I've been travelling a lot lately, spending plenty of time in various airports across the US. It's given me too much time to reflect on the experience of flying.
Every decision of the airlines has some kind of repercussion on those of us who get on airplanes. Most of them make the act of actually getting on the airplane that much more difficult.
Consider the cuts to meal service on flights. For cross-country flights, this means that everyone's bringing food, and often drinks too, onto the flight with them. This makes boarding the plane trickier, since you've got to juggle all your bags and whatever food-related-substance you managed to pick up from some vendor in the airport. I've long since lost count of the number of times I've watched someone fumble their dinner all over the aisle or their seat because their hands were already full with their luggage.
Bag fees, of course, mean that people are trying to get bigger and bigger bags on board the aircraft, and they're stuffing more into the bags. Boarding takes longer because there are more bags to get into the overhead bins, not to mention all of those bags that have to get gate-checked because they can't all fit into the bins.
I flew on a red-eye recently where the airline didn't provide pillows and blankets. There were plenty of people boarding the plane carrying their own travel pillows. There were even a couple of people clutching full-size pillows, which I thought was crazy during boarding but liked the idea as I tried to turn my coat into a pillow. Not being able to count on a pillow and blanket for a red-eye means that there's more stuff for me to take on board the flight, more stuff to manage in my seat, more to forget when I get off the plane.
It used to be that I would get on board an airplane with my laptop bag, which would contain my laptop, a book or two, maybe a magazine. Now I'm boarding with that laptop bag and a carry-on bag pretty much every time. I'm careful to never pack my bag such that I can't quickly lift it into the overhead bin, but it still means that there's at least a little bit of a delay before I can take my seat.
I wonder if air travel will ever return to being a better experience.
It's far less of a pain after you get some kind of status in an airline loyalty program. By getting to board the plane early, you get access to the bins while there is still plenty of room and time. If you get access to a loyalty program that provides lounge access, there is generally enough food in the lounge to at least tide you over for a while. Plus, free upgrades to first class tend to make it nicer when you're flying a redeye and need a good seat for sleeping.