airport. While we’ll admit that some of the dining and shopping options at larger airports are pretty amazing, many others have limited entertainment options that make air travel more frustrating. Some restaurant options at the smaller airports feel like they haven’t been updated since the 1970s. Hot dog on a roller, anyone?
Once your plane arrives, the boarding process can be super painful too as every Palladium, Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze boards before you. Even if you are amongst the the lucky few to board first, you’ll just be sitting around watching everyone else board.
It used to be easier. If you arrived 30 minutes before your flight, you could make your flight. It’s why short haul shuttle operations like Southwest’s Texas triangle (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio) and the Washington DC-New York Shuttle were so convenient. It’s just not that practical today.
5. Free Food and Drinks
Free food on flights and alcoholic beverages used to be the norm, especially on international flights. On domestic flights, passengers could expect a sandwich, wrap, or salad. On international flights, a free drink or three were expected. On most domestic flights today, you are lucky to get a handful of trail mix or biscuit. With the rise of ultra-low cost carriers, a free non-alcoholic drink shouldn’t be the expectation. Some airlines like Spirit, even charge for a soda.
This might be one area of air travel that might be getting better. A few airlines, like Delta, are bringing back the free eats in long-haul economy. Though you may not get a hot meal on a starched tablecloth, they will at least they’ll hand you a bag of chips and a sandwich. American Airlines and Hawaiian have followed suit. And other airlines like Alaska have buy on board options including sandwiches and stews that are actually pretty tasty.