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USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:10 pm

OK, I admit that I am showing my age here. It just depresses me that the industry has changed so much. PanAm, Braniff, TWA etc etc. Yesterday I saw a post regarding a pic of an airport that had StratoCruisers, Connies and DC-6's lined up, and a comment was that it must have been boring to be a spotter/flyer back then. Wow.
The biz has changed so much. I remember flying to SFO from LAX in the 70's, a 1 hour hop, and being served breakfast (on china plates no less). Meal service was determined by the time of day, not by duration. A morning flight from LAX to HNL started with hot towels and drinks. Then came breakfast. Later a snack. Then a light lunch, followed by more hot towels. And this was in econ class! I even got to spend 3 hours in the cockpit jumpseat when I was 15.
People dressed for a flight. Not formal, but nice. Family and friends could board the aircraft to see their loved ones off. A movie, on a pull down screen in the front of the cabin.
The brand new 747 had a piano bar upstairs with an open bar. 707's had a small lounge up front.
Even the ads now proclaim "how many flights" or "how many destinations". It used to be a war of customer service between the majors.
My point in writing this is that it seems like the current attitude by the airlines is for the passengers to sit down, shut up and be grateful that we are being allowed to fly. If a revenue generating seat can be fitted into the coat closet, in it goes.
I do realize that security has put an end to some of the fun of flying, but I don't think it has anything to do with poor service, uncomfortable seats or the elimination of perks. I guess it all comes down to $, even though a breakfast flight to SFO back then was within the budget of most anyone.
So here is the question for all of you great airline fans: Are we headed for an all LCC no-frills world? I would love to hear your opinions and also memories of the fun days of flying.
Best wishes to all.
Alas poor Western, I knew them well!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:24 pm

What a great post ..And I am in total agreement..I think the only airline that even tries to be a little bit accommodating is Virgin Atlantic...ass for most of the other airlines we are just bums on seats...And the sad thing is most people just don't care .....They just want quick and cheap ...Sad I know but true...God I wish I was around the days of the connies and DC 3's and 6's..and my fav aircraft the stratocruiser, beats the boring a320's anytime
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Mon Sep 13, 2004 4:22 pm

I couldn't agree more.

But unfortunately a lot of things caused air travel to degrade to what it's become today.

There's not much to say about deregulation that hasn't already been said. When fares and routes were controlled to greater extent by the CAB, airlines were pretty much guaranteed to stay alive as long as they didn't do anything stupid. This was true to the extent that an airline in financial trouble would be subsidized by the other majors (even though it pissed the unions off to no end).

Now that airlines have to actually FIGHT to make money, it's a different story.

Post-dereg economic changes also contributed. Tough competition and fare wars meant more people could afford to fly, thus requiring more planes, which begat airport congestion, which begat airport expansion, which allowed more planes, which overburdened the ATC systems, etc, etc. (It's hard to believe that hundreds of brand new [or still serviceable] birds are sitting in the desert, yet airports are still crowded and ATC is always swamped. Imagine if all that tin was all magically required to return to duty at the same time.)

Security concerns are an interesting factor. Airlines suffered in the wake of 9/11 and some went under. But the bounceback is amazing, and the numbers today are better than they were pre-9/11. In fact, the facade of "hightened security" seems to be helping in bringing people back to the airport. Air travel isn't going away.

The majors are having such a tough time because of their legacy infrastructure. They are so mired in beaurocracy, culture, seniorty rosters, unions, etc, that they aren't as nimble as some of their "lighter" counterparts. All the majors have had and will continue to have trouble keeping up with Southwest, jetBlue and the rest. If they don't trim down voluntarily, they are made to forcibly by the heavy hand of chapter 11.

I wholeheartedly agree that the mystique and romance of air travel a-la 70's Braniff has gone the wayside - but we only have progress to blame. Airlines don't do it much anymore simply because they can't afford it. Actually if you think about it, airlines COULD be that way again - but the average passenger would have to pay today's equivalent of pre-deregulated fares (or first class fares), which if you consider inflation, etc, would probably mean a couple thousand bucks even for economy class.

