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How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Thu Jan 10, 2019 6:29 am

How is long haul travel now different from the late 90s? Particularly for the US carriers in economy? It seems that aside from cheaper fares and better entertainment, everything has basically gotten worse in terms of personal amenities given and things like personal space, more crowded planes, and less generous luggage allowances? But then maybe paying lower fares for a UAL flight from the US to HK compared to 1997 more than makes up for this?
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Thu Jan 10, 2019 8:24 am

In the late 90's a barrel of oil was much cheaper than today and even so fares are lower today than then. Don't forget aviation is still a business so airlines have to make profit to keep flying.

You have already summarized most of the changes for good and bad, I'd add more frequencies and more non-stop routes on the positive side and the introduction of paid services on the negative one (BOB, checked luggage, etc).
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:26 pm

Long haul travel was rarer and more exotic as recent as the 1990s than it is today. More and more people are flying longhaul than they did 25 years ago. Frequencies were much lower and you weren't as spoiled for choice unless you were flying LHR-JFK. I wonder how many city pairs had 3 flights daily between them (even on multiple airlines) compared to now.
Many countries had far less longhaul activity back then compared to now. How many airlines flew into PEK/SHA compared to now? India and China funnelled everything through two or three international gateways with poor/awkward domestic connectivity.
On board, IFE was much less common and all you would get was a meal and possibly a movie shown on a projector. No wifi, no cool gimmicks. Business and First were simply enhancements of economy-better seats, food, service etc. Only the very forward airlines at the time were pushing the envelope and offering something new (i.e. beds instead of seats etc).
Airports were much worse. I remmeber the 90s as that transitional decade when most airport terminals in use had been built in the 60s/70s and were unable to cope with large passenger volumes, or offer any amenities. One by one all those dindgy low-ceiling buildings gave way to the futuristic bright airy structures that became common after 2000. The one exception was AMS, their airport experience was a revalation compared to anything else back then.
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Thu Jan 10, 2019 6:16 pm

By long haul I assume you mean international? The last question about US to HK makes me think that's what you mean.

In economy, I don't know that a huge amount has changed since the 90's, although the seats have definitely gotten thinner and there are more of them. Seatback IFE is (for now) pretty standard these days, whereas in the 90's it would mostly have been either popout screens every couple of rows, or even the old big screen at the front of a cabin showing one or two movies for the whole flight.

International is the one place where US airlines still routinely serve hot food in economy, so not much has changed there. Arguably, the food is better than it used to be. It did used to be almost inedible, although we were still pissed when they took it away domestically... (it's the principle of the thing.)

One thing that has changed a lot is that there are more cabin choices now, and the higher classes have gotten a lot better. I only flew business class once on a US carrier internationally, in 2000, but at that time business wasn't hugely different from economy, it just had a wider seat. Now, of course, you get lie-flat beds, privacy, lots of power for your devices, a bigger IFE screen, great food, etc.

For me the biggest change is the addition of Premium Economy. I flew Delta's Premium Select from Japan a little while ago and that wasn't something that would have been available at all in the 90's. I was honestly a little disappointed in the legroom, but overall it was definitely a better experience than economy would have been, either now or in the 90's, and it didn't cost much more. So in that sense, I think US carriers have actually improved, because there is that extra choice for those of us who can't afford business class but are willing to pay at least some premium to not be crammed into 30" of seat pitch for 15 hours.
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:01 pm

Outside of the US, fares are cheaper and onboard amenities better, even on full service carriers. I agree that premium classes have gone up while economy on full service may have tweaked legroom and width down a little while improving IFE etc.
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:58 pm

its true that Y has become less comfortable while premium classes (including Y+) has gotten better, but what's important is that load factors are much higher today, so open seats are much rarer, making Y cabins feel more crowded and claustrophobic.

Fares are lower, but that's most obvious from big gateway cities and less so from interior US cities, which continue to be held to significant US3 monopoly fares (assuming that your time is of reasonable value).
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Re: How has long haul airline travel changed since the late 90s?

Mon Jan 14, 2019 5:21 am

Sitting in back, LAX-SYD, comparing a trip in 1989 to 2017, not really any change.

Sitting up front (cockpit), quite a bit of change, from the technology to the reliability, to the size of the database, accuracy of navigation, information and forecasting, etc. A lot has changed.

For US carriers, except for the cargo carriers, a great deal has changed for long range operations so far as flight, duty, and rest regulations. The cargo carriers were left out of the safety improvements and still operate under the old rules.

Glass cockpits are now nearly universal. Communications are better. Traffic alerting systems and air traffic control are better. Navigation is significantly better.

I still fill out a paper plotting chart, though, about the same as always.

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