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The New York Times published a piece on the state of air travel. More specifically, the state of air travel on United Airlines. While the piece tries to paint with a broad brush, equating the mix and match products the airlines now offer to a socioeconomic riff in American society, it leaves out some basic facts, including airline ticket prices are at all time lows. In fact, this article by The Atlantic pretty much debunks the New York Times article and explains why fees, to a certain extent, are a good thing.

Air France Departure at IAH

There are a few notable quotes in the New York Times piece, including this one.

The American credo has always been a strange, contradictory one: adamant about the right to differential outcomes of wealth and privilege, and adamant about the right to fairness and equal treatment. In aviation, that used to mean different food in first class and economy, perhaps, but food of some sort for all. Different baggage allowances, perhaps, but some bags allowed for everyone. Different degrees of intimacy in the customer service, perhaps, but a universal right to speak to a real person when aggrieved.

What is changing today is the erosion of the idea of a common minimum experience — in air travel, to be sure, but not only there.

While benign at first, it seems this quote’s purpose is to accuse United of getting rid of food in coach and starting bag fees for customers. Sure, the base product of just about every airline has been reduced to a very simple offering, a seat between point A and point B. At the same time, the prices for those tickets have come down but the author is complaining he has to buy a $12 sandwich in the airport.

I think The Atlantic hit the nail on the head when it comes to fees.

Why do we hate fees if they keep basic prices low? Because we’re Americans, Heimlich said: “It’s the American way to want a product approaching first-class for a price approaching zero.” But cultural selfishness doesn’t explain all of it. Bargain-hunters experience a dopamine rush (literally) when they find great prices. The drip-drip of additional fees mutes the joy of finding a great price. They kill our buzz.

Do I think air travel has been degraded in the past 20 years? Only in terms of comfort for the sake of price. Sure, I would love to be comfortable, but I don’t want to pay what that would cost.