Believe it!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Tue Sep 14, 2004 2:31 am

I remember flying on the "older" airlines...Ozark, Eastern, Midway (#1), TWA
The next generation of aircraft is just around the corner!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Tue Sep 14, 2004 2:57 am

Nostalgia is great (I drive a '71 Porsche after all), and I love to hear these stories of yesteryear flying, but "flight for the masses" has been more beneficial in the long run.

While I'm sure the upper 10% of the population enjoyed flying in luxury in the 60s and 70s, the price and service decline caused by deregulation was necessary so that ordinary citizens could fly. Because of this, students can see their families on holidays, small businesses (like mine) can afford to send employees abroad, and vacations to far-away places are affordable to more people. I really feel that America's leadership in the business world today is due to cheap air travel! I did a paper on this back in my MBA program.

Also, the rise of business jets in the 70s and 80s took away customers who used to demand such luxury. So if you want to fly in style and excitement, you still can...charter a Lear!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Tue Sep 14, 2004 3:35 am

While I was born a tad too late to appreciate the halcyon days of the DC-7, Lockheed 1049G and 1649A, I have poured over old photos of CLE, LAX, HNL and a dozen other airports my parents visited during that era. For myself, I still regret the day Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) was transformed from smiling Boeing 727's with beautiful mini-skirted stewardesses (not flight attendants) on board to a dour metallic and red fuselage with an ill- defined airline identity.
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 10:39 am

I too was born a bit late, but wish i could have seen such an era. My partner was lucky to be born 10 years earlier, and caught the tail end.

I think many often had hopes the airlines reversing course in giving less service for less money, alas the check-book does most of the shopping these days...

Still what a wonderful post, thanks OnlyWay2Fly!

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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:30 am

OnlyWay2Fly: While I do agree with some of the points that you make in your post, I must admit that I'm somewhat confused by your choice for the thread title. It's not like US was/is the only airline to virtually eliminate "fine" service on their aircraft. Heck, if I were to be blindfolded when I got on the plane, and previously oblivious to the facts of what airline I was travelling on domestically, out of the majors I would have a hard time telling which airline I'm on. Granted, I usually don't fly in business or first, where there sometimes seems to be a glimmer of service sometimes visible.

Long story short: could you please clarify what you intended with the title?

United 717 heavy, you're facing the wrong way. Any chance you can powerback to get off of my deice pad?
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:40 am

the old days, ramps filled with whisperjets, astrojets, mainliners and clippers. the smell of JP4, seeing flying colors, open air observation decks, doug 8s,and 9s next to 707s and 727s, cv880s 990s and 580s o for the good old days
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:54 am

I'm with Ntspelich........

Why is USAir(ways) being singled out in the title? I can't remember the last time I had any "frills" on any airline....
You can't fix stupid.... - Ron White
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 12:15 pm

You want the good old days? You can have it - for a price. Fly Singapore Airlines First Class anywhere and it is, I promise you, better than anything that went before.

Or Lufthansa's Privat Air service across the pond. Not cheap, mind you.

Can't afford that? Try Virgin Atlantic Upper Class and get limo service to and from the airport. Use their Lounge before take-off - especially the one at SFO - beautiful, free food, a great view of aircraft, it's better than the old days.

Can't afford that? Well - maybe we're getting down to the nut of it.

In the end, you get what you pay for. As long as you pick your airline with some care.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy


aeternum nauta
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 12:38 pm

I think that in the next few years every single airline in the U.S. is going to have a simlilar cost-structure, thus charging similar fares. Then they will need to differentiate themselves and possibly, maybe, hopefully...bring frills back. That is my prediction. A low cost world for the next decade, followed by frills.
Matt D
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 12:51 pm

My experience has been-and this is just my opinion that the people who demand the most, be it service, goods, or whatever, are also usually the ones least willing to spend money. This doesn't just pertain to the airlines. This is doing business in general.

