Have air travelers turned into a bunch of crybabies?

Are we becoming a nation of travel whiners?

Granted, generally speaking, airline service has gone to a warm place in a handbasket. And yes, airline fees and prices often have no rhyme or reason.

On the other hand, we’re doing a lot more complaining. Consider:

International airfares. A year after my husband and I were married in 1983, the lowest summer fare from San Francisco to London was $880 total. For next summer, before any fare sales, the lowest fare is including everything is around $1400. (And actually, the total difference is mostly in the fees and taxes.) Higher yes, but how many other prices have gone up that little in 25 years? And spring fares for the same San Francisco – London trip for 2009 are about $810.

Seat assignments. Airlines have cut capacity. And that means flights are full. Which means booking one week out does not guarantee a constitutional right to an aisle seat. Or an exit row. On any given flight my sense is there are 50 people who think they deserve that exit aisle. And very few who think they should be in the middle. But, sorry, somebody has to sit there.

Travel agents. There are less of us. But almost everyone who has survived in this business is pretty good, with regular clients. This means that travelers who usually book online, but then suddenly demand quick help with some difficult or rush booking, are usually not a top priority callback. Ditto a new caller who calls because “a friend said you were good, I need you to call me back ASAP.” A good agent will return all calls, but good clients come first.

Lack of nonstop flights. Several times a week we get complaints from clients who do not believe we can’t find good options for flights to St. Louis, Hartford or Nashville, or some other city they feel should have nonstops. And to be fair, some of those cities used to have more service. But with cutbacks airlines are eliminating the less profitable routes, or at least reducing service. And secondary cities are usually first on the list to go. Travel agents and airline employees aren’t hiding the flights from anyone, they just aren’t there.

No carry-on space for standby passengers. Yes, it is incredibly frustrating to board a half-empty plane when other passengers have taken all the space in the forward overhead bins. But it is just as frustrating to be sitting on a sold-out plane when a few standbys come on at the last minute, lugging big carry-ons when all the bins are full. And then to hear those people complain loudly and insist space be found for their bags.

Actually, most travelers are remarkably good sports considering the state of travel today. And most people are considerate and reasonable to airline employees and travel agents. But along with fees and taxes, whining does seem to be on the way up.

And this is not even talking about hotel issues. But that’s another post …