As an example, I work in trucking. The people who want exact, to the minute ETA's on when the load is going to be picked up/delivered, take the longest to load, expect the driver to do all the work are also the ones that throw a childlike tantrum whenever we try and bill them for accessorial charges like delay or driver assist. They're also the ones that call at 4 in the afternoon on a Friday and get all bent out of shape because I don't have anyone available to pickup a 53' load in San Diego and run it out to Santa Barbara-by 6PM- for $39.

Now if same shipper is willing to pay me-say $800 for said "emergency" expedited pickup/delivery, I'll make it happen.

As stated above:

you get what you pay for.

Don't go into Wal Mart, expect to pay Wal Mart prices and then get upset because you don't get Nordstroms service. Don't demand a filet mignon for the price of hamburger.

It just doesn't work that way.

But I'm the customer. I'm paying the bills you say?

If you are the one that's snapping up a $19 ONT-LAS fare, I guarantee that the airline won't give a piss about who you are. You just aren't worth it.

[Edited 2004-09-17 05:53:07]
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 3:57 pm

My experience has been-and this is just my opinion that the people who demand the most, be it service, goods, or whatever, are also usually the ones least willing to spend money. This doesn't just pertain to the airlines. This is doing business in general.

I think I know what you're saying but I don't really agree.

There are a lot of us who are willing to pay *more* than what the airlines currently charge if it means better service. The problem is we don't really have that option, because in most cases there is nothing in between the $400 we may pay for an economy seat and the $2,000 we'd have to pay for the next level up in service. We don't need business class but we don't find the state of economy class at all acceptable; it's practically sub-human if you ask me. Anyway, passengers like us are not currently being served. The airlines know we exist - hence the relatively new "Economy Plus" or "Premium Economy" classes on some airlines and routes, but this is not an industry standard and the pricing of this class is usually still out of whack. I looked into flying Premium Economy on ANA the last time I went to Japan and while it was $900 for my economy seat, it would have been nearly $3,000 for a Premium Economy seat - almost as much as business class on that route (this is mainly due to how hard it is to get one of these seats; if we'd booked far enough in advance we could have gotten them cheaper). Most of these seats are handed out as a reward to frequent fliers - which is fine, but there should be more of them then, as there's obviously more demand than supply right now after the frequent fliers have all been taken care of.

Yes, there are some people who want to pay as little as possible and they want the best service possible. These people exist in every industry; I used to have to deal with them when I worked in retail too. They'd always want a discount, they'd want free shipping, they'd want all this stuff and if you didn't give it to them they'd act as if you'd personally insulted them. These people are just spoiled brats. But they don't represent the majority of the flying public, most of whom just want to be treated like a human being at a fair price.

Let's say you've got an economy seat in an airliner on a US airline today, and the cost of that seat was $300. Now let's say we add in a seat pitch of 36" vs. a seat pitch of 32". That's about 12.5% more space you're occupying. Now let's say you serve me a $5 meal. Add in some overhead for contractors, transportation, etc. and let's say it really costs $10 per meal. Toss in a couple of cans of soda, which I'll outrageously price at $1 each. And maybe a $2 snack on the far end of the flight, which I'll tack on another $3 for the same reasons as the meal for a total of $5 more.

Hell, I'll give the airline 20% for the extra seat pitch instead of the 12.5%. That's $360. The meal, snacks, and drinks... eh, I'll be generous on that too, and round the whole thing up to $400. That's the fair "premium" a "premium economy" seat should run - about 25% over regular economy.

On a 5 hour flight, would you not pay an extra $100 to get off the plane at your destination feeling refreshed and satisfied, rather than surly and likely in actual physical pain? I would in a heartbeat. But there is no such option right now.

There is only so low an airline can reduce fares before it becomes self-destructive. We've reached that point in this country already and because of the competitive nature of the industry, everybody has to match fares. But they can't realistically go any lower without every airline going out of business. So eventually, airlines will need to find new ways to compete, because they can no longer compete on price. I do think that eventually there will be more options for passengers willing to pay a bit more for better service - we're just in a really bad patch right now. This is probably the worst flying is ever going to get in this country; it really can't get much worse. Or maybe I'm being too optimistic.
I'm tired of being a wanna-be league bowler. I wanna be a league bowler!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Fri Sep 17, 2004 10:27 pm

From a passenger point of view, were there good old days? The airlines Allegheny acquired all seemed to have a personality, but Allegheny itself was absolutely bland, surpressing originality wherever it was encountered.
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 6:18 am

I still fly a DC-3( volunteer for an air museum),with pax on local day trips,nice weather,low altitudes(2500-5000 feet), the pratt whitney serenade,and all that,lovely, soul,stirring nostalgic stuff, I love it. That being said I used to earn a living in those beauties flying freight in the midnight hours in all weather,fighting fronts and systems you wouldn't believe to get the mail or boxes through,all because we couldn't climb above any but the smallest most benign systems. Those nights were exhausting,exhilerating but exhausting. The blessing of the turbofan now allows me to vault all but the worst weather,my pax sit in comfort,while we click away the nautical miles to the tune of .82 mach,everybody gets where they are going, unrumpled none the worse for the wear. I love the DC-3,but I really love earning a living in the 727,the beauty of all this is that we can have our cake and eat it too, kerosene for business,round engines for fun,but the new technology makes it easier,and safer for everyone. The DC-3 is our tallship,the airbus the QE2.
the rumble of round engines is like music to me,likewise the thunder of thr JT8D
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 6:39 am

US Airways, United, Delta, I hope they survive, BUT.. They are not offering what people are willing to pay for. Namely cheap flights. Kind of off the original topic.

If you want to see service on china on a 1 hour flight, go to western europe. They still have it there.
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 6:41 am

From a passenger point of view, were there good old days?

Compared to now, yes.

There have always been small, regional, commuter airlines that offered few frills and had high-density layouts in their planes. But the mainline carriers were a step above. As I said in my post, economy 20-30 years ago was similar to "premium economy" now, although as I think most airlines offer the same meal service in premium economy as they do in economy, I'd say the meal service back then was probably even better. Probably more comparable to business class now.

I also think the way the F/A's act towards customers now is completely different than they used to. Part of the reason is their role has been clarified in this country over the years to be part of the aircraft's safety and security system, so I think the job is no longer really seen as a service job. Serving drinks and meals is almost a leftover from a bygone era for them, something they roll their eyes at. It's almost like it's beneath them. Whereas in the old days the F/A's existed more as customer service agents; they were there to serve you, in whatever way you required (within limits, of course).

If you fly most Asian airlines you'll still get the old F/A treatment even in economy, and it's one reason I fly ANA whenever I fly to Japan.
I'm tired of being a wanna-be league bowler. I wanna be a league bowler!
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 7:32 am

"Let's say you've got an economy seat in an airliner on a US airline today, and the cost of that seat was $300."

Well, here's the beginning of your problem. People don't expect to pay $300 for that 5-hour flight anymore; they expect to pay $100 or $150, even if the cost of providing that seat is $300. And to some degree, the network carriers have themselves to blame for a Byzantine pricing scheme that prices most seats below cost and others ridiculously high. And don't forget to price in the fact that at least 20-30% of seats go unsold on average, so the price of that premium economy seat needs to be $500 to $600 each way. It could work, but the network carriers would have to be willing to do two things first, all at the same time: (1) eliminate free upgrades for frequent flyers on discounted loss-leader tickets into first class/premium economy and (2) re-price first class and economy full fares (which would naturally entitle one to a premium economy seat) to more closely reflect the true cost of providing transportation at that service level.

There is an airline whose business model was all-business class (though now it's only in some markets) -- Midwest. It's not clear that they are going to make it, though, given continuing losses and more aggressive competition from Northwest.

I don't understand the nostalgia for the food service on flights back in the 60's and 70's. I remember the food in coach when I was a kid before deregulation and it was often just dreadful. One particular abomination on United Airlines, "turkey surprise," became a family joke for years. I think the "surprise" was that anyone could eat it, it was that bad. The jokes about airline food started long before deregulation, folks. And much-maligned "innovations" like AA's "Bistro Bag" were in use in Europe long before they showed up in the States.

There is indeed a market for higher-quality air service, but the number of people willing to pay the premium for it is relatively small. As an analogy, compare the sizes of Saks, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, etc. with Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, etc. The airline industry in the U.S. would be more like six big LCC's and one big upscale network carrier in that event. For the vast majority of people, air travel is just transportation. It's not an experience, and they're not willing to pay much extra to subsidize better service unless there's a clear connection between price and the product delivered (for example, buy-on-board food).
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 8:00 am

Like everyone else, I'm still wondering what USAir is doing in the title.

Offhand guess: forty years ago the media and passengers had the same opinions about airline food as they do now. Maybe the food was better then, but everybody still joked about how awful it was. I don't blame the airlines for giving up on trying to please people.
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RE: USAir Vs. The Good Old Days

Sat Sep 18, 2004 8:38 am

I also remember the "good old days" too. I enjoyed flying TWA from PHX-LAX. I remember the 707, 720B, the FH-227, DC-9, 727 and many other classics from the 60's and 70's. But times had to change because our economy and our technology changed. Our tastes changed as well.

There is still room in the airline industry for premium service, including business class. However, the airlines are largely to blame for their own problems. They demanded larger aircraft, such as the 747, DC-10, and L-1011. They failed to properly plan for higher fuel costs and fuel embargoes. They failed to anticipate downturns in our economy in the early 70's and again in the early 80's.

Airlines have gotten somewhat smarter by going toward the smaller RJ's on the market, but they haven't learned their lesson entirely. Hence, the Airbus A380. Can the airlines that have placed orders for the A380 or Boeing's 7E7 predict in advance they'll be able to sell enough seats to make their investments worthwhile?

The original post in this thread made reference to USAirways, so I'll comment on their situation in reference to the past, present and future of the industry. US grew out of Allegheny, which had become a conglomerate of regional carriers. US is still a conglomerate of regionals. That hasn't changed. What has, however, is the rise of other carriers, including WN, HP, B6. US tried to become United, American and Delta. It wasn't satisfied with the domestic market. It went after international routes. The international routes made money while many of their domestic ones were losing revenues to their competition and other factors.

Now, as US enters Ch 11 for the second time in two years, its executives are trying to re-define the carrier as an LCC. In essence, the carrier is trying to re-invent itself to compete with Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran and America West. Frontier is also establishing itself more along the lines of HP. I recently priced flights from PHX-MDW for a co-worker who wants to visit family in Chicago. I discovered that in November, my co-worker can fly round-trip to MDW for $117. Even WN can't beat that price. They charge $156 for the same period of time on the same route.

That's the present of the industry. The future will continue to lean toward LCC's, but that does not necessarily dictate an influx of such carriers over the next 5-10 years. Rather, the ones currently in command in the LCC category will remain as such while the legacy carriers will attempt to compete with their spinoffs, such as TED and Song. The other legacy carriers, such as AA, CO and NW are content with their identities. They've established their niche in the business. They are able to provide premium service on both domestic and international routes. They are also able to serve many smaller airports with their regional carrier networks.

Airline executives cannot predict the future any better than most of us who post in the forums. For that reason, they are all vulnerable to circumstances beyond their control, such as 9/11, other terrorist threats, and ever-increasing fuel costs. Think back to 1981 and the PATCO strike. Although the airlines had about a four-month warning of what would come, they still weren't ready for the strike and for Reagan's mass firings.

Airlines can survive these challenges by the way their executives and managers manage everyday operations and plan for the future. While I've often spoken up for the labor unions in this forum, I do have to say that I believe the union leaders do not fully appreciate the impact of unpredictable events on the financial health of their carriers. The unions must do a much better job of forecasting changes in the industry and working with, not against, their employers to make certain that the airlines do "weather the storm" (including this season's onslaught of hurricanes).

Long live the RJ!